Identities Press Release
“B” Dry Goods Announces IDENTITIES
An exhibition celebrating and exploring trans identity, featuring works and installation by Violet Frances, a large archive of anonymous photographs of the 1920s-30s, works by Lili Elbe, Bellmer, Picabia, Molinier, and others
Opening to the public September 8th, 2023
Brooklyn, NY (August 2023): “B” Dry Goods—a multidisciplinary gallery located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, offering a distinctive mix of art, design, rare books, manuscripts, music and ephemera—is pleased to announce a new exhibition, Identities. Opening September 8th, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the show focuses on trans identity and presents recent works and a “femme wall” installation by artist Violet Frances, in conversation with a body of 100-plus photographs by an anonymous photographer of the 1920s-30s, as well as selected other works. The exhibition is on view at “B” Dry Goods from September 8th through October 21st, 2023.
Gender identity is generally understood as a person’s internal and individual experience of gender, one’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along this spectrum. This exhibition is about finding one’s identity and is built around two bodies of artwork that explore this complex process from the perspectives of two different artists. One of these artists is anonymous, known to us only by the initials “R.F.” The other is Violet Isabelle Frances.
Gallery director Gabe Boyers writes: “I first encountered Violet’s powerful artwork when she was exhibiting in Boston in 2018 as Bryan Christie. We connected shortly thereafter on Instagram, and it was in that virtual space that I and many others were privileged to watch the becoming, or perhaps better, the realizing of Violet from the person we had known previously as Bryan. First, in 2019, there were intermittent posts signaling this shift of identity and occasional posts of Violet with her extraordinary and supportive family: her daughter sharing makeup tips, her wife sharing clothing and providing fashion tips. Then the pandemic came, and in 2020, still very early on in Violet’s transitioning, the posts started becoming more frequent—daily, sometimes many times daily. This was, of course, the time of our great isolation, during which so many of us were connecting with the outside world only or mostly through social media. And it was here where Violet, in the most frank and open and generous way, shared the process of her transitioning: from the nuts and bolts of discovering her best hairstyle or where she was shopping for affordable women’s clothing or learning to walk in heels, to the matters of sexual advances or how to face the prospect of nasty comments on the street. Violet seemed to become Violet, and to offer us—the world, anyone who wanted to bear witness to her voyage—a window, through her Instagram posts, into the most intimate discovering of her true identity. What might have been held close, hidden, private was instead shared openly, freely.”
“In some sense, this daily sharing, the sheer volume and apparent form and intensity, the methodology or project of it, might almost be considered a sort of artwork in and of itself. And indeed, Violet has expressed her sense of ‘life becoming art’ during this period. But there came soon, also, postings of Violet’s other artwork being made through this period, images of her energetic drawings and paintings. Many of these were shown to us tacked up on what Violet calls her ‘femme wall,’ which she created in her home during the pandemic and which continues to evolve, with a mix of clippings, photographs, and original artwork, as Violet charts how she is processing and understanding her evolution of identity. And there were also postings of some of her earlier works, those made as Bryan, and frank discussions of those works as seen now through the eyes of the woman Violet had become. Realizing that her work had long been preoccupied with ambiguous and sometimes shifting, transparent bodies, she would sometimes make statements with astonishment to the effect of ‘I can’t believe my work was about this all along.’”
“Drawing on her background as a medical illustrator, in these older works she had posed virtual 3-D models in positions inspired by Renaissance art, then rendered these poses in multiple views, rotating a fixed distance around the figures until the models had been completely spun in virtual space. Each of these views was then printed digitally onto silk, the silk coated with an application of wax, and the wax fused to the supporting layers using a heat gun and a blowtorch. With ghostly surfaces more greatly resembling skin than that of any other painting medium, powerful if hazy depictions of bodies emerge. In Identities, we are proud to present some of these works, together with more recent collages, paintings, and drawings—including some that recreate her Instagram posts—all installed together in and around a site-specific recreation of Violet’s ‘femme wall.’”
As a counterpoint to the artworks of Violet’s openly shared transitioning, the opposite side of the gallery in Identities exhibits approximately half of an archive of 199 experimental self-portrait photographs by an anonymous, likely French, photographer, ca. 1923-1938. Originally contained in three albums (the composition of which has been carefully recorded and to which these will be returned following the exhibition), these photographs were seemingly prepared for private, solitary reflection. The figure, who from the context we can speculate was likely assigned male at birth, appears in these photographs dressing and undressing, apparently over a long period of time, with many of the images showing them in undergarments and bloomers, sometimes in other traditionally female dress. These poses seem to be an attempt to document and comprehend an identity that may have been difficult or impossible to openly acknowledge in the context of the small French towns and communes whose names are occasionally recorded with the dates on some album pages. Indeed, in the earliest of the albums, the figure’s face is in most images heavily crossed out in ink, likely an attempt to protect the identity of the subject in case of discovery.
A small selection of other related works, documents, and ephemera will be presented in the rear gallery as part of Identities, including paintings by Lili Elbe (formerly Einar Wegener), a transgender woman who was one of the first identifiable recipients of gender affirming surgery; documents and portraits of the Chevalier d’Éon, a celebrated 18th-century soldier, diplomat, and spy who lived openly as a man and as a woman in France and England at different stages of life, drawing much public interest; works by Bellmer, Molinier, Picabia, and others. —Gabriel Boyers, owner & director
Works shown above:
Violet Frances. Men’s Wearhouse, 2023. Drawing and collage on paper, 74” x 51”.
Violet Frances. Selected works in encaustic, various sizes.
Violet Frances. Femme Wall, 2023.
From an anonymous archive of photographs, ca. 1923-1938.