We’re Still Working Artist Interview: Joseph Liatela















“Shedding”, 2016, Joseph Liatela. Photo by Chani Bockwinkel

What are the stories that are being told through your work?

The concept behind Untitled (Proximity Series) originated from when I had reached a personal dysphoric threshold–performing and living in “drag” in order to work and move through the world in general was no longer a physically or emotionally viable option for me. This experience lead me to think about how human interaction shapes our individual and collective identities, as well as how one’s physical form can often function as a receptacle for public fantasies, whether or not these projections are consensually received. For Proximity Series, I would destroy my old working clothes in the monotype printmaking process until the textiles I had used became utterly unrecognizable. Historically and currently, the trans body is a space that has been deemed illegible by dominant western culture, especially by the medical and entertainment industries.  I wanted to use this theme of illegibility to create fragmented images of my own experience which referenced memory, empowerment, beauty, failure, trauma, letting go, and metamorphosis.
Shedding explores similar themes of transformation and letting go.  It is a digital print of my pre-surgery body on translucent organza fabric sewn into a wearable garment. For this piece I was thinking about my experience with becoming as a reductive process, and interpreting skin as textile.  When creating this work I was posing the questions of: What does it mean to undergo a shedding process in order to become more embodied/aligned? How does visibility induce vulnerability? What does it mean to inhabit a form that is permanently marked as transsexual? And, How can movement, mark, and ritual be utilized in a memorial process for transformation?  When I wear this “second skin” there is a schism between the image on the fabric and my current post-surgery form, which gestures back to the notion of illegibility I mentioned earlier

What do you hope people to take away from your exhibit.

Shedding and Untitled (Proximity Series) are meant to evoke visceral experiences of reverence, power, memory, and nuanced vulnerability within the viewer. I would like people to contemplate questions about how identity is mapped onto, or expressed through one’s physical form. Additionally, these works are intended to encourage the viewer to reflect upon the politics, power dynamics, and labor involved in being looked at.

Could you tell us a little more about the themes you explore with your art?

My work draws attention to the ways in which inaccurate portrayals of transgender people contribute to our erasure within the frameworks of collective memory, history, intergenerational connection, and the self. The individual experience is honored as central to social and political resistance. Through the mediums of sound, printmaking, performance, sculpture, textiles, and video I draw from my experience in trans, queer, and/or sex worker and BDSM communities to make work that speaks to what it (might) mean to feel home. My practice explores themes such as past lives, saying goodbye, the pain of becoming other, divine monstrosity, trans intergenerational legacy, metamorphosis, Catholicism and repression, and trans bodies as physical sites of resistance.

What lies on the future radar for you as an artist?

I just completed my BFA thesis solo exhibition at Isabelle Percy West Gallery in Oakland, and am in the process of creating a new body of work about Joan of Arc’s persecution by the Catholic Church in 1431. Many people know about Joan of Arc, but it has been largely historically omitted that they were burnt at the stake as a heretic by the inquisition of the Catholic Church for refusing to be gender conforming. I’m thrilled about this project and am looking forward to sharing it in future exhibitions.

About Joseph Liatela:
Joseph Liatela is a multimedia artist working in printmaking, painting, performance, and video. He is completing his BFA at California College of the Arts in individualized studies. His work has been screened in the National Queer Arts Festival (2016), the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival (2017) and was selected as a 2016 participant in the New York Arts Practicum.

About the Interviewer:
Tara Chandi is SOMArts’ Communications & Gallery Events Intern. She is pursuing a Master’s in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts. Her work is focused on designing for sustainable solutions and systemic change.