With a deep reverence for the past, Amy Cousins creates installations that pay homage to queer history, while looking forward to and celebrating what the future of queerness and queer activism can be.
Amy Cousins, one of InLiquid’s 10 Wind Fellowship Recipients, does not shy away from utilizing bold mediums— bright florals, shag material, and glitter vinyl are no stranger to the various installations she has done. Bolder than her choice textiles, however, are the messages she conveys through these works, which serve as a sort of protest, a standing up for queer visibility, and a maximalist presentation of the queer identity through a contemporary lens. Amy’s work explores these identities through an intersectional, modern lens, while tending towards more mid-century materials; a combination which makes for a very profound juxtaposition.
Doria Wohler: What made you decide to get into art?
Amy Cousins: I was into art from a young age but it took time for me to become confident enough to really devote myself to it. Over winter break during my high school sophomore year, I was visiting my grandma in New York City and she enrolled me in painting classes at the Art Student’s League there. I was maybe a third the age of all the other women in my class, but still I just loved spending all day making art and hanging out with artists. During that trip I decided to apply to transfer to an arts magnet high school in Houston where I’m from. I got in, and being at that school was such a special experience where I felt so supported and free to start exploring my voice as an artist. I still credit my high school for putting me on the path to where I am today.
D.W.: What drives you towards using certain mediums over others in your different installations/exhibitions?
A.C.: I am trained as a printmaker and very drawn to printed ephemera and the printed mark. A big part of my practice is researching queer archives, and I love finding handmade zines, flyers, etc. In the same vein, I’m very interested in the historic role of craft within histories of queerness and activism. By using media like papier-mâché and faux fur, I honor legacies of self-fashioned queer decadence.
D.W.: Your work frequently tackles the historicity of queerness in varying mediums. What does the research process for those projects look like?
A.C.: My favorite place to research is the John Wilcox Jr. archives at the William Way LGBT Center here in Philadelphia. They have an amazing collection of local history as well as journals and other media from all over, and they make it accessible to anyone who wants to visit. I do lots of online research too, but there’s nothing like rifling through these physical materials.
D.W.: Does your work, in some ways, feel like the protests it often represents?
A.C: I hope that they are in the same spirit as the protests, but I have such deep reverence for the activists that inspire my work, and I think it’s important to differentiate the work of an artist, who is posing questions or drawing attention to something, versus an activist, who makes demands and often puts their body on the line.
D.W.: [You often] use campy materials to create whimsical representations of serious questions and statements. What moved you towards the decision to work with certain textiles? Looking at We Will No Longer Be Silenced, which is done in faux fur.
A.C.: My friend Heather Raquel Phillips once described my work as “full of love and liberation and a swift slap across the face.” I love that description, because I do think of my work as a celebration, but it’s a celebration of a world that doesn’t exist yet. The one we’re in needs a lot of work. I use materials that I’m drawn to, with the hopes that they’ll draw in the viewer as well, and that their fuzzy friendliness will make the viewer more open to its content.
I think you’re referring to my piece You Will Never Have the Comfort of Our Silence Again. This phrase came from a protest banner in 1976, I was thinking about materials of that era, the era of shag carpets. I am also so inspired by the work of Allyson Mitchell, who created these amazing “Ladies Sasquatch” figures with lots of faux fur, celebrating these furry lesbian ogres as almost goddess figures. I love faux fur because it represents both comfort and discomfort — it’s soft and luxurious, but in the “wrong” context it can be seen as gross and distasteful, just like human hair
D.W.: Also looking at the Land Projects, why the decision to use Country Women for the papier-mâché element of this sculpture?
A.C.: Country Women was a journal in the 70s for feminists who were trying to live on the land. It was full of both messy feelings and practical advice. Everything from the complications of polyamory to tractor repair. All these women were trying to find another way to live, to build a utopia, to think through constructs of gender and power and relationships and sexuality, and I think that work was valuable, even if on paper these communities and experiments were “failures.” Learning about mushrooms, the way they can have thousands of sexes and reproduce with so many other specimens, it seemed like its own kind of separatist community, something we’re inching closer to, something that the lesbian land projects of the 70’s helped to pave the way for, even if they had their own limitations.
D.W.: Works in certain collections give me a strong midcentury vibe — the floral wallpaper, the JELL-O mold shapes, the drapery. Was the intention to call back to this period in time, to the neo-cult of domesticity, etc.?
A.C.: Yes, I’m really interested in ideas of comfort — who gets to be comfortable and what makes people uncomfortable? This idea of the nuclear family, the American Dream, stemming from this era, still feels so deeply ingrained within us as individuals and as a society. Growing up I dreamed about the kind of home and domestic bliss I could have as an adult, and then spent a long time unpacking what that meant as a queer person, and what I actually want versus what I was programmed to want. The truth is I am still truly such a nester, I love to decorate and I love florals and wallpaper! So I am always asking myself if queer domesticity that can be radical or subversive, if it needs to be. I haven’t figured it out.
Selections from Amy’s work can be found on her InLiquid Artist’s page, where you can follow to also see her upcoming installations and exhibitions. For more works from some of the aforementioned installations, check out Amy’s website!