Amina Ross: Man’s Country
October 16th, 2021 - November, 28th 2021
Curated by John Neff and Rebecca Walz
Opening Reception: October 16th, 2021, 6 – 9 PM
The bathhouse is safe. The bathhouse is not secure.
The bathhouse is a space to be seen. The bathhouse is not a place to be watched.
The bathhouse is sensual. The bathhouse is not unspiritual.
The bathhouse is a space for meaningful work. The bathhouse is not a workplace.
The bathhouse is a technology. The bathhouse is not a machine.
The bathhouse is immersive. The bathhouse is not without a body.
The bathhouse is sweating. The bathhouse is not drained.
The bathhouse is gone. The bathhouse is not over.
These eight thought exercises, [conceived] with Bao Nguyen, together create the space that I want to see and want to be in. They are a bridge between my expansive interests in underground spaces for queer being togetherness, and my practical interest in having spaces for people—queer, trans, Black, brown, Asian people—that just feel good. Spaces where you are able to exercise your agency feel good, feel free. That has been a lifelong concern, and I think will be a lifelong concern.
I am interested in queer bathhouses as a site for coming together, for cultural production, even organizing and relationship building broadly. In my practice, the best way to speak about something broad is by finding something very specific, which is why I chose Man’s Country, [a former bathhouse in Chicago.] I'm interested in Man’s Country as part of a larger family of spaces that literally held space for music and sex, being together and close proximity—a proximity that's pretty impossible right now.
I started with Man's Country because it was closest to me—I lived up the block for about two and a half years. It was near where I waited for the bus, and I always walked by, but had never gone in. I was under the impression at the time that, because of my embodiment, I would not be allowed in. And so it was this great source of mystery for me; I would wonder a lot about that space and had a lot of curiosity about it. At the same time, with respect to its place in history, too much of an attachment to the narrative of a space becomes like a project of nostalgia or resurrecting history, which I feel unequipped and also uninterested in doing.
I'm not imagined as being able to be an active participant or member of specifically assigned-male at-birth gay space—in a way that feels invisibilizing of my nuanced understanding of my gender, and also my history, and my desire, and those who have desired me. It’s just more complicated than that. That curiosity is also a longing—not for access or entry into a Boy’s Club—but a longing to be viewed and considered as an active participant with fluid embodiment and desire. I think that's what most people want, honestly.
[For the Iceberg Projects exhibition], I have been working over the past year on a model, with the program that I use, Maya—basically building out the basement dance floor areas to imagine Man's Country. I didn't have a floor plan; I used found footage from Google and Youtube of a 3D walkthrough of the space, and articles about the closing of Man’s Country. The space is like the main character of the animation; there are no figures. So much of this process has been me imagining and placing my body in the space to feel out the room, and I'm really curious about the relationship between passive viewing and active embodied vision, where images can be felt and can trigger imagination.
At Iceberg, there will be video and sculpture, as things to see. I’m working together with Avery Youngblood on designs of the thought exercises as printed posters. I'm pairing each thought exercise with a meditation or visualization—something to read and do—as a way to embody the principle. There will also be audio playing from a script of an exchange between two lovers, and some sort of coming undone.
As part of the research for this project, Bao Nguyen and I looked at underground architecture and queer bathhouses, and then we would have weekly conversations. From there, underground architecture turned into other points of interest, like looking at underground shrines and caves. They are spaces for releasing, relinquishing, across time periods, societies, and cultures. Underground architecture is used within my spiritual tradition, Lucumí; temple houses would hold ceremonies and still do, in basements. I'm interested in the lack of visibility from the street level as a practical function of underground happenings as protective mechanisms. And then there's another idea too, more connected to my imagining, of being inside of the earth, held there, cradled—that feels special.
Connected to my personal life, [I now live in my grandmother’s basement in Brooklyn.] When people checked in on me about the flooding from Hurricane Ida, my friend [poet Ladan Osman] said “This is such a changeful and revealing time. So many spaces purging their secrets or seams showing/coming undone” It's happening quite literally—the effects of global warming, the storms, are exposing the weak spots in our infrastructure, overturning power lines in New Orleans and flooding basements in New York. It’s often affecting those already in the most precarious financial and living conditions.
The flood is an instigator of change. I think a benevolent reading is that it’s the catalyst for change—maybe that's not even benevolent: something's going to change. I don't know that my work conjectures to know what that is, but something's happening, something's changing.
~As told to Alex Fialho
A publication featuring text generated by Ross and Bao Nguyen, and a poster designed with Avery Youngblood, will extend the exhibition beyond Iceberg’s physical gallery.
Amina Ross is an artist, educator and life-long learner based in Brooklyn, New York. Amina makes videos, sculptures, sounds, and situations that consider feeling, body-knowledge, and intimacy as technologies of survival for black, queer, trans and femme people. Amina has presented work in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, Havana, Rotterdam, andThe Hague. Amina learned about facilitation, world-building and ritual through their familial practice of Lucumí tradition (Santeria), their work in queer art collectives 3rd Language and F4F and through their time with the black solidarity economics working group Cooperation for Liberation. Amina worked as an educator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and was a lecturer at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Amina received their BFA from SAIC and their MFA from the Yale School of Art.
Amina is currently an artist-in-residence at Abrons Arts Center (New York, New York).
Livy Snyder, “It is Gone, but it’s Not Over: A Bathhouse Underground,“ Sixty Inches From Center