JESS T. DUGAN: C.A.R.S Online Virtual Exhibition
Sept. 2020 - Sept. 2021
The artist-curated C.A.R.S. Online series features past participants in the long running Critic & Artist Residency Series, with virtual exhibitions bringing together the artists’ own work and works from the museum’s collection.
Jess T. Dugan (American, b. 1986 Biloxi, MS), who visited CSU in 2019, is an artist whose work explores issues of identity through photographic portraiture. They received their MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago (2014), their Master of Liberal Arts in Museum Studies from Harvard University (2010), and their BFA in Photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (2007). Dugan’s work has been widely exhibited and is in numerous museum collections including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the International Center of Photography, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and many others.
NOTE: The virtual exhibition works best in Chrome (Mac) or Edge (PC).
*Some images in this exhibition contains nudity.
Jess T. Dugan
Curatorial Statement, Inward
Gregory Allicar Museum of Art at Colorado State University
Over the past six months, life as we knew it dramatically changed. Many of us found ourselves at home, separated from friends and family, and cut off from our typical social and communal interaction. In the beginning of the pandemic, despite its challenges, I embraced the slowdown; it came for me, personally, on the heels of an especially busy few years, full of travel and professional engagements throughout the United States. I was suddenly spending most of my time at home, no longer able to work in the way I usually do. As a portrait photographer, my work depends upon being in close proximity – often in indoor, private spaces – with other people.
These limitations, however, proved to be productive. I returned to making self-portraits, which have always been an integral part of my work, but which I hadn’t focused on intensely in recent years. I made new still life images, continuing my exploration of the ways in which objects reference human experience, relationships, and desire. Several months in, I realized that, with the absence of most other external commitments and distractions, I had turned inward. New ideas were coming to me; I found new ways to photograph in my home, which I had previously tired of, thinking I had already explored all of the options in that particular environment. The relative quietness of my professional life allowed me to focus on the more internal experiences brought on by the pandemic: isolation, the fundamental human need for connection, the importance of touch and caretaking, and the fear and anxiety brought on by a world seemingly out of control.
When I was putting together this exhibition, I sought works in the collection that spoke to this heightened internal state. Rather than choosing works based around a purely conceptual or intellectual premise, I chose them based on my emotional and psychological response. I was looking for work that mirrored my own reality – work that reminded me that others, throughout time and space, have felt this way before.
Once I made my selection of work from the collection, I looked through my own photographs, choosing images in a similarly subjective fashion. Which of my photographs felt relevant in this moment? Which images paired well with the collection works I had chosen? This process led me to a new edit, a combination of images I have not previously put together. Many of them are self-portraits made both prior to and during the pandemic. Others depict couples, or pairs of people together, speaking to intimacy and desire. Others are still life images, referencing the psychological complexity of simultaneously being an individual and needing interaction with, and validation from, others.
I sought pairings that created opportunities to challenge assumptions around gender and sexuality: for example, placing Reclining Woman by Juan Antonio Roda next to my photograph Josh on the bed, flipping gendered assumptions around gaze and the direction of desire. And, sequencing Leonard Baskin’s Two Men between my photographs JD and Steve and Oskar and Zach, interpreting the theme of two men together in a different way than, I assume, Baskin had done. I also paired images through a shared gesture, color palette, or emotion: the show begins with Rena Small’s photograph, David Byrne, 1989, for Artists’ Hands Grid Continuum, and is followed by my recent photograph Self-portrait (mirror), made earlier this year, with an almost identical, yet inverted, hand gesture. A through line of hands is also present throughout the exhibition; I believe that much can be discerned about a person’s interior state by reading the gesture of their hands, and this belief is evident in much of my work.
Melanie Walker’s Mis-Match from the Mis-Nomer Pageant speaks of solitude and is paired with my photograph Rafael, also from this year, which depicts a lone figure laying on a bed, surrounded by a palette of white, as is the figure in Walker’s print. Several works spoke to me of psychological intensity, or perhaps even distress: Mel Chin’s Untitled, Pierre Daura’s Dark Vision, Patrick Ryoichi Nagatani’s Multi-Tonation of Anomalies, William Steen’s Untitled, Barbara Tisserat’s Taking Measure, and Ellida Schargo von Alten’s Vor-Erinnerung an Jessica (Before Memory of Jessica). Last, two landscape images, Francis Gearheart’s Still Waters and Dave Woody’s Untitled, provide solace and expanse, reminding us that we are not separate from the natural world, but rather, we are of it.
The through line of the show is a quiet intensity, a turning inward, while also acknowledging the fundamental need we each have for intimacy and connection with others. I hope the exhibition provides a space for contemplation, potentially mirroring the existential experiences so many of us are having in this strange, unprecedented time.
Jess T. Dugan Artist Talk
February 15, 2019
Griffin Concert Hall, UCA
A Project by Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre
Representations of older transgender people are nearly absent from our culture and those that do exist are often one-dimensional. For over five years, photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre traveled throughout the United States creating To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults. Seeking subjects whose lived experiences exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and geographic location, they traveled from coast to coast, to big cities and small towns, documenting the life stories of this important but largely underrepresented group of older adults. The featured individuals share a wide variety of life narratives spanning the last ninety years, offering an important historical record of transgender experience and activism in the United States. The resulting portraits and narratives offer a nuanced view into the struggles and joys of growing older as a transgender person and offer a poignant reflection on what it means to live authentically despite seemingly insurmountable odds.