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Stephen Truax: How Will I Know

67 Ludlow Street - New York

Curated by Anne Luther

By Terence Trouillot

Stephen Truax’s “How Will I Know” is personal, hermetic, beautiful, erotic, touching and satisfyingly strange. The small exhibition, consisting simply of one recorded sound piece, two large photographs and six drawings, packs a dramatic punch and leaves the viewer in a constant state of looking and questioning. Set inside 67 Ludlow Street, a modest, dark, artist-run space below an old tenement building in the underbelly of NYC’s Lower East Side, “How Will I Know” looks into both the public and private limits of promiscuity, love and sexual play as to reinforce the idea of the unknown.

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground I, 2015, “How Will I Know,” installation view at 67 Ludlow Street, New York.

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground I, 2015, “How Will I Know,” installation view at 67 Ludlow Street, New York.

Walking through this subterranean lair, one encounters six graphite drawings that are clearly private sketches of a man (perhaps the artist himself) detailing his sexual adventures with a homosexual couple. The narrative behind these images is reinforced by sound recordings presented through two headphones attached against the far wall of the gallery-they are very easy to miss. In it, a voice recites, in quite a deadpan tone, amusing diary entries recounting his summer-long, three-way relationship. Entries vary from descriptions of the mundane to explicit and titillating accounts of the group’s sexual encounters, such as, “We are connected through cum and saliva and hair and snot and puss and piss and shit. The anal douche. The shit that comes off on our dicks sliding out of each other’s asses.”

Despite being overshadowed by a sort of gratuitous genre of male erotica, there is this overwhelming sense of intimacy and warmth attributed to this relationship, that in its deference is both revealing and opaque. This, not surprisingly, is best demonstrated through a series of small drawings: rough sketches often showing nude male bodies in coitus. However, the figures in these drawings are often left faceless or, at the very least, unfinished or obscured, with their parts removed. The result is a resounding sense of affection and romance between these three men, showing, ever so slightly, glimpses into their love affair. Moreover, the rendering of these drawings leaves the viewer guessing whether these images were drawn from life, a cellphone pic or even a porn clip, only fomenting our intrigue in this elaborate narrative, leaving us puzzled over whether what we see is real or fabricated, and whether the distinction matters at all.

After drifting away from these delicate illustrations one, all of a sudden, lands between two 36-by-54-inch large color photographs suspended by rebar and glass. The works, titled Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) I and Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) II (2015), make reference to the infamous cruising grounds of Hansenheide Park in Berlin. The photos here place the viewer within that space, but in daylight (both photographs depict non-distinct images of the woods basking in sunlight), as if to shine a light on a space that is often experienced in the dark, in secret. We are given clear evidence of an underworld that exists outside of everyday society, but still without any clue as to where to find it.

Although there is big jump from Truax’s drawing to his photographs, the connecting theme of the private and public in relation to sex and his own sexuality resonates quite beautifully. It’s as if the artist seems to challenge not only what he himself feels comfortable revealing to the public, but also what the public feels comfortable knowing. Within this construction, Truax envelops his viewer in a complex fiction that asks itself whether it’s real or not, highlighting how different modes of representation-drawing, storytelling, photography-do as much to obscure as they do to expose.

(October 7 - 29, 2016)

Terence Trouillot is an arts writer, editor, and BOMB’s Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Oral Histories.

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