Hurry to Jes Fan’s studio at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) to see the wonders they have been creating between October and January.¹ ⁺ ² If you like, return February 27 – April 9 to see their exhibition in MAD’s Project Room and plan to see their show at Vox Populi in May/June. Even after my second visit, there was too much to see in the small MAD studio where Fan is a Van Lier Fellow. As I look around, I admire their play with materials, contradictions, and ideas about identity politics, including gender and race. The pink and black barbells and weights are light instead of heavy, twisted or curving instead of straight. Jes is making hanging sculptures out of soybeans, the miracle bean that was a food staple in China since 2800 B.C. One soybean-encapsuled object is shaped like adrenal glands, which secrete the body’s hormones. A silicone slab form with embedded soybeans is setting in its mold. As Fan lifts it, they relate, “Silicone is a bodily material that stays wet physically.” Nearby two hairbrushes lie sideways, a long swirl of black hair (instead of bristles) connecting the two handles.
Fan is casting a 150-pound barbell into silicone and aqua resin; it will eventually be embedded into a handmade glass sphere. Fan is also working on a new project pushing the boundaries of a glass technique previously employed in the piece WHATNOTS. In this project, Fan will work with public-access glass studios in Brooklyn and New Jersey to engage with visitors about mold-making and glassmaking techniques. WHATNOT, 2015, is cast concrete made from a ten-part rubber mold. The artist plans to make glass housing for this and has already made glass housing for other works in the studio. Their innovative glass-making processes are self-evident.
Jes told me: “My background in glass has shaped my obsession in understanding how objects are made and where they are derived from. During my residency at MAD, I have been researching the pharmaceutical production of steroid hormones. Through my research, I found out that both commercially available testosterone and estrogen are both harvested from soybean phytosterols.
“This became a fascinating idea to me ̶ a bean as a symbol for an androgyne, capable of generating both secondary sex characteristics. Meditating on my own transition, I began systematically packing soybeans into capsules. Then I fuse the capsules into a panel by brushing water between the seams. The piece is then draped over a section of a barbell, appearing like a towel thrown in.”
Jes has researched how hormones change in our bodies both as we age and during life changes. They mentioned that hormonal levels in our bodies adjust to stages of parenthood or falling in love. For example, aromatization is a phenomena that occurs naturally when the male body converts an overabundance of testosterone into estrogen.
“During my fellowship at MAD, I have spent a lot of time thinking why craft is often relegated to a lower ranking in the dialogue of the art world,” the artist related.” I began conspiring about a project based in a craft practice that is considered pedestrian and feminine. Soap making came into mind. As soap can be made by saponifying most oils with lye, I decided to test it out with depo testosterone, a form of testosterone that is suspended in cottonseed oil. I’m intrigued by the idea of masculinizing a body through the act of cleansing, an inherently repetitive act that draws parallels to the repetition that is performativity of gender acts.”
“Another project that I am working on is a collage of medical illustrations of inventions that modify the human body. As technology offers us infinite options to augment and abridge our bodies, I wanted to understand where the line is drawn between a socially acceptable/ unacceptable form of body modification. Between prosthetics and implants, between cosmetic surgery and gender affirmation surgery— how do we come to determine a procedure as ‘unnatura’/ ‘synthetic’ ? This drawing will eventually exist as a wall paper, kind of like a queer camouflage.”
Fan works with weights and barbells as “an impulse to levitate an object that is associated with masculinity, not because I want to elevate it; rather, I want to suggest that it is hollow inside. Elevated by a glass bubble, its status is fragile and it exists as a prop. This project will eventually become a larger-scaled project involving a 30-inch glass bubble and a 100 -pound barbell.”
Jes identifies as transgender; their presence exudes a peaceful spirit as they tell me, “I think everyone is queer in their own ways.” Jes Fan’s oval face and features are perfect, enigmatic, youthful. They were born in Canada and raised in Hong Kong and are newly in New York after being a student at RISD. For more information, please visit www.jesfan.com.
¹ Jes prefers the use of third person plural pronouns (with plural verbs). The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender Resource Center offers a pronoun chart with options for inclusive subject, object, possessive, and reflexive pronouns: https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/
²A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed. The New York Post has pointed out that the New York City Commission on Human Rights has legal guidelines and intentionally mis-addressing trans workers may lead to fines as high as $250,000: http://nypost.com/2016/05/19/city-issues-new-guidelines-on-transgender-pronouns/