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Liss LaFleur, “The Queer Birth Project”
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas
by John Zotos


Liss LaFleur, "The Queer Birth Project," installation view featuring “Growing bodies/babies,” 2022, neon sculpture, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist

 

Continuing through July 17, 2022

 

Interdisciplinary artist Liss LaFleur served as curator, along with renowned sociologist Katherine Sobering, for the inaugural exhibition of “The Queer Birth Project.” LaFleur’s installation incorporates Sobering’s research in a collaboration that expands on each of their interests in queer identity.  

 

Both promote an inclusive vision of how pregnancy, birthing, and the idea of a family appear through queer lenses. Their title is a reference to the project’s inspiration and starting point, that the “Birth Project,” a groundbreaking intervention into social mores in 1981 by pioneering feminist Judy Chicago. 

 

At the time Chicago’s project celebrated women, and childbearing, as creative subjects read through feminist practice. It was too early to construct a project from the perspective of gay sensibility (now referred to as LGBTQ). In LaFleur and Sobering’s view, Chicago’s project, understandably, privileged a heteronormative and binary relationship of women to the birthing process which they set out to update. 

 

“The Queer Birth Project” seeks to include queer women, lesbian women in particular, and the idea of gender nonconforming bodies in the conversation about motherhood. These non-normative people have historically been excluded from this discourse, with questions like “How do queer people experience birth?” By collecting birth stories from queer people, the exhibition displays a diversity of situations and events that extend far afield from Chicago’s idea of the universal “woman.” These situations and events are presented in four related artworks. 

 

A large-scale sculpture, “Fringe: Birth fringe (yellow),” dominates the room. It is composed of rows of vertical yellow lines formed by a fringe that hangs from above like a Calder mobile. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the installation to assume the perspective of an infant in a cradle. Yellow strands were chosen as a reference to Chicago’s use of the color in her woven pieces from the 1980’s, while the title clearly identifies the living conditions of many LGBTQ people who are still relegated to the fringes of society.

 

Mounted on a window are a series of neon pieces collectively titled “Growing bodies/babies.”  They are clearly visible from the sidewalk outside the museum and represent a profile outline of LaFleur’s partner, who identifies as a butch lesbian woman, through the course of her pregnancy. A glowing array of colors drawn from those used by the Pride Month celebration transition from yellow, blue, and purple, to shades of pink in these seven anatomical studies.  

 

They are countered by the neon text-based piece on the back wall. Here the text, drawn from the curators’ research, is handwritten by a respondent reflecting on her experience while pregnant. It suggests that we should consider the reception/perception of pregnant queer bodies as valid and distinct.

 

In the spoken-word audio piece, “Soundscape: But they can’t steal my joy,” LaFleur provides the final ingredient that unifies the installation, tying it together with disembodied words. A forty-minute loop of direct quotes from Sobering and LaFleur’s research attests to the actual experiences of queer birth. These texts are sung by soprano Morgan Horning with a joyousness that presents the experiences of queer people in a spirit of celebration.  

 

This timely yet almost utopian exhibition presents a comprehensive vision of queer women in control of their bodies. As such, it speaks to the rights of all women, now under siege in America. Without having to say as much, “The Queer Birth Project” positions itself against the attack on privacy and freedom from religious extremism being led from the Supreme Court.

Nasher Sculpture Center

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