Since that famous moment when Marcel Duchamp showed up at the Armory art show in New York with a urinal, set it on a podium and named it “Fountain,” subsequent generations have declared that context is everything in determining art.
Augustana College’s Teaching Museum of Art, located in Centennial Hall, recently hosted Chicago-based visual and performance artist Kiam Marcelo Junio (preferred gender pronoun: “they/their/them”), with an exhibition called “Camouflage.” Junio, whose research and art work, according to Augustana’s Facebook site, “center around queer identity, Philippine history and the Filipino diaspora, American imperialism, and personal and collective healing through collaborative work and individual WERQ.” The site adds, “Kiam also served seven years in the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman.” Thus, with so many different facets of identity, from the colonized Filipino to the colonizer with the US Army, as someone with a queer identity that can shift, it is no wonder that the gender pronoun is the plural, as well as the less-specific “they.”
This context is very important with Junio’s pieces, because the pieces range from an army flak jacket, hung on the wall with nothing added to it, to sculpted and painted pieces to video installations. To the casual observer, there wouldn’t be much in common to call this a unified “exhibition,” except that it was all done by the same artist.
At an artist’s talk on Friday, September 2nd, Junio discussed boundaries and how they draw boundaries around art and themselves. Junio talks about their time in the military as “just really this disconcerting experience of being in a body but then understanding that that body only partially really belonged to me because it was, by law, a property of the government. Because I couldn’t be who I was completely, or I didn’t even know who that was, I was really just kind of operating on orders and kind of “passing” in this society.” They described the concept of “passing,” as “ a kind of camouflage as a metaphor for ‘passing’ in the way that I had to change who I was to reflect what was around me so that I could exist in that environment.” They further explain that the experience was “really disembodied.”
They explained that having developed a yoga practice for years, “I was able to begin to silence these voices and to understand that there is an inner, that there is an inner environment, that there is an inner voice, an inner self, that’s really longing to speak and it took having to silence everything else to tune in to understand and to begin to hear that voice.” The body, then, to Junio, is “this kind of membrane that separates myself and everything else which is partly my newest body of work is called Secret Skin, because it’s like this gateway between myself and other, the rest of what’s not me. “
“But then,” Junio adds, there is an ‘understanding also that that skin is permeable, in the sense that it is physically permeable. There are pores and cells and the skin breathes and at the same time too, on a more metaphorical level, on a philosophical level, on an even spiritual level, the skin itself is just a screen that we are projecting on.”
Asked if he had a motto, Junio said that at the time they were asked that, they couldn’t think of one, but upon reflection, their motto would be “we are all mirrors to one another” explaining that “I try to really reflect the best within myself in hopes that people will see that within themselves as well.”
Asked how they think the human body is an artform in itself, Junio explains that having been in the military, they learned a lot about the human body. Junio served as a respiratory therapist, and so was able to learn not only how people breathe, but the things that impede breathing, as well as coming to see in a very real way that breathing was life, the key thing to living. “I thought it was a beautiful experience to know and to understand how physically the body moves,” says Junio. “And the human body is a magnificent piece of art and it functions is so many, in such amazing ways that sustains itself, that allows the body to be used in these multiple purposes to engage the world and to create in the world, and to make something in the world.”
Junio says that they think the body is “our most powerful tool” but adds, “It hasn’t always been this way. I had to go through this journey to understand that even within myself. There were many, many years that I wasn’t even in my body. I was not happy even with how I looked, how I saw myself, and that was a really long and hard journey but really because I knew that that voice inside and the image outside were one and I knew that that had to be bridged for myself and when I made that commitment to bridge these worlds I think that’s when I became really fully in my body.”
Finally, Junio was asked about being a performance artist and if there is ever a moment when they feel that they are not performing. Junio says that “I have felt for so long that everything is performance and cause even at home, even by yourself, you’re still performing. We’re still performing even these conscious things that we learn, that we are taught. So I think for a long time it really was always performing.” However, they pointed to an incident in the very recent past when they felt that they were not performing, but actually just “being present.” “I was with my friends on a beach and we were all just hanging out, having a good time, taking naps, cuddling, and there was just this moment when I was just lying down there and I took a really deep breath and sighed and realized “I’m present.’” They add, “I don’t know what it was about it, but there was a particular moment of letting go, I think. It felt like ‘oh, I’m here. And I can let go.’ I think there are those moments.”
Junio’s exhibit is part of the celebration of 30 years of the Gender Studies program at Augustana is on display along with an exhibition of work by the Guerrilla Girls, part of which has been bought by Augustana and will be used in their classes as well. These exhibitions are both up until October 28th, so you still have a little time to go see them.