Post-Office Arts Journal, Baltimore

The Holy Ghost Goes to Bed at Midnight @ School 33 (James Bouché)

Allie Linn

“The architecture has to be an object of your memory,” Louise Bourgeois asserted in a 1999 interview with her longtime studio assistant Jerry Gorovoy. “When you summon, when you conjure the memory, in order to make it clearer, you pile up the associations the way you pile up bricks to build an edifice. Memory itself is a form of architecture.”1 In translating the domestic interiors of her youth into built sculptural spaces, Bourgeois materialized (and created space to reflect on) the narratives she had carried with her for decades. Architecture functions as both medium and metaphor in her work, so that the processes of building and remembering become synonymous.

Bourgeois’s words still felt timely while walking through The Holy Ghost Goes To Bed At Midnight, James Bouché’s recent solo exhibition at School 33. Described in the gallery text as a “reconsidering of truths and values…once easily accepted” but ultimately “dismissed in adulthood,” The Holy Ghost reimagines the gallery as a stripped down, achromatic version of the Mormon temple Bouché attended as an adolescent before coming out as gay and leaving the church at sixteen. With hindsight, the remembered iconography of the original space is reimagined into a collection of artificial simulations. Once-revered objects are translated into hollow props, stripped of their function, and, at times, eroticized.

Every element within the space has been meticulously fabricated by Bouché: custom hanging ceiling-facing lights cast only a dim glow in the darkened room, and the lower half of the walls have been upholstered with grey felt. Occasional slits in this upholstery, mended with carefully placed safety pins, act as small wounds, barely discernible, but present. Paul Cowan-esque images of simplified black and white windows line the top of the walls, and vinyl decals of curtains caught in the breeze sit beneath them. Throughout the perimeter of the room are six white folding chairs, numbered one through six, teetering in various states of mid-fall. Multiple black keys hung beneath wall-mounted wax-cast flashlights provide only a suggestion of the labyrinthine expanse of the real temple.

Most captivating, perhaps, is a scaled-down replica of a traditional baptismal font sitting on the floor. True to its Mormon original, the font rests on twelve sculpted oxen, representative of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of the more publicized aspects of the Mormon church is the proxy baptism or the baptism for the dead, a practice in which a living member of the Mormon community can be baptized on behalf of a deceased person, often without their prior agreement. It is a controversial and scrutinized practice, one that can be equated with forced conversion. Importantly, Bouché’s font is empty and far too small to accommodate an adult baptism. All of the objects in the room, in fact, have been stripped of their function and rendered useless: the wax flashlights cannot illuminate, the keys indicate no accompanying locks, the windows and curtains are merely two-dimensional cartoons on a wall. These objects collectively construct an elaborate facade, aesthetically enticing but functionally frustrating.

Clipped to the lower walls are also fabricated harnesses, referencing both the bondage of imposed religion and the sexual potential of the space. In his book Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire, Aaron Betsky defines queer space as “a misuse or deformation of a place, an appropriation of the buildings and codes of the city for perverse purposes.”2 While Betsky’s 1997 work has been justifiably criticized for its rather narrow, male-centric perspective, Queer Space does provide one lens for understanding how a space of repression and condemnation might be reappropriated and reimagined as an empowering space for sexual liberation. The visual language of the remembered temple in The Holy Ghost has been adjusted only slightly, and yet the space is nevertheless radically reclaimed.

The eroticism of the room is initially subtle. Three mirrors depicting diagrams of different hand gestures, captioned “60. condemn,” “118. fornication (‘sleep around’),” and “36. bondage,” most explicitly point to sex, but even these graphics dissolve into the mirrored reflections behind them until confronted by a body. Betsky names the mirror space as “free and open, shifting and ephemeral, and yet constrained by its lack of reality,” simultaneously functioning as true reflection and intangible projection.3 Stripped of their source information, the diagrams reference both the handshakes and gestures of various Mormon ceremonies (i.e. the marriage sealing) and the body language of cruising culture. Betsky finally notes that queer space “becomes an invisible network, a code of behavior or ritualized language of gestures that traces the activities and places of everyday life,” a framework illustrated by Bouché’s co-opted and reclaimed nonverbal communications.4

The meticulous attention paid to detail in The Holy Ghost Goes to Bed At Midnight is characteristic of Bouché’s ever-thoughtful and detail-oriented practice, but the sharing of personal narrative represents a significant departure from the artist’s generally tight-lipped practice. Many of the elements of the installation are still shrouded in mystery, as the Mormon temple generally remains closed to non-practitioners, but the reflection on imposed childhood ideologies and practices is nonetheless universally understood. In the surreal, colorless mirror-world of the pseudo-temple, Bouché intertwines memory with architecture to create an immersive space for rumination and reflection.


