Pass the Butter

Jenna Houston (2017)

Pass the Butter by Jenna Houston :: Supported by FRFAF from STUDIO for Creative Inquiry on Vimeo.


Pass​ ​the​ ​Butter​​ ​was​ ​a​ ​show​ ​in​ ​The​ ​Ellis​ ​Gallery​ ​at​ ​Carnegie​ ​Mellon​ ​University​ ​November 27,​ ​2017​ ​until​ ​December​ ​2,​ ​2017 by Jenna Houston.​ ​The​ ​show​ ​focused​ ​on​ ​two​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​identity:​ ​queering suburban​ ​tropes​ ​from​ ​Houston’s ​adolescence​ ​into​ ​surreal​ ​domestic​ ​spaces​ ​and​ ​documenting​ ​the​ ​lack of​ ​a​ ​physical​ ​queer​ ​neighborhood​ ​in​ ​Pittsburgh​ ​through​ ​photography.​ ​The​ ​photographs​ ​both focused​ ​on​ ​LGBTQIA+​ ​individuals​ ​and​ ​the​ ​quieter​ ​performances​ ​within​ ​their​ ​homes​ ​as​ ​opposed to​ ​the​ ​primary​ ​stereotypes​ ​mainstream​ ​media​ ​perpetuates.



Houston had ​been​ ​taking​ ​the​ ​photographs​ ​with​ ​medium-format​ ​color​ ​film​ ​since​ ​June​ ​and​ ​used​ ​a digital​ ​film​ ​scanner​ ​to​ ​reprint​ ​the​ ​images​ ​onto​ ​silk​ ​and​ ​mulberry​ ​paper.​ ​These​ ​photographs informed​ ​the​ ​creation​ ​of​ ​a​ ​larger​ ​body​ ​of​ ​work​ ​including​ ​photographic​ ​documentation​ ​of neighborhoods​ ​that​ ​are​ ​rumored​ ​to​ ​once​ ​have​ ​been​ ​queer,​ ​leaving​ ​behind​ ​nothing​ ​but​ ​a​ ​myth now.​ ​Comparatively,​ ​the​ ​work​ ​on​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gallery​ ​emphasized​ Houston’s​ ​personal​ ​experiences with​ ​suburbia​ ​and​ ​homogeneity​ ​there​ ​that​ ​focused​ ​around​ ​a​ ​structure​ ​with​ ​no​ ​room​ ​for queerness.​ ​This​ ​more​ ​personal​ ​exploration​ ​included​ ​a​ ​silver-leafed​ ​school​ ​desk,​ ​a​ ​sink​ ​with​ ​an included​ ​video​ ​inside​ ​of​ ​it,​ ​pillows​ ​with​ ​text​ ​and​ ​photographs​ ​on​ ​them,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​television​ ​and​ ​rug installation​ ​including​ ​a​ ​video​ ​as​ ​well.​ ​Houston​ ​invited​ ​the​ ​viewer​ ​to​ ​draw​ ​connections​ ​themselves between​ ​the​ ​individual​ ​place​ ​of​ ​the​ ​artist​ ​and​ ​a​ ​more​ ​collective​ ​depiction.



Within​ ​the​ ​show,​ ​​Fertile​ ​(Birdbath)​​ ​used​ ​video​ ​to​ ​examine​ ​the​ ​futility​ ​of​ ​fitting​ ​within​ ​a feminine​ ​role​ ​while​ ​feeling​ ​disconnected​ ​from​ ​a​ ​given​ ​gender.​ ​“​You​ ​can’t​ ​be​ ​a​ ​lesbian​ ​with​ ​those nails!”​​ ​discussed​ ​both​ ​the​ ​need​ ​of​ ​straight​ ​individuals​ ​to​ ​interrogate​ ​queer​ ​intimacy​ ​as​ ​a​ ​counter to​ ​heterosexuality​ ​while​ ​effectively​ ​countering​ ​a​ ​critique​ ​on​ ​acrylic​ ​nails,​ ​and​ ​Houston​ ​used​ ​further references​ ​to​ ​domestic​ ​space​ ​such​ ​as​ ​a​ ​muted​ ​beige​ ​shag​ ​rug​ ​and​ ​television.​ ​Pillows​ ​with​ ​text blended​ ​small​ ​moments​ ​and​ ​memories​ ​from​ ​being​ ​raised​ ​in​ ​suburban​ ​New​ ​Jersey​ ​with​ ​a​ ​current image​ ​of​ ​Houston ​and​ ​how​ ​they identify ​now.​ ​Finally,​ ​​A​ ​Silver​ ​Bullet​​ ​connected​ ​the​ ​cookie-cutter nature​ ​of​ ​public​ ​education​ ​while​ ​referencing​ ​an​ ​institution​ ​that​ ​strongly​ ​shapes​ ​many​ ​young queers​ ​and​ ​adolescents​ ​in​ ​general,​ ​critiquing​ ​how​ ​we​ ​hold​ ​education​ ​as​ ​a​ ​solution​ ​instead​ ​of reforming​ ​this​ ​seemingly​ ​“magical”​ ​fix.​ ​This​ ​work​ ​combined​ ​with​ ​the​ ​photographs​ ​begins​ ​to​ ​allow for​ ​a​ ​larger​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​the​ ​queer​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​physical​ ​space,​ ​whether​ ​it​ ​be​ ​suburbia​ ​or within​ ​cities​ ​that​ ​have​ ​no​ ​gay​ ​neighborhood.