Thoughts on the artistic representation of an LGBT statistic

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“As of 2015, 7% of millennials ages 18-35 identify as LGBT” is one of the more complicated pieces in my back-log and one that was born out of a need to make a work of art that visually depicted a statistic. That essential gimmick made it very hard to create a piece in whatever my usual wheelhouse was in mid-2015. So because the prospects were up for interpretation I thought this was the perfect time to repurpose and experiment with materials because that’s what you do as a junior in college. Though before I talk much more about the piece let me open a large parentheses in the discourse to say that I took my art in college seriously but I also peacefully came to terms with the fact that this work was always going to be seen as student art by the people who know what it is and know that it is based on an assignment. It is what it is. It is what it is. One more time: it is what it is.

Pleasantries out of the way, junior year of college was the height of my life as a queer mover and shaker (all of this went away very quickly at the start of senior year because it became too hectic too soon and I fell too deep into a pitfall of self-sabotage to care about things like queer issues) and so I was reading a lot of research and statistic based material to back up my discourse with facts. One of these .PDFs was a study conducted and put out by the Public Religion Research Institute on their findings from the “2015 Millennials, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Survey” they conducted, concluding that 7% of all millennials aged 18-35 identified as LGBT (link to the survey: https://www.prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/PRRI-Millennials-Web-FINAL.pdf)

I thought “well there’s my statistic, it sounds good and I would like to make it look good too” the problem is that this is less a piece about visual representation and more a piece about problem-solving itself. Aesthetics is not at the helm of this piece but at the end, it was less about deciding on a look or mood and more about arranging data – an artistic map or graph so to say. The piece itself is still very understated, however, and very well passes off as an aesthetic experiment but it took some good ol’ figuring out to get to its final form when it was up on the gallery wall for “Made by Juno.” It all started with some rhinestones I just happened to have; because you just have rhinestones, you don’t go out and find them, but when you want them you have them. And they were coincidentally either the perfect circumference or pretty darn close to being the perfect circumference to the clippings of a binder hole-puncher. So I thought “what if I use the rhinestones to represent the 7% of LGBT people and use something else a little less fabulous to represent the rest of the non-LGBT people?” and the basic material set-up for this piece was born. So if LGBT people made up 7% of my material choice, non-LGBT people needed to make up 93% and if I timed everything by ten I had a pretty sizable number of small circles to arrange onto a surface.

So I immediately went to work on patterns that could expand in scale relatively easy, especially because I was working a little high on the countable number scale and 1000 isn’t a square number like 100 is. I didn’t experiment at length or try too many things. I landed on this triangular/trapezoid situation by chance and decided that if I were to mirror and expand this I’d be able to fairly easily construct a mostly even pattern that alluded to symmetry without any one of the thousands of dots becoming lost in the pattern.

Two other good things to further comment on are the material choices and how they represent the groups they represent. I cannot emphasize enough that this project was really born out of existing spare parts that were all there to begin with but would never on normal circumstances be arranged together the way they were. I’ve addressed the rhinestones but the hole-puncher clippings is a different story. At the time I had many colorful paint-chips I was using for other projects and had saved the black and gray ones for another time and when this project came around they were the perfect color for what I needed. The grounds for this piece were the back of a discarded painting I took from one of the basic painting classes and kept around for whenever need for it arose and sooner or later it did. I painted it black with several coats of black acrylic paint and some india ink I had still from high school.

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As for what the materials represent let’s take a second to unpack the thought process behind using rhinestones to represent a minority and use black and gray paint chips to represent the majority. It would be silly to say I chose those colors because “straight people are boring” but that’s more or less the simplified version of why the LGBT 7% is represented by shiny rhinestones and the 93% of non-LGBT people is represented by gray and black. I do not share many of the experiences many LGBT people have; I for one have never been demonized or felt like opportunities were abruptly dragged from under my feet because I am a gay man, but I know that both in the mainstream and at the fringes of my community this happens constantly. One of the stereotypes that seems to follow gay men at least and that I’ve chosen to let affect this project is that gay men are “fabulous” or that at least in some way they are more eccentric than straight folk. I think the impetus to want to represent the LGBT portion as fabulous is rather innocent and honestly harmless. I think celebrating what makes oneself different is a more powerful and positive way to exist than to cater to the rest of the world who isn’t like you by trying your best to show them how similar to them you are.

In the end this piece turned out to be more than just a clever take on presenting a statistic aesthetically, it became an exercise in exclusivity and viewing oneself as part of a community and apart from another, unapologetically so. And I think it’s important to continue to celebrate differences rather than opt out of those to point out only similarities. 2017 has seen a rise in intolerance from many extremist fronts and continuing to silently exist as myself is no longer going to keep the detractors at bay, because they’ve already chosen on an ideological level to oppose me regardless of what I look like and who I am beyond the single trait I possess that makes these hypothetical them dislike me. Why not then be a shiny rhinestone in a sea of gray paper clippings. ■

-Juno Zago

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