Ginevra Shay of Rose Arcade

C. Klockner

Ginevra Shay is a Baltimore based artist. In June 2016, she founded the nomadic curatorial project Rose Arcade. She’s also Artistic Director of The Contemporary.

CA: Tell me about Rose Arcade.

GS: The aim was to create a curatorial project that was as close to my art practice as possible. In its initial inception, I thought of Rose Arcade as a sweet and small gesture; that a sincere work can be a radical act.

I’m really inspired by Jacques Tati. In an interview about his 1958 film “Mon Oncle,” a comedy about the human struggles against modernity and consumerism within a cityscape, Tati talks about this moment where Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati) opens a window in his rambling old-world Parisian apartment building to reflect a light on his neighbor’s yellow parakeet, causing it to sing. It’s a fleeting thing, but it’s also a moment that you can internalize and carry with you.

Dogs running around is a theme of nomadism in this movie, which is a point of inspiration for Rose Arcade — this freedom to act. For Tati, the dogs are able to pass through that threshold effortlessly, which is this symbolic and literal barrier between the modern world and the old world; one in which the ultimate stratification brought about by capitalism is beginning to take hold, and one that’s far smoother and more flexibly navigable. Hulot and the dogs succeed in their urban nomadism; Hulot participates in both contexts; at home in the old, and by manipulating the modern with an unwitting disavowal of its laws.

I’m drawn to the consideration for artist, site, and facilitator, that each aspect has real specificity to it. How do you find the weight of each exhibition balances artists’ works and place? Does either end up foregrounding or is the balance equal?

I don’t know that anything is ever balanced, I see it more as a concern of multiplicity, and developing a conversation between the work and the place. The things that are important to the fabric of a cityscape (like heterogeneity, multiplicity, simultaneity) also fold into the considerations of the art and the site.

Allie Linn
Allie Linn

For the first Rose Arcade show, Clam in the Wild, these ideas came into play. After years of walking past this arcade in my neighborhood it became a concise symbol of the area. It’s now empty, distinct, small storefronts inside a covered walkway. Outside the arcade you find rampant vacancy, crumbling infrastructure, the struggle of being a merchant in Downtown West made physical — all from poorly planned development and disinvestment in the city center. So, how do you find agency, a means to act within a place, when this is the environment you’re faced with? Is it possible to be liberated in this structure, to have a sense of the self as “wild,” while remaining grounded and connected?

I thought of Allie Linn and Margo Malter; two artists who lived in the neighborhood. This was important for the first show; while I didn’t directly articulate it to them, it seemed that both artists could address their immediate surroundings. Allie’s work addresses the relationship between history, materiality, and absence, and Margo’s work touches on the absurdity of the body, consumerism, and textiles.

Allie Linn

Can you talk a little bit about the following show, Occhio Pavone, as well? Did that show have a similar development, or did the logistics of bringing the show to Italy change the way you were able to manage the artist pairings?

This process was a little different than Clam In The Wild. For Occhio Pavone, the title, and the writing came at the end like before. This show was still informed by conversations with the artists and considerations for the space, but the work was already made and I had no idea what the space was going to be! Hahaha. I knew I was going to Florence and that I wanted to bring some work over for a show, but I didn’t know where I was staying, what kind of space I would have access to, or even what artists I would meet upon arriving.

Theresa Chromati, María Tinaut, and June Culp

So when I got there, I ended up staying in this lady’s tapestry repair shop. There was a tiny, one room apartment in the back and her studio/workshop was in the front. The studio had tons of beautiful, draped threads hanging from the walls and I was immediately drawn to her space as the site. Tying the art to the tapestry repair studio was a challenge but was resolved through the writing. Occhio Pavone translates to “peacock eye” in english, and is also a type of terrazzo flooring. Terrazzo was created in Tuscany centuries ago by laborers salvaging scraps of marble to be formed into a speckled, cost-effective flooring. It’s something I see all over Baltimore as special and beautiful and it fit right into the show’s theme. Everyone gave me small works that were ideas in progress, or editions, things that were perhaps less precious to them. In the context of this tapestry repair studio, the show became about how we observe and connect things, how things become worked, finished, repaired, and abandoned. Also, the ways in which we are or are not able to see, “A beautiful unseeing eye living only to be observed.”

