In December 2018, Tuscac Docher presented an exhibition called “The Squeegee Gallery” in a basement studio at Vassar College, a liberal arts school situated in the New York metropolitan area.
In the stairwell that leads to the gallery, a photocopy on neon orange paper hangs across the path as a lead-in: a photographic self-portrait, back to the camera, on which words have been superimposed. “Nature morte avec corps vivant”: “Still life [dead nature] with living body.” The spectator descends into the gallery where an ingenious, minimalist lighting system reveals photocopies of black and white silver gelatin prints that cover all four walls.
The subject of these photos? Tuscac. Tuscac on a ladder. Tuscac in various outfits. Tuscac with sunglasses. Tuscac upside down. Tuscac climbing. Tuscac descending. The saturation of the space with self-portraits reveals the intention to assert their identity in the basement, the ultimate private place.
The choice to display photocopies, rather than the original silver gelatin prints, emphasizes the importance of replication in the construction of identity. And yet, the portraits never repeat identically. A powerful circularity emerges from this exhibition: the visitor moves around a central axis, a string of larger 11”x14” silver gelatin prints hanging from the ceiling. Smaller 5”x7” prints, arranged in a grid, appear like a contact sheet, thus calling up the fabulous manner in which Muybridge captured the élan vital that animates us. As each print is a snapshot of Tuscac in a different position, environment, and ensemble, each photograph breathes to life a new performance.
“Nature morte avec corps vivant.” This motif, playing with a larger pictorial tradition, ultimately undermines it. Here, the reifying discourse about the supposedly (hetero)normative human nature is shattered and the potentialities of the body occupy the foreground. The body becomes a cultural gem—it is cultivated. The still life (“dead nature”) unfolds around motifs and objects chosen for their metaphorical significance. Here, Tuscac playfully gathers props—accessories that create tensions between the body in its purest attire and the artifice with which humanity adorns itself. As these accessories are subverted, Tuscac transcends modernity to play in the ruins of the dominant normative narratives.
This creative agency renders the figure, the embodied lieu (place) of identity, a space open to new possibilities. Thus, the body of Tuscac appears in its integrality, or in detail—feet, unexpected concavities. The images here reveal rippling muscles, there a curvature that calls up Félix Vallotton’s “Bather on a Rock.” One of the major pieces, hanging from the central mobile, evokes the ennui of a young ephebe, sensually draped. This disseminated, tender eroticism fractures traditional aesthetic boundaries by juxtaposing them. New figures are placed on pedestals, figures whose boundaries are not defined as clearly as those of the paradigms of yore. Tuscac thus disrupts the rational models of stability and power.
Bather, ephebe, wrestler… the multiplicity of the characters Tuscac incarnates precludes the imposition of a linear narrative. Their project has no definitive objective. No teleology in its creation: it is the continual opening of a door to a new body. Each photo thus functions as a local narrative, independent, contributing to a fragmentary and repetitive accumulation. These are the hints, the attempts, a palimpsest where precedent identity is erased to create space for novel performance. The shutter is pressed; a new image is created. In the end, the “gallery” strives to become an endless archive. Tuscac, from the top of their ladder—carefully placed in the corner of the room—asserts their queer identity, is the architect of their own house. We visit the intimate workshop of identity: the spectator discovers Tuscac in the place where Tuscac constructs themself. As Jack Halberstam asserts, “Trans* bodies … remind all of us that the body is always under construction. … Trans* bodies represent the art of becoming, the necessity of imagining, and the fleshly insistence of transitivity.” In the Squeegee Gallery, Tuscac is in construction. Tuscac imagines and incarnates this becoming without end.
Poughkeepsie, NY, December 2018