What does it mean to live in a utopia of our own design? How can opposing ideas or bodies occupy the same space, where binary qualities are bound together to create a translation of form that is whole and yet wholly singular?
In a recent post on Instagram, Chiffon Thomas wrote: “The body to me is something I wear to express my conscious and subconscious thought. Its a vessel that carries my thoughts, personality and character and allows me to perform and meet my needs (whatever those maybe and whoever is involved in those needs). I don’t project roles onto it by means of gender.”
Being and form are exactly what Thomas, a black, non-binary artist, explores in their solo exhibition “Antithesis” at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, using materials in their tactile sculptures that create a new visual language. “I introduce material to elaborate meaning; a solid material or dense material signifies something that cannot be penetrated and is indestructible. I might use bibles, or religious doctrines that are very rigid, to create a body and let that be a visual language.”
In this way, Thomas elaborates on the notion that the body is indeed simply a vessel, though one that is constructed with more than just physical materials. Extending beyond the use of building materials, like rebar, plastic, and concrete, their use of rigid ideological content makes one question the importance of structural plasticity to the physical body.
As for the building materials, “they can be used to keep a person together as much as possible in a society that oppresses some individuals at a disproportionate rate.” We can see this in their use of wire, which appears to simultaneously hold together and pull apart the sculptures; viewers are invited to decode the fraught relations between memory and reality, visibility and understanding.
Thomas’s investigation of the disjoined relationships between form, function and identity in “Antithesis” is apparent in their pieces featuring dismembered body parts: clasping hands dangle entangled embroidery floss, a trail of suggestion; feet leverage against the confines of their frame, an embroidered sole stitched aggressively, almost violently, leading the eye outside of the narrative.
Embroidery threads serve to mend and repair, as well as preserve: history, the body, binding binary qualities together. While the loose threads may be open to interpretation, the loaded historical narrative is immutable. Thomas’s sculptures are inspired by Colonial design, using deconstructed materials from a New England demolition site. Alongside works on paper and mended photographs, Thomas creates a dialogue of healing; “I destroy and then I reconfigure.”
About the Artist:
Chiffon Thomas (b. 1991, Chicago, IL) holds an MFA from Yale University, New Haven, CT and a BFA from the School of The Arti Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, and has completed prominent residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculptue, Skowhegan, ME (2018) and the Fountainhead Residency, Miami, FL (2020). Thomas’ work is included in the permanent collections of the Pérez Art Museum, Miami, FL; Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH; Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection, West Palm Beach, FL; and the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection, New York, NY; among others.
Chiffon Thomas’s solo exhibition “Antithesis” is on view at Kohn Gallery 1227 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038, from April 9 through May 21, 2021. Reservations here.