In Chicago, 2011, my sister Mark Aguhar (1987 – 2012) and I came to know each other through a utopian network of queers that would congregate at art and music shows, queer/activist community gatherings, and dance parties such as the legendary Chances Dances. Mark didn’t fit neatly within the grid of sexual and gender identifications that exist in our world: she was a queer, fat, femme, brown, drag, fag, transwoman, and “Call Out Queen” (her online persona). In addition to her self-making in online communities through her YouTube videos and Tumblr photos, she worked in painting, sculpture, and performance—in the contexts of art, nightlife, and ordinary everyday life. Through these various mediums, Mark’s art and life were a joint utopian project that was actively experimenting with different ways of existing in the here and now, with her eyes and heels pointed toward what José Esteban Muñoz called “potentiality.”
She transformed herself all the time—with makeup, wigs, glitter, and self-made clothing that utilized bright and colorful patterned fabrics that were cut and pieced together in order to reveal parts of her heavenly, fat, brown body. Her art studio practically became a personal beauty salon where she could continually experiment with self [re/de]-construction using whatever was immediately available around her. Mark embraced indeterminacy in creating her body. Indeterminacy speaks to a critical process that is not just escapism, but allows us to see how capitalism and dominant culture defines our existence. This space of indeterminacy can be thought of as a space of unfixed potentiality that invites the subject to evacuate certain restrictions and interdictions, through a transformational imagination that finds multiple openings across different formats, using multiple techniques and technologies.
As she wrote in one of her blog posts, Mark “envisions the erotic potentiality of flipping the white man’s script,” in her painting No Top Needed (2010). The aggregate of intricately painted patterns delays and disorients the moment of recognizing bodies as we know them, allowing us to think different materialities for the affective relations between queer bodies. This piece is also a product of an artistic practice of surviving the self-referential aesthetics of the present as much as it was about aesthetic invention.
As jubilant as she may seem in her work (“Litanies to My Heavenly Brown Body” is a good example), Mark suffered from intense despair, insecurity, and the kind of exhaustion that comes with the ongoing struggle of a self that embodies a critique and dispossession of white male hegemony. One could detect her pain and sorrow from reading her artist statement:
My work is about visibility. My work is about the fact that I’m a genderqueer person of color fat femme fag feminist and I don’t really know what to do with that identity in this world.
It’s that thing where you grew up learning to hate every aspect of yourself and unlearning all that misery is really hard to do.
It’s that thing where you kind of regret everything you’ve ever done because it’s so complicit with white hegemony.
It’s that thing where you realize that your own attempts at passive aggressive manipulation and power don’t stand a chance against the structural forms of DOMINATION against your body.
It’s that thing where the only way to cope with the reality of your situation is to pretend it doesn’t exist; because flippancy is a privilege you don’t own but you’re going to pretend you do anyway.
Mark’s statement testifies to the burden of her awareness of the indeterminacy of WHO she is, aside from an awareness of how the “structural forms of DOMINATION” have constituted her body. Although she suggests a sort of powerlessness and invisibility within dominant culture, her body was a utopian vision that declared a non-place as a someplace. Contrary to the delusion that one’s body could be a site of complete removal, Mark’s body [of artwork] was an aggregate of fragments from different parts of culture (Mark saw a piece of herself in Mariah Carey, for example), because we don’t have the capacity to imagine a completely different world. Mark’s identification with aspects of pop culture (and wielding them through her art), is an example of being with an object in the present and allowing oneself to be changed by that object, but understanding that such a transformation is not necessarily letting oneself be mastered by it.
In Not You (Power Circle) (2011), the text “WHO IS WORTH MY LOVE, MY STRENGTH, MY RAGE?” is scrawled across the entire surface of the paper, surpassing the edge of the paper in the top-left corner—in bold, uppercase type, expressing the urgency of her desire. To fill in the letters, she used liquid lipcolor, a tool that she would use upon her lips and other parts of her body in order to create her own image. Mark calls on the viewer to realize their own incapacity to recognize their worth in relation to Mark’s indeterminacy. Her body, along with her love, strength, and rage are all in flux. The title Not You (Power Circle) rejects the notion of any proper subject being able to answer her call. She denies the viewer’s inclination to respond to her call, because she understands that this WHO could never be recognized because of one’s subjectivity—this non-subject from a non-place is in flux and unknowable. It is as though this piece is more a call that demands that she keep moving closer toward a [non-]place of greater potentiality. However, the viewer’s imagination has been triggered by Mark’s call to wonder what an alternate someone or someplace might be, what a radically different sensibility might be like, something closer to being truly queer.
On March 12, 2012, Mark committed suicide at the age of twenty-four, just a few weeks before her thesis show for the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The last post on her blog before her death read, “LOL WHITE MEN BORE ME,” which is exemplary of her use of flippancy as a tactic for shutting down white male privilege and domination (she once wrote that flippancy is the most powerful thing in the world). The kind of critical flippancy that Mark employed is an example of an excessive gesture that is often dismissed or seen as immature, stupid, irrational, lacking broader perspective. However, the excess of Mark’s flippant voice, performance, and leap into the unknown, exemplifies the pull of queer aesthetic production toward potentiality, in order to resist, escape, and exceed the tenets of capitalism (including capitalist notions of time and space). Every time I apply glitter onto my body I think of Mark, and imagine what it would be like to reach the horizon of a truly queer place and time, whereby we would gain the capacity to respond to Mark’s call, and be able to recognize the value of our love, strength, and rage.
ContributorYoung Joon Kwak
YOUNG JOON KWAK is a LA-based multidisciplinary artist, founder of the performance collaborative Mutant Salon, and lead performer of the band Xina Xurner. Kwak has had solo exhibitions in Chicago, LA, and South Korea, most recently at Commonwealth and Council (LA, ’14). She performed and exhibited in collaborative and group exhibitions at venues such as the Hammer Museum, REDCAT, Honor Fraser Gallery, Night Gallery, and the Broad (LA), Southern Exposure (San Francisco), Regina Rex and Smack Mellon (NYC), and Pavillon Vendôme Centre d’Art Contemporain (Clichy, France). Upcoming projects include a Mutant Salon performance at the Hammer (Fall ’16), a solo exhibition at Commonwealth and Council (’17), and a research-based exhibition on queer performance aesthetics at the ONE National LGBTQ Archives (’17). Kwak received her MFA from USC (’14), MA from the University of Chicago (’10), and BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (’07).