After I told my friend about my new body of artwork, I could sense that he was worried about me. It wasn't that he was unsure about my artwork but about my personal well-being. He patted me on the back and said, with no humor, "Jeff, you need to get laid."
On view through Feb. 18 is my first-ever solo exhibition at Steven Wolf Fine Arts in San Francisco, titled Public Displays of Affection. As my super fans know, I have a difficult time connecting with other guys on a sexual level. Rather than go out into the scary world of first dates and broken hearts, I stay introverted in my studio. But all that carnal energy needs to go somewhere, so I sublimate it into the construction of strange objects. Now the objects I've created are neatly organized in a gallery for the public to see.
From the press release:
Jeffrey Augustine Songco risks being accused of massive over-sharing with his first solo exhibition, Public Displays of Affection. Displaying extraordinary powers of negative capability, Songco constructs a world in which his two great passions, Queerdom and the Catholic Church, not only peacefully coexist but thrive on each other. Songco constructs his art from objects and images that go both ways, as it were, such as Peace Poles, spears of wood with uplifting slogans that began to show up in the yards of liberal churches in the 1980s.
Like a sex-crazed sleuth searching for the gay Da Vinci code, Songco turns those phrases and the phallic forms they were painted on against their original intention to illuminate their queer subtext. In Body Shots, an ordinary table of jello shot containers such as might be found at a college fraternity party is transformed into a tabernacle for what appears to be the artist's seed. And in Scumbags, a series of surrealistic sculptures dramatically presented as luxury objects, Songco makes the case that balloon animals aren't the only forms you can make from over-the-counter latex.
The largest objects in the show are my Peace Poles. If you google "peace pole," you'll find that it's a tall, white, wooden post with the phrase "May Peace Prevail On Earth" written down the side in Helvetica. I appropriated this object and replaced the singular phrase with other phrases, like "His Pain Is Your Gain," "It Works Better When It's Open," and "He Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle." At the base of the pole is a genuine leather band with metal studs. If the meaning of the artwork hasn't hit you over the head yet, it will eventually.
In my neurotic world as a gay Catholic, I have to negotiate some kind of identity or else succumb to debilitating suffering. In order to arrive at a place that alleviates my anxiety, I like to make art, and for me, making art is a play with language and material. With Peace Poles, I turned a Christian pole into a giant BDSM cock that encourages the viewer to try anal sex. With Scumbags, I took ordinary deflated dog balloons and turned them into dirty, used condoms. And with Body Shots, I made an altar of semen.
My play with language and material has had a past before Public Displays of Affection. For my graduate school exhibition last May, I created Nice Body, Bro! -- a board of communion wafers covered in glitter, shimmering behind the phrase "Nice Body, Bro!" And with GayGayGay robe, I made a KKK robe out of rainbow-print fabric. When I presented GayGayGay robe in Grand Rapids, Mich. during the 2011 ArtPrize, there was a spectrum of responses, including gratitude from gay, African-American Christians who related to this kind of mascot of negotiated identities. (And for the crème de la crème of my puns, google my Dream Captcha.)
So you've got to give my friend credit for suggesting that I get laid. It would just chill me out, I'd calm down, and I'd strut about town going on dates and breaking hearts. But that's totally not my thing! I'm scared of the world! I like being at home cruising dudes on Grindr while watching Downton Abbey! I'm not gonna say I don't have the desire -- all this pent-up aggression has to go somewhere. The problem is, even if I did find someone to hook up with, I'd still have anxieties about all that stuff going on down there. My Peace Poles were a way to pump me up for sex! Ugh, I don't want to talk about it -- someone just give me another art show so I can sublimate, please.
Public Displays of Affection is on view at Steven Wolf Fine Arts in San Francisco, Calif., Jan. 7 to Feb. 18. For more information visit stevenwolffinearts.com.