February 15 – March 24, 2019
Jeffrey Cheung's drawings of many-sexed and ambiguously gendered characters in various states of sexual play deliver an answer to cis people's apparent confusion about how post-gendered fucking works. Cheung's first solo-show at Muddguts is hung salon style—crowded, nearly floor to ceiling, with little to no space between the works. It can be hard to see what the drawings are doing, or which pieces are conversing with each other but this is not just because of how they are installed.
The drawings tangle bodies into ouroboros-like orgies and public explorations of pleasure. They can seem to depict surreal dismemberment, but the viewer is quietly assured that the bodies are complete, if not always visible. In one scene, bodies are so knotted that the only way to make sense of the brush-stroked ink is by counting body parts: 5 heads, 6 feet (5 of them attached to hairy legs), 8 breasts, 5 butts, 2 mustaches. In another ink on paper work, a small head watches as a large head sucks someone's big fingers, reaching around a smaller butt and legs, which rest on a pair of breasts and a belly. Which part belongs to which body is confusing because it doesn't matter. The important thing is that each body part has orgasmic potential. The ability to fuck is a way of asserting humanness, and the ability to do so freely counter-fetishizes trans bodies. In Cheung's work, orgasm is agency.
Gender markers are broadly distributed, clothing appears rarely and when it does it is as un-specific blocks of color—one figure's breasts and penis are bared despite some kind of hip-area clothing indicated by a red triangle of colored pencil, maybe a skirt, maybe short-shorts, either or both. Mustaches and breasts often ride on the same body. These figures aren't non-gendered in the kind of androgyny that skinny, white, hairless bodies can get away with. In many of the works the figures' leg, arm, and chest hair is laid down in bold, squiggly lines and dashes. Arsenals of reproduction-associated organs, breasts and penises, peek out from behind a single proud belly.
Cheung's art first grabbed attention as posters advertising queer skate meet-ups for his roving community center/brand, Unity. Many skaters make art, a few well-known artists skate (Harmony Korine for example) or collaborate with skaters (Susan Cianciolo and Mark Gonzales), and both worlds are grappling with their predominantly cis-het cultures of power. Collectives like Decolonize This Place and Brujas have formed to create space for marginalized identities in art institutions and skating. Cheung's Unity, formed with his partner Gabriel as a catch-all for their creative endeavors, is less politically ambitious than Brujas (who's co-founder, Arianna Gil, wrote in the February 2019 issue of this publication). Unity is focused on setting space and time aside for queer skaters to skate with each other, displacing the usual bro-y skate park crowd. These meet-ups have helped create a network of queer skate groups, united through social media, transforming skate parks around the world into safe, trans-positive spaces one afternoon at a time.
Skating is, in one sense, only the context around Cheung's work, skateboards don't appear in his drawings at all. But both endeavors are rooted in gestural expression and mark-making as affirmation that the creator is here and human. They come from an ethic of demarcating queer spaces that is consistent across Cheung's output, including his Unity/community organizing. It might be helpful to extrapolate from Jonas Mekas's assertion in his "Anti-100 years of Cinema MANIFESTO": "I am for art which we do for each other, as friends." Cheung works for and from his community of creative misfits, trans and queer skaters/musicians/humans. The works are a record of and a monument to Unity's movement. One painting on a flag simply reads, "UNITY / QUEER / SKATEBOARDING / LIKE IT OR NOT!!! / 2019."