Portrait Society
Press Release

Gallery Night, January 16, 2015: “Androgyny” opens at Portrait Society

Androgyny: An Exhibition by Lois Bielefeld will open Gallery Night, January 16, 2015, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo Street, Fifth Floor, Milwaukee.

By - Jan 4th, 2015 09:14 pm
Androgyny: An Exhibition by Lois Bielefeld

Androgyny: An Exhibition by Lois Bielefeld

Androgyny: An Exhibition by Lois Bielefeld will open Gallery Night, January 16, 2015, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo Street, Fifth Floor, Milwaukee. The exhibition runs through March 14, 2015.

Regular gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.

This exhibition, nearly two years in the making, explores the power and complexity of gender identity and fluidity through a series of photographic portraits, short videos and a large-scale, interactive audio installation. The word “androgyny” means having characteristics that are both traditionally male and female.

Judith Butler’s 1990 book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, launched the concept of ‘gender performity,’ which challenged the notion of a binary ‘given’ of male/female. In Androgyny, Bielefeld expands assumptions about gender, showing an array of subjects, ranging from grade school children to adults, who don’t fall squarely into an existing category associated with sex and identity.

Besides a large-scale audio installation in the center of the gallery space, the exhibition includes 23 portraits.Through research and referrals, Bielefeld found subjects willing to come to her studio, stand on a scruffy floor against a white wall and assume a pose. They were asked to wear everyday clothes. The photos are direct, simple, unmediated variations on the fashion photography Bielefeld engages in professionally for Kohl’s. Each subject, in their willingness to share this aspect of their identity, to literally offer it up for our perusal, assumes a pose and eye contact with the camera that feels both courageous and vulnerable. The emptiness of the photographic background heightens the mood of aloneness which “difference” can evoke, and magnifies the act of self-performance.  As the artist says, “The photographs invite the viewers to look, stare, and question, which unfortunately is what happens to the subjects on a regular basis in public.” Essentially, however, these portraits award us all permission to more fully be who we are, no matter what ‘pronoun’ we ascribe to.

Lois Bielefeld, a Milwaukee based photographer, is best known for two previous bodies of work, “The Bedroom,” (2008-2012) and “Weeknight Dinners,” (2013-ongoing), as well as a recent film, “Ladies Out.” She speaks from her own experiences as she tackles the subject of androgyny. “Personally when I was younger,” Bielefeld says, “I was regularly misgendered. It happens much less now (only with children). But I think what brought the project to the forefront to start working on it was watching my girlfriend be misgendered on a regular basis. I distinctly remember another woman look in horror as Jackie entered a public restroom at the airport.”

Like her previous bodies of work which use a cultural, universal norm, like eating dinner or sleeping, to look at similarities and differences in geographic, economic, gender, race and age disparities, Androgyny points a camera and opens up the possibilities that who we are need not be determined by what we are biologically or culturally given.

“In cultures with a binary gender system, such as the U.S, we innately categorize by sex because it is uncomfortable for us to not know an individual’s sex,” says Bielefeld. “For example, the typical first question following the announcement of a pregnancy is if the parents know the sex. Those who do not fit neatly into a category, such as the androgynous or gender non-conforming, are subject to sneaking glances or outright stares, a probing and/or invasive question or two, and incorrect categorization. The issue is compounded and can potentially turn hurtful or violent when individuals choose to present themselves androgynously – to not perform their sex as society expects.”

Lois Bielefeld

Lois Bielefeld is a conceptual photographer and filmmaker as well as a commercial/fashion photographer. She was born in and currently resides in Milwaukee, WI with her girlfriend and daughter. Lois has her BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and from 2003-2010 she lived and worked in New York City. She is a 2012 recipient of the Nohl Fellowship and has shown at Inova, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, ArtStart, Portrait Society Gallery, and the Museum of Wisconsin Art. Lois is the recipient of the Luxembourg Artist Residence through the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which will begin in February 2015. Bielefeld is represented by Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Parkside, Kenosha, and was previously shown there.

During the run of the exhibition, work will be available for sale from both of Bielefeld’s previous projects, “The Bedroom,” and “Weeknight Dinners.” In addition, for every “Androgyny” portrait purchased, a print will be donated to the Museum of Wisconsin Art, in an effort to institutionally secure and preserve this important project.

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