Sala dell'ermafrodito
Bruce Hugh Russell
November 23 — December 21, 1996

This is the second exhibition dealing with sexual identity. The exhibition took the form of two concurrent installations, one is Bruce Hugh Russell’s Sala dell’ermafrodito and the other is G.B. Jones’s Bad.Good.

Bruce Hugh Russell’s Sala dell’ermafrodito is centered on the historical European representations of hermaphrodites as a method of describing legacies of western cultural attitudes toward alternate sexualities. Russell exhibits original 16 and 17th century prints and 19th century bookworks alongside historical images silkscreened on t-shirts which depict the ‘hermaphrodite’ as a constantly shifting signifier in European culture for homosexuality and ‘deviant’ sexual practice. Russell’s installation also questions contemporary museological procedures which today isolate and marginalize these themes under a veneer of aesthetic and historical sanctity

For his installation, Sala del’ermafrodito, artist and curator Bruce Russell has assembled groups of images which trace the representation of the hermprhodite in European society over the last 500 years, with emphasis on the years following the first contact with the New World. The installation derives its titled from a room built to house the Hermaphrodite by Bernini in the Villa Borghese in Rome and will centre on two photographic reproductions of the room’s ceiling fresco, which will be suspended in the gallery over a mattress resembling the one carved for Bernini’s sculpture. Russell combines this image with nine original 16th and 17th-century prints of ‘hermaphrodites’, as well as three 19th-century sexology manuals appropriated for the installation and opened to photographs and medical illustrations of actual hermaphrodites.

This pan-historical approach will located the development of the image of the hermaphrodite, and with it European cultural attitudes toward non-heterosexuality. Prior to first contact with the New World, homosexual identity was an unconceptualized idea, and homosexual activity was largely seen as the sinful and dangerous activity of the heterosexual libertine. When confronted with Native cultures where non-heterosexual identities had validity and place, a rift began to develop in Old World cultures, and a plethora of written and visual representation emerged in response to the curiosity and, often, revulsion toward what these identities might be. This installation will present images that move from allegorical narrative toward depiction based on scientific method, and through this show how the progression of dominant European cultural and social conventions digested and synthesized what was obviously a schismatic social taboo.

The exhibition will also question museological conventions that separate artist/curator, image/artifact and publication/exhibition by purposely interrogating the boundaries that have limited these categories within discreet parameters. Using the vehicle of a contemporary installation to bring historical material forward we are facilitating a thematic which questions the methods by which this material enters popular discourse. In the context of an increasing conservative retrenchment within museum culture, there has been an absence in addressing the historical roots of social attitudes toward homosexuality and the changing and deeply contingent aspect of sexual identity itself. Outside of an Artist-Run Centre, the Or feels that this work has no other place in Vancouver.

Bruce Russell graduated as a visual artist from the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design) in 1978. He has since devoted much of his time to practices as a critic, writer and curator. He has curated extensively, beginning when he was a board member of the Articule gallery in Montreal between 1982 and 1984, and his exhibition Pentimenti: Process in Contemporary Canadian Architecture will be at the Ottawa Art Gallery between February and April of 1997. He was the Visual Arts and Designer editor for MTL magazine between 1987 and 1988 and has since published numerous critical essays and reviews. He has also contributed to a number of catalogues, most recently in The Ingenious Machine of Nature: Four Centuries of Art and Anatomy, (National Gallery of Canada, 1996). The exhibition Sala del’ermafrodito derives from a paper he presented at an international lesbian and gay studio conference, La ville en rose held at the Université de Québec à Montréal in 1992. He lives and works in Ottawa.

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