Theresa Chromati
Theresa Chromati

There were two works in the show of masked figures, one by James Bouché and one by Luigi Presicce and two works of nude women of color, made by women of color, gazing away from the viewer. In bringing over work by Theresa Chromati and June Culp, I wondered how often nude paintings, sexualized paintings, by women of color had been shown in Florence.

María Tinaut who is from Valencia, Spain often makes work using an archive of her grandfather’s family photos. For Occhio Pavone she showed a piece comprised of six black and white photos that read like stills from a film. They show her grandfather diving into the sea, or more precisely toward the sea; and in the images he is suspended in his dive, never reaching the water. There was also one of Alexander Iezzi’s “ROSE” wax bricks in the show. For Alex, the bricks function as a funeral effigy of a New York brick manufacturing company. They’re made to be donated as “A rose for ____”; a city or a person, a memory, a time. So at the end of the show, Alex and María’s works were brought to the Arno, Alex’s brick installed in the river’s bank and María’s diver finally making it into the water.

The show sounds amazing, I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures. Are there any threads that tie the two shows together so far?

I think so: an investment in beauty, loss, and empathy. I think, beauty and death could be considered closely related because of the inherent deindividuation that both participate in. Empathy is created in giving part of oneself up, even in a small way, and this is an act of beauty.

James Bouché
James Bouché

I’m curious how your role as Artistic Director at the much larger nomadic institution, The Contemporary, colors your experience in this project. I guess I’m wondering, do you operate with the same sort of mantras (“Audience is Everywhere, Artist’s Matter, Collaboration is Key”) that that institution does?

Yes, definitely.

For The Contemporary, there’s a lot more for me to manage beyond finding a site and conversations with artists; it’s so much more than curating. There’s a large budget that has to be meticulously tracked and managed, a lot of historical research, fundraising, partnerships, managing crews, material orders, housing. Its a really big production every time we do a project with a lot of people and countless moving parts. I’ve found that there are so many sites I’m interested in that don’t really fit for The Contemporary because they’re too small or can’t be utilized for more than a few hours, and I love curating so I felt this need to keep going.

What projects are you hoping to facilitate in the future with Rose Arcade?

The next Rose Arcade show is a work by Malcolm Peacock at Druid Hill Park called Let The Sun Set On You. It’s an action that will take place at Memorial Pool and the neighboring tennis courts. Memorial Pool, originally called “Pool No. 2,” was the first municipal pool for Black folks in the United States. Pool No. 2 opened in 1921 and closed in 1956. In 1953, Thomas Cummings a 13 year old boy drowned in the Patapsco. Pool No. 2 was too crowded and he couldn’t access Pool No. 1, the whites only pool. His death led to the integration of the pools and eventually Pool No. 2 was memorialized by artist Joyce J. Scott in 1999 as “Memorial Pool”, though it remains unknown to many residents of the city.

Malcolm Peacock

The neighboring tennis courts were the site of the 1948 integrated tennis match protest that led to arrests and a greater push for racial equality. The courts were also the home of the first American Tennis Association national championships, where both Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe played. Unfortunately, this historically Black area of Druid Hill Park remains without lighting at night, forcing attendees to end their evenings early. This piece is rooted in creating a space for empathy. Malcolm is looking at what this space has meant historically, what it means in our current climate, and what it could come to mean for individuals in Baltimore.

As a curator, for this project specifically, I’m interested in the ways Malcolm makes work that doesn’t aestheticize history, work that includes a public but is not performative or theatrical. I wonder can (art) actions push policy change, bring signage and markers to historical sites, and needed public facilities? These are the questions I’m curious about and I’m hopeful that Malcolm’s work can bring us towards some answers.

Without giving much more away about what the action will be, I can share this quote that resonates with Malcolm by Ava DeVernay, “I wonder if by slowing the narrative down, and making it so that every second doesn’t have something to react to, could it illicit a different collective reaction? I just want to get across the whole idea of people sinking into this. That’s the only way it’s going to work is if you stop, take a moment and watch it and sink into it.”


Let The Sun Set On You will take place on Monday, October 3rd at 6pm in Druid Hill Park (starting at the junction of Swann Drive and Beechwood Drive). Top photo in the article shows work by Margo Malter and Allie Linn.