This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in September 2014.

Today, Rebecca Rubenstein interviews the curators of an exciting new show at the Jefferson Market branch of the NYPL, where community-minded artists regularly show their work.  Don’t miss Rebecca’s other posts on library-as-incubator happenings in the NYC area! ~Erinn

QueerBookDioramaShow

by Rebecca Rubenstein.

I recently spoke with the curators of the Queer Book Diorama Show, Hugh Ryan and Sassafras Lowrey. The show is currently on exhibit at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. During a panel discussion at the library, the artists talked about their creative process. By visually representing books that have deeply impacted their lives, the artists were able to learn a great deal about themselves and actually become part of their favorite stories in their own way.

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Curators Hugh Ryan and Sassafras Lowrey

RR: What inspired you to organize this show?

Sassafras: Last summer, Michelle Brennan an artist in Michigan created a “book in a box” style diorama of my novel Roving Pack. She was undergoing treatment for cancer when she read the book, and was so connected to it that she was inspired to make art about the book and then sent it to me as a gift!

Queer books are so important to many of us as we have come out though different queer identities, to see our lives/bodies/relationships represented. Opening the diorama I was struck again in a new way about the power of books, and the way they inspire us. ~Sassafras Lowrey

I immediately shared the photo of the diorama on Facebook, and was amazed at how many people commented on it. Hugh Ryan was tagged in a comment because of his work with the Pop Up Museum -the community was asking us to find a way to bring queer book dioramas to life! We were both intrigued and started throwing around ideas and before long, the show was born. Hugh and I had never worked together before, but everything fell into place really organically. It’s hard to believe we’ve been working on this for the last year, and that it has grown into such a fun expression of the power of queer literature!

Victoria Baker | Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown 

RR: What was your curation process like? How did you choose the exhibiting artists?

Hugh: We issued a call for proposals far and wide! Pop-Up has a four-year history of working with queer art makers and historians around the country, so we have a pretty robust starting list to draw from – and increasingly, we’re getting submissions from around the world (for this show, we received submissions from Ireland, Canada, The Czech Republic, and South Africa). Once we had the proposals in hand, we evaluated them on a number of criteria: How well they established a connection between their piece and the theme of the show, how well thought out their plan for the exhibit seemed, their ability to carry through on their proposal, and the overall need and look of the show itself. We talked through our thoughts on each piece, and once we had a short list of pieces we liked, we thought about what grouping of them went together to create the best show as a whole.

Michelle Morgan Chelsea Girls By Eileen Myles

Michelle Morgan | Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles

Sassafras: I’ve edited two anthologies but have never curated an art show, so for me this was a whole different process.

Not only did artists write really thoughtful proposals, it was also palpable the ways that books had influenced their lives and contributed to the formation of their identities.  It made it hard to pick which dioramas to include in the show!

Jason Bishop & Tim McMath | Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford

Jason Bishop & Tim McMath | Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford

RR: I liked that the pieces ran the gamut from traditional to more contemporary takes on the diorama as a means of expression. What drew you to want explore the use of dioramas specifically as visual representations of books?

Sassafras: I was really drawn to the relateability of dioramas as a medium. Most of us remember having to make one as a book report in elementary school. I was attracted to the playfulness of revisiting the diorama as queer adults, inspired by queer books, and how it was a medium that could take many different forms. One thing I really like about how the show came together is how different all the dioramas are from each other!

Michael Moran | Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran

Michael Moran | Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran

Hugh: As a curator, I want to create shows that allow queer people to explore and explain our own stories to each other, and the diorama form seemed perfect for that purpose because it’s not intimidating – after all, didn’t everyone have to make a shoebox diorama at some point in the 4th grade? (Mine was on Slake’s Limbo, a book I still love to this day). And books are often one of the first places that many queer people find expression for our sexual / gender identities, so there was a natural connection that I was eager to explore.

I want to create shows that allow queer people to explore and explain our own stories to each other, and the diorama form seemed perfect for that purpose because it’s not intimidating – after all, didn’t everyone have to make a shoebox diorama at some point in the 4th grade? ~Hugh Ryan

Ketch Wehr | The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Ketch Wehr | The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

RR: Where can I find out more about your work? What other arts and/or book related activities are you involved with?

Hugh: You can find out more about my work on my website, www.hughryan.org, which is mostly devoted to my journalism. I cover queer art, politics, and culture, along with social justice and literature (especially young adult lit) generally. And to find out more about Pop-Up, like us on Facebook at Facebook.com/QMuseum or check out our website at www.queermuseum.com.

Sassafras: The best place to find out about my work is at my website www.SassafrasLowrey.com and folks can friend me on Facebook/Twitter! My next novel Lost Boi which is a queer, punk, re-imagining of Peter Pan that will be released from Arsenal Pulp Press in April 2015. My other books include  Roving Pack, a novel, and two anthologies: Kicked Out, and Leather Ever After.

Jacky Flagg | Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Jacky Flagg | Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

 

rebecca_rubensteinRebecca Rubenstein is an artist who earned her MFA from from Pratt Institute before enrolling as an MSLIS student at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University. She recently completed an internship with the Librarian for Fine Art at New York University’s Bobst Library. One of her projects there was to build a Lib Guide which includes online and print professional development resources for visual artists. She currently works in the eLibrary of an educational software company. Visit her website at www.rebeccaprojects.com.

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