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Lois Bielefeld: Androgyny

January 16 - March 14, 2015

Opening reception: Gallery Night, January 16, 5-9pm.

Lois Bielefeld: Androgyny will open Gallery Night, January 16, 2015, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo Street, Fifth Floor, Milwaukee. The exhibition runs through March 14, 2015. In addition, the annual Winter Chapel has expanded to an indoor and outdoor installation. Bruce Knackert has built the indoor chapel and kathryn e. martin has installed a Winter Chapel across the street from Portrait Society at the Mercantile Building.

This exhibition, nearly two years in the making, explores the power and complexity of gender identity and fluidity through a series of photographic portraits, short videos and a large-scale, interactive audio installation. The word “androgyny” means having characteristics that are both traditionally male and female.

Judith Butler’s 1990 book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, launched the concept of ‘gender performity,’ which challenged the notion of a binary ‘given’ of male/female. In Androgyny, Bielefeld expands assumptions about gender, showing an array of subjects, ranging from grade school children to adults, who don’t fall squarely into an existing category associated with sex and identity.

Besides a large-scale audio installation in the center of the gallery space, the exhibition includes 23 portraits. Through research and referrals, Bielefeld found subjects willing to come to her studio, stand on a scruffy floor against a white wall and assume a pose. They were asked to wear everyday clothes. The photos are direct, simple, unmediated variations on the fashion photography Bielefeld engages in professionally for Kohl’s. Each subject, in their willingness to share this aspect of their identity, to literally offer it up for our perusal, assumes a pose and eye contact with the camera that feels both courageous and vulnerable. The emptiness of the photographic background heightens the mood of aloneness which “difference” can evoke, and magnifies the act of self-performance. As the artist says, “The photographs invite the viewers to look, stare, and question, which unfortunately is what happens to the subjects on a regular basis in public.” Essentially, however, these portraits award us all permission to more fully be who we are, no matter what ‘pronoun’ we ascribe to.

Lois Bielefeld, a Milwaukee based photographer, is best known for two previous bodies of work, “The Bedroom,” (2008-2012) and “Weeknight Dinners,” (2013-ongoing), as well as a recent film, “Ladies Out.” She speaks from her own experiences as she tackles the subject of androgyny. “Personally when I was younger,” Bielefeld says, “I was regularly misgendered. It happens much less now (only with children). But I think what brought the project to the forefront to start working on it was watching my girlfriend be misgendered on a regular basis. I distinctly remember another woman look in horror as Jackie entered a public restroom at the airport.”

Like her previous bodies of work which use a cultural, universal norm, like eating dinner or sleeping, to look at similarities and differences in geographic, economic, gender, race and age disparities, Androgyny points a camera and opens up the possibilities that who we are need not be determined by what we are biologically or culturally given.

“In cultures with a binary gender system, such as the U.S, we innately categorize by sex because it is uncomfortable for us to not know an individual’s sex,” says Bielefeld. “For example, the typical first question following the announcement of a pregnancy is if the parents know the sex. Those who do not fit neatly into a category, such as the androgynous or gender non-conforming, are subject to sneaking glances or outright stares, a probing and/or invasive question or two, and incorrect categorization. The issue is compounded and can potentially turn hurtful or violent when individuals choose to present themselves androgynously – to not perform their sex as society expects.”

Artist Bio

Lois Bielefeld is a conceptual photographer and filmmaker as well as a commercial/fashion photographer. She was born in and currently resides in Milwaukee, WI with her girlfriend and daughter. Lois has her BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and from 2003-2010 she lived and worked in New York City. She is a 2012 recipient of the Nohl Fellowship and has shown at Inova, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, ArtStart, Portrait Society Gallery, and the Museum of Wisconsin Art. Lois is the recipient of the Luxembourg Artist Residence through the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which will begin in February 2015. Bielefeld is represented by Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Parkside, Kenosha, and was previously shown there. It was supported by the Mary L. Nohl Suitcase Export Fund and ReStore (Habitat for Humanity).

During the run of the exhibition, work will be available for sale from both of Bielefeld’s previous projects, “The Bedroom,” and “Weeknight Dinners.” In addition, for every “Androgyny” portrait purchased, a print will be donated to the Museum of Wisconsin Art, in an effort to institutionally secure and preserve this important project.


Interview, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kevin Miyazaki

Video, The Bathroom installation

Winter Chapels

Every year, Portrait Society Gallery invites an artist to build a Winter Chapel. The selected artist can create any type of room they want, with the only requirements being that it has a meditational quality and a place to sit. The intent is to fashion a space in which to contemplate the harsh winter months of the midwest, to settle into a moment of quiet, and to consider the disjuncture in western culture between the sacred and profane.

Running through March 14, the Winter Chapel arose as a means of acknowledging our shared condition of psychological hardship and physical duress during the three months of cold.

This year we are pleased to announce that for the first time there will be two Winter Chapels: One inside by Bruce Knackert and one outside by kathryn e. martin. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design professor Leslie Fedorchuk is dedicating her sabbatical year to researching sacred/secular spaces and artist designed chapels to expand the depth and reach of this project, now in its sixth year. A small catalog with an essay by Fedorchuk will accompany this year’s Winter Chapels.

Bruce Knackert, Associate Director of INOVA (Institute of Visual Arts at the Peck School of the Arts, UW-Milwaukee), has spent the past 30 years working at four university art galleries, a university natural history museum and a commercial art gallery. While designing and installing countless exhibitions for other artists, he was also quietly turning his home, a 1911 Arts and Crafts Bungalow in Milwaukee, into a museum/installation. Knackert’s early obsession with thrift shops, rummage sales and, later, eBay, eventually resulted in over 100 crucifixes, dozens of images of the Sacred Heart and assorted rosaries, reliquaries, Virgin Mary figurines. Stemming from his Catholic upbringing, the collection became a kind of domestic, walk-in history of populous religious signs and symbols. En masse, the installation presents a portrait of an icon, Jesus, and let’s us think about how his image was visual conceived and fashioned. In transferring all of this to the gallery, Knackert is also ready to share it. All of the artifacts will be for sale.

kathryn e. martin is well known for her innovative use of unexpected materials. She has completed a number of public art commissions, including a recent project for Milwaukee’s new East Branch Library. She says that her work consciously connects with its users and communicates with its audience through “a targeted conversation with the history, people, and architectural elements found on location.”

martin is building her Winter Chapel installation on the south side of the Mercantile building, 220 E. Buffalo Street, across the street from Portrait Society. Her Winter Chapel will be continuously open to the public and is generously sponsored by Hanson Dodge Creative.

Inspired by a Buddhist temple in the city of Yushu in China, martin will create and string several hundred hand-made white prayer flags. She says of the project, “I want to flood this area in Milwaukee with prayer flags, making a sacred space while providing a commentary on the state of today. I feel a heaviness in our air. I see so much loss, pain and hurt. Despite the goodness here (and especially in my own life), I believe we are in need of prayers. Prayers on both ends, giving and receiving. And I want to give Milwaukee this space, idea and place.”

kathryn e. martin earned her BFA at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2001 and her MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts in 2007.

Previous Winter Chapel installations included:
2010: Debra Brehmer, Marsha McDonald, Dave Niec
2011: Linda Wervey Vitamvas
2012: Keith Nelson and Paula Schulze
2013: Kevin Giese
2014: Ashley Morgan

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