MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas: Consciousness Razing—The Stonewall Re-Memorialization Project

MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas: Consciousness Razing—The Stonewall Re-Memorialization Project

New Museum

Chris E. Vargas, Tools for a Riot, 2018. Digital drawing, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.

September 21, 2018
MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas: Consciousness Razing—The Stonewall Re-Memorialization Project
September 26, 2018–February 3, 2019
The Store X and the New Museum

The New Museum’s Department of Education and Public Engagement presents the exhibition and residency MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas: Consciousness Razing—The Stonewall Re-Memorialization Project through its Fall R&D Season: GENERATION. With wry humor and incisive critique, Chris E. Vargas parodies mainstream social and institutional codes to reimagine how queer and trans experiences are represented. Vargas is the founder and executive director of the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art (MOTHA), a semi-fictional, transient institution that serves as a platform for exhibiting trans history and cultural production. His project takes up the contested legacy of the word history: Vargas notes that “for millennia, the patriarchy has had versions of history; for a few years in the 1970s, some white feminists had herstory; but it hasn’t been until now that transgender people have finally had a gender-neutral hirstory all their own.”

At the New Museum, Vargas continues work on Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects (2015–ongoing), a visual and material exploration of significant artifacts in the hirstory of transgender communities. Major museums often present 100 objects from their collections to construct “definitive” historical narratives; in his series, Vargas riffs on this convention, purposefully presenting 99 or fewer objects to emphasize the forever-incomplete task of representing history.

In the lead up to the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this iteration of the project explores Stonewall as a geographically, demographically, and historically contested site. Throughout MOTHA’s four-month exhibition, Vargas questions what we think we know about the 1969 riots, often cited as a formative event for gay liberation and the modern LGBTQI civil rights movement in the United States. In 2016, to commemorate the riots, President Obama designated New York’s Stonewall Inn and the adjacent Christopher Park a national monument. Yet for years, many of the activists who led the fight against violence and police brutality against queer and trans people—including Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, and many others—were not properly recognized in popular accounts of Stonewall. Today, mainstream LGBTQI histories increasingly recognize these figures, even while eliding their more radical demands and their critiques of racism, economic marginalization, and transphobia.

In order to expand how this complex history is memorialized, and to acknowledge the ways it has been manipulated, Vargas has invited an intergenerational group of artists to propose new monuments to the riots. These commemorations—by Chris Bogia, Jibz Cameron, Nicki Green, Martine Gutierrez, Sharon Hayes, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catherine Lord, Devin N. Morris, D’hana Perry, Keijaun Thomas, Geo Wyeth, and Sarah Zapata—take up Stonewall’s legacy through radically different forms and on divergent terms. In the Fifth Floor Gallery, a 1:7 scale model of Christopher Park becomes a platform for their wildly speculative public art, conceived of as replacements for the George Segal sculptures that have been installed there since the early 1990s. Their models cycle through the park, variously building, renovating, and razing an iconic landscape. At stake is the place of imagination within revolution, bolstered by Vargas’s insistence that rather than simply replacing one object—or one history, memory, or concern—with another, we must hold space for many.

Vargas’s residency and collaborative project reflect on the theme of the Fall 2018 R&D Season: GENERATION. Most obviously, the term generation refers to the ways culture and history are handed down over time via affiliation. Yet the word also conjures ways of making, of creating and bringing forth. With both meanings in mind, Vargas looks to Stonewall as a perpetually unfolding site. His project contends that attempting to narrate a stable history does the past a disservice. Instead, MOTHA acknowledges that the act of historicizing is inherently biased and often self-serving, and finds new ways to uncover, recast, and recuperate elements of the past.

Alongside this exhibition, “Resources for Resistance” presents an active workspace and library in the Fifth Floor Resource Center, focusing on the continued fight against the criminalization of LGBTQI communities. The critical texts, take-away resources, and prison letter–writing workstation offer pathways for understanding and supporting radical trans activism, particularly around issues of criminalization and prison justice. This presentation is organized in collaboration with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

The exhibition is curated by Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement, and Sara O’Keeffe, Associate Curator, with Kate Wiener, Curatorial Assistant.

Public Programs

MOTHA Executive Director Address: Stones to the Wall
Saturday September 29, 3pm
In a director’s address—chock full of puns and tongue-in-cheek asides—Chris E. Vargas introduces the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art (MOTHA), exploring the stakes and challenges of creating a museum dedicated to trans hirstories while reckoning with the shifting, unstable nature of gender paradigms across different historical periods.

Imperfect Models: Memory, Monuments, and Memorialization
Thursday November 8, 7pm
Bringing together scholars, cultural critics, and artists—including Nona Faustine, Kevin Mumford, Harriet F. Senie, and Jeanne Vaccaro—this panel will consider the histories and futures of monuments in the United States, with a particular focus on the possibilities and challenges of memorializing queer and trans hirstories.

Speculative Monuments: Show and Pray Tell with MOTHA’s Commissioned Artists
Thursday January 17, 7pm
The Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art (MOTHA) presents an evening with artists commissioned by MOTHA to propose new public artworks for Christopher Park, a national monument designated by President Obama in 2016 to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots.


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September 21, 2018

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