Three folded dye-sublimation prints
By Pacifico Silano
The piece “Possession” by Pacifico Silano at the BRIC gallery is apart of the group exhibition “When I am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly.” The exhibition is the work of seven artists who explore the dominant myths of the American dream that govern and shape our personal narratives. The artists do not necessarily celebrate and critique American culture but showcase the grey areas of American society and the American Dream.
The piece addresses concepts pertaining to American culture such as masculinity, sexuality, the media, and patriotism. The artwork examines masculinity and the idea of what being a “man” is in American society. These images displayed in “Possession” are rephotographed clippings from vintage pornographic magazines published between the 1970s and 1990s to examine erotic archetypes of gay men. The images are printed on metal with a crease to resemble a magazine or to give the effect of posters hanging on a bedroom wall. Each photo in “Possession” is cropped and only shows the torso area of each man.
The first photo of the piece showcases a shirtless man with bullets across his chest and dog tags. This image reminds me of old military propaganda projecting the ideals of what a man should look like and aspire to be. Or even Hollywood depictions of “super soldiers” like in the film Rambo starring Sylvester Stallone. This first photo addresses America’s interest in war, what traditional idea of strength is, and also expectations of men in society. Images such as these were probably used in recruiting for the armed forces. This first image also is a referendum on the media’s portrayal of the military.
The second photo of the piece shows a shirtless man being embraced, the photograph is taken from the back so you see two arms wrapped the back of the shirtless man. At first glance it appeared as if the photo was taken from the front and the man has his arms folded, but after longer examination you can see that it is the arms wrapped around the back of the man. The second photo since it appeared to be front facing at first looked like a man covering his heart which made me think of the treatment of male emotions in society. Men generally are raised from young ages to not show emotions, that men are supposed to be strong providers, and showcasing emotions are weak. Even though there are now more men coming forward with there emotional and mental health problems many men still struggle with how they handle their emotions and this photo appeared to be a direct reference to that. After the realization that the photo was actually of the man’s back in an embrace I realized the artist wanted to leave many things about this piece to interpretation. However you view the photo is what meaning you will get from it.
The last photo of the piece is a shirtless man in an American flag leotard, the first thing I thought of upon seeing this photo was a former pro wrestler from the WWE named Kurt Angle. His wrestling gimmick was that he was an “All-American” who had traditional American values such as drinking milk for strong bones, achieving success while representing your country, and fun fact he actually won a real gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, but the crowd would constantly berate him with chants of “YOU SUCK” which would enrage him and he would lash out at the chants. I don’t know if Silano was familiar with pro wrestling but when I thought of the photo in that sense it made me think about how the crowd hated the idea an “All-American” person. The crowds despised Kurt Angle viewing him as cliche and unrealistic. It also made think about why he would become angry when the crowds booed him. America is always supposed to support their own and often times America turns its back own its own citizens. This last photo further projected the ideals of an American male. Strong, muscular, and draped flag regalia. It promotes nationalist ideals.
The piece as a whole also arose a question. These photos were taken from vintage pornographic magazine intended for gay men, but these images show there are many parallels between gay pornography and the traditional portrayal of desirable heterosexual American males. It begged the question of how would these images be received if people knew the source of these images. Americans historically view homosexuality as morally wrong, and weak. But these images are a referendum on traditional ideals of men in America. These ideals include brute strength, pro-military, muscular physiques, and to be in constant reverence of the American flag. If a person who was led to believe homosexuality was wrong viewed these images not knowing where they were from it is very possible all they would see were images of “strength” and American values but would they not believe these men were “strong” or American if they were informed that the images were sourced from gay magazines? This also asks the question, is your sexuality a reflection of how strong or weak you are?
My last observation on the piece was when the images are viewed as a whole they appear to read as “I <3 U.” The bullets make the letter “I”, the folded arms resemble a heart, and the curve of the leotard looks like the letter “U.” This could be a commentary on how men do not showcase emotions but have need to express their feelings. Or it could be the artist telling the viewer he loves them regardless of their sexual preferences or desires.