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Take Five: STL-born artist Josh Faught on 'Snacks' and sexual orientation

Josh Faught
Beacon archives | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 8, 2013: How about a big pile of rubber nachos, a really, really chewy chocolate chip cookie or a bouncy onion ring?

Fake fast foods are served up throughout Josh Faught’s upcoming exhibit, opening July 10 at the Contemporary Art Museum. But snacks are just a starting point in “Snacks, Supports, and Something to Rally Around.” 

Nail polish, sequins and Xeroxed images are among the numerous non-edibles used by Faught, a 34-year-old Ladue High School graduate (class of ’97). Faught knits, crochets, weaves, paints and sculpts with these materials and more to create large-scale works that explore the idea of support.

Faught lives in San Francisco and works as an artist and a professor at California College of the Arts. His college and career path took him first to Ohio then New York, Chicago and Oregon before depositing him in the Bay Area. He talked with the Beacon about his work and the CAM exhibit.

St. Louis Beacon: What does “Snacks, Supports, and Something to Rally Around” mean?

Josh Faught: In a sense, I think that snacks and things around which we rally are supports in and of themselves. The whole show is essentially about collaging and manipulating our expectations of support and the conditions that demand support, whether they are physical, structural, emotional or political.

I like that snacks imply a sense of time (in-between meal times) as well as a sense of anxiety. We snack as a way to soothe ourselves; however, snacking in itself is seen as a bit of a domestic vice.

How are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) themes woven into your work?

Faught: One way LGBT issues figure into the work is that I always think my work is about this idea of urgent ambivalence.

What’s urgent and what’s ambivalent?

Faught: Textiles, in general, have a very long social and political history. They have an urgency: using part of the AIDS quilt, sticking a flyer on a piece of artwork -- that feels like a very urgent act to me.

But at same time there’s something very slow about my work. It’s crocheted or handwoven or hand-dyed, and by the time you express the sentiment, you’ve spent like four months on something. It’s kind of like slowness coupled with a sense of urgency, saying something very political, very quickly.

There’s often something very flamboyant or urgent in the work, but something is always undermining that urgency in some way, like a certain sense of self-doubt or self-deprecation that feels like its undoing. That’s kind of where that tension lies.

Josh Faught, "It Takes a Lifetime to Get Exactly Where You Are," 2012. Handwoven sequin trim, handwoven hemp, cedar blocks, cotton, polyester, wool, cochineal dye, straw hat with lace, toilet paper, paper towels, scrapbooking letters and more
Credit Courtesy the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York
Josh Faught, "It Takes a Lifetime to Get Exactly Where You Are," 2012. Handwoven sequin trim, handwoven hemp, cedar blocks, cotton, polyester, wool, cochineal dye (made from ground up bugs), straw hat with lace, toilet paper, paper towels, scrapbooking letters, Jacquard woven reproduction of a panel from the AIDS quilt, silk handkerchief, indigo, political pins, disaster blanket, gourd, gold leaf, plaster cat, cedar blocks, and nail polish, 8 x 20 feet.

Could you talk more about the self-deprecation?

Faught: I was a child of the ‘90s. It’s not as if I’m really cynical; it’s more like this idea of ... for instance, one of the pieces in the show is this very large reproduction of a PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays) newsletter.

PFLAG was a very active part of the coming-out experience of the ‘90s but there’s something about it that makes me cringe because it’s like so awkward, that your mom or somebody would come in to talk about their son being gay.

It’s simultaneously both very affirming and cringeworthy. That’s something I’m always wrestling with in my work. I’m always trying to see how far I can embarrass myself while still being affirmative at the same time.

When did you come out?

Faught: I was a junior in high school -- it was 1996. My parents did not go to PFLAG but they threatened to!

They were supportive -- very supportive. I was very private so I would have never taken them to a PFLAG meeting. I did go to a support group in South City and then we would go to MoKaBes and hang out.

It’s an awkward landscape to navigate. It’s like, “Oh, I’m coming out,” but I didn’t know if I felt comfortable with the whole idea of what does it mean to be gay? What about these images like the rainbow flag? How do you affirm your individual identity and also a collective identity at the same time?

In high school, coming out was met with a lot of resistance. Nobody was out. There were teachers we always assumed were queer, but I think they really would have lost their jobs if they were out. It was not a good time.

So much of my work is about being loud and flamboyant and using these cliches and stereotypes around LGBT issues and kind of owning them, but at the same time inventing new codes and new means of support.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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