There’s no artist quite like Christian Holstad. Hopefully educational and culturally critical, Holstad’s drawings, sculptures, installations and performances address everything from social evolution (and devolution), humanity’s greatest gambles and sensuality to create an inimitable aesthetic experience.
Find out what the prolific 35-year old American has to say about gender roles, working outside the gallery system and vegetable leather, after the jump.
Queerty: You eschew the gallery for more rough-edged installations. You’ve lamented galleries’ slickness – certainly not an adjective I’d associate with your aesthetic.
Christian Holstad: I am not against all galleries. They work for some work. Rather, I try to give the work what it needs. I was not welcomed there for a long time and formed my work and relationship to presenting my ideas in other environments.
QT: Two themes come up in your work – both of which are intrinsically intertwined. Man and transformation. A recent show, “The Terms of Endearment” consists of nativity donkeys transforming or, rather, growing out of the earth, and shedding men’s suits. You said the viewer is “watching something deteriorate or change.” Is man growing into the donkey? Is he becoming the, as you’ve also said, “only definitively real thing the story of Christ’s birth”? Are we asses witnessing a new era?
CH: I could answer yes to all questions above. The donkeys, along with most other works, are meant to say many things on many different levels. Also, they are turning into something more natural, more trustworthy. This is the sense of hope in the show. This is what I think the dandelion wishes are hoping for – the deterioration is positive.
QT: You’re fascinated with hair because it provides a “direct link between the animal and the intellect”. Do you mean it’s the one thing man has in common with the roaming beasts? Are men just roving, warring beasts? Or are we docile, fearful creatures?
CH: We are both. We are animals who lost connection to instinct. This has been clouded by a false intellect. We try to convince ourselves that this is a fair-trade. Hair is the upsetting reminder of our past selves.
QT: Hair also come up in your remarks on vogue balls. You mention that the dancers pull their hair to show “the realness of a woman or to show dedication to being a full time woman”. You go on to say, “There are categories based on being as faggy as you can be. The biggest sissy wins. I don’t know where else this is true. I think it is the only place I can go and have any connection to gay pride”. I’m very intrigued by this statement. What is it about the celebration of sissification, if you will, that you find so appealing? The unabashed perversion of gender roles?
CH: I don’t believe any one person or movement should ever have too much power. I like the sissies, because in the rest of the society they have to be ashamed or beaten. This character is treated like a clown in most of the movies or TV. If you’re plump, special cheers are chanted. Our differences are celebrated. I think gender roles are perverse
QT: There’s an intentional forward motion in your work. “Toward the Light”, for example, makes me think of the mythical walk toward heaven. You highlight man’s fear of the unknown. Do you fear the unknown? Do you fear the future?
CH: My interest in the future is that it is a byproduct of now and former nows. I fear it no more than I do the present, which has very depressing elements. Sadly, I am afraid of the unknown. I do try to overcome this.
QT: A number of the collages in “Moving Toward The Light” feature black and white, nostalgic, somewhat innocent images of naked men in colorful, more modern settings. One in particular, the one with the trio of men – two looking into the sky, one waving – seems to indicate obliteration. It’s almost as if they’re being wiped out – has all of man’s sexual innocence – if such a thing ever existed – been wiped out?
CH: No, people would no longer blush if that were true. I think I was thinking less of sex and more of attachment to society. These were early characters in an ongoing idea. They were the early formations of the members of leather beach. This collage depicts black blobs. When the president dies, everything in the white house with presidential symbols or flags is covered in black. These are the blobs. I added one on the sun.
QT: Installed in a deli, “Leather Beach” took a look at the by-gone pre-AIDS leather subculture. It served as a memorial, in a way, both of that particular culture, but of dangerous sexuality in general. Is danger sexy? Is it an integral part to the sexual experience? What’s so alluring about leather?
CH: Danger can be sexy – the high that is achieved when doing something unknown or taboo. This aside, I think school is dangerous and not sexy. I think leather can be sexy on the right person. It is skin. On the wrong person, it’s gross – see Bergdorf Goodman’s clientele. I am happier, though, to see them in it than most “sexy people”. As a side note, I used vegetable leather in the leather beach show. I didn’t find this sexy.
QT: Your work also incorporates popular cultural artifacts. Are you a nostalgic person?
CH: I am usually looking for some strength. The past is a storeroom of stories of the strong and dignified. I am certain I would be dissatisfied by most time periods if I actually lived in them.
Check out more of Mr. Holstad’s art over at his American representatives, Daniel Reich and British art dealer Charles Saatchi’s online gallery. And don’t neglect Holstad’s website, where you can find news on upcomng shows, including his inclusion in the Biennale de Lyon, which commences in September.