Boys Done Good: Local queer art collective unveils its latest conceptual exhibition
Despite its mishaps lately, there's one thing for sure the Corcoran definitely did right: It brought together artists Christopher Cunetto and Jason Edward Tucker, former classmates–turned–co-founders of the local art collective known as Boys Be Good. The group, formed in 2010, is unique to the DC arts scene in that its membership is exclusive to queer-identified male artists who create "movements" — which "encompass a variety of creative and academic work from exhibitions to zines to panel discussions and other forms of more unconventional programming, events and products," explains Tucker, a 21-year-old photographer.
Following The Metaschematizons (which dealt in themes of transformation and sacrifice) and Solipsissy (a modern critique on the ideals of beauty, obsession, vanity, and narcissism), the Boys recently launched their third movement last week, titled Debitum Naturae, at the Arts@1830 gallery on 14th Street NW.
"Our attempt to address something as big as the AIDS crisis led us to this theme," offers 24-year-old visual artist Cunetto. "Debitum Naturae means 'the debt of nature' [in Latin]; essentially that your life is a moment in a bigger cycle, and is spent in repayment to nature for bringing you here." Cunetto says the concept developed by Boys Be Good for this latest movement "was to get people to begin to consider the meaning and place of their lives, or to at least make work with that as a point of departure," as loosely examined through the lens of the AIDS epidemic that exploded onto the national scene in the 1980s — taking many queer artists' lives with it at the time.
It's interesting to note that Cunetto and Tucker curated the Debitum Naturae exhibition blind; aside from the occasional smartphone-snapped photo sent their way, Tucker says the duo didn't see their collective's work until the week of the opening.
The show itself is heavy on photography that includes work featuring waifish, well-lit male bodies as shot in black-and-white by Daniel Rampulla, a haunting series of womblike photographs captured by Nicholas Abriola, and an arresting set of images Tucker ran through the mordançage process, producing the strongest work on the walls while contributing a real sense of decay to the overall curatorial concept. But there are also pieces as diverse as a collage triptych created by Max Fowler Cohen, ethereal colored pencil drawings of nudes from Cunetto, video art by Armando Lopez-Bircann, and an installed costume by René Medrano — who will wear the art piece as part of his contribution to the Debitum Naturae performance night, scheduled in the same gallery from 6–9 p.m. this coming Tuesday, June 19.
Daniel Rampulla presents black-and-white photography of the male form — including a Christ-like image of his father resting on a foam noodle in water. [© Boys Be Good]
Nicholas Abriola's series focuses on the concepts associated with birth, as part of the Debitum Naturae exhibition. [© Boys Be Good]
Jason Edward Tucker captured images associated with concepts of human decay, and applied the mordançage process to his silver gelatin prints. [© Boys Be Good]
Christopher Cunetto works in colored pencil drawings, and created several pieces with that medium for his group show. [© Boys Be Good]
The planned performances by Medrano, poet Andrew Fogle, avant-garde performance artist Pussy Noir, guest performer Eleanor Barba, and Tucker "are going to be a little more unexpected and depending on your sensibilities, might make you a little uneasy," promises Cunetto. "I think a general anxiety is present in the exhibition work, and I think this response to the theme will come out in the performances as well." Boys Be Good will even be donating a portion of the night's proceeds ($15 gets you reserved seating; otherwise ten bucks gets you in the door) to the It Gets Better Project, an LGBTQ youth-oriented campaign "built on the idea that sharing your vulnerabilities and hopes is a worthwhile act of communion," Cunetto says when asked why this particular cause was selected by the collective.
And then there's the zine, quickly becoming the iconic representation of each successive Boys Be Good movement. As with the zines before it, the one accompanying Debitum Naturae contains literary and visual submissions from artists of varying genders, nationalities, and sexual orientations beyond the collective's dedicated membership. "The zine is what we see as our opportunity to expand beyond the queer collective, instead inviting everyone to create work around the same themes that we have set for ourselves," mentions Tucker. "It really just validates the whole process for us, to have people, often complete strangers taking the time to work in the same vein we are. I love every bit of it."
This movement's zine was designed by Boys Be Good member Shawn Moriarty, who went out into a forest at dawn over the course of a weekend to shoot the image for the title page. Moriarty worked closely with Cunetto and Tucker for several weeks, and conceptualized everything from color choices and paper stock to the wordmark used in the Debitum Naturae logo. "I can’t imagine the movement without it," reflects Cunetto, speaking of the final product.
Boys Be Good member Shawn Moriarty designed the zine accompanying Debitum Naturae. The zine contains work by an assortment of artists including Jacqueline Levine, Victoria F. Gaitán and Jon Lee, among others. [© Boys Be Good]
All-in-all, Debitum Naturae is a good show created and curated by young artists who seem to know their collective's brand quite well, as evidenced by the multiple red dots indicating sold work at their opening. Perhaps more thoughtful placement of work as part of the gallery installation would have made it stronger, especially to provide a more narrative visual context of growth to decay. A few of the pieces in the exhibition appear to have taken the theme a bit too loosely, feeling a bit out of place in the overall concept — something that tends to happen when curators jury a show blindly. The Boys do, however, deserve kudos for the diversity of media forms they featured; including their dedication to presenting performance art, which is currently enjoying an expanding emergence in the D.C. area.
Pre-sale tickets to the Debitum Naturae performance night on June 19 are available now at the Boys Be Good web site, where the zine is also available for purchase prior to its availability at the event. (Cunetto and Tucker also recently uncovered back issues of their zines, and will be offering them for sale soon; contact them via their web site for more details.)
The Debitum Naturae visual art exhibition is on view now until July 17 at the Arts@1830 gallery (1830 14th Street NW) Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Short URL: http://bit.ly/DebitumNaturae