This SF Artist Cuts Butterflies Out of Old Porn

Mar 19 at 1pm

Local artist, Truong Tran has a solo exhibit at the Telegraph Hill Gallery that is comprised of 19 works and includes 9,000 butterflies cut from pornography. The exhibit, titled " ... Or I Meant To Say Please Pass The Sugar," runs until March 28. I asked Tran some questions about his artwork. (Don't scroll past them! They're great.)

Update: " ... Or I Meant To Say Please Pass The Sugar," has been extended until April 11 with a closing reception that night from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Telegraph Hill Gallery. There will be refreshments and the opportunity to meet Truong and talk to him about his work.

What inspired this exhibit?

It was born from materials gifted to me by a neighbor who was “cleaning out his life.” Upon hearing of his passing, I made a quilt out of recycled nature calendars and vintage gay print pornography to celebrate his life and my own as gay men in this society. 

Over the course of several years, I continued to use this material but it wasn’t until the reported death of 9,000 butterflies for Damien Hirst's 2012 retrospective at the Tate Museum that I found a clear goal. I’d counter what I considered obscene — the killing of these butterflies — with my own artistic gesture that to many is also deemed obscene. In doing so, I was bringing light to and drawing comparisons to the different systems of value we create in society.

How did you make these pieces?

The entirety of the show was one part “Take that Mr. Hirst,” two parts meditation, and a lifetime of reconciliation. I thought arriving at my goal of cutting 9,000 butterflies would bring some satisfaction and peace over the sense of loss I felt throughout the meditative process. Nothing's really changed though. I still find myself cutting butterflies, for what its worth.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know about your work?

I’m often asked about my intentions or lack of intentions around only using the representations of the white male body in this work. There is never a moment that I am unaware of my work and what I’m constructing. I will not cut into the image of a person of color because I believe our identities in this society are already fragmented and I refuse to further contribute to that sense of fragmentation.

Also, by completing this work and sharing it with the world, I now realize that I really do live in a space that facilitates a great deal of creativity and layered thinking which can often be misunderstood. My series "Expectations of a Prescribed World," (pictured above) explores the disembodied construction of gender and identity in our society. It has recently been met with some controversy where viewers misinterpreted the doll dresses for young children placed in proximity to the pornographic cutouts of butterflies. These dresses are not meant to portray little girls, but rather a representation of society’s construction of how a little girl should look. 

What's next?

During the process of creating this work, I felt as though I was losing my marbles, so I started recollecting all the lost marbles in the world. It’s obviously an impossible and absurd task but somehow it makes sense for me to embark on this endeavor. The marbles will find their way into the physical and conscious space of my work. I will figure this out as I go along. If you have marbles, send them my way if you feel so inclined.

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