In Auburn, artists show the ways queerness and nature intersect
Crocheted succulents, wood-burned and watercolor mountains, and a host of bright animals were displayed on the walls of the New Hampshire Audubon’s Massabesic Center on Saturday afternoon, as artists showed pieces in a new exhibition meant to celebrate queerness in nature.
In one corner, a marigold yellow octopus with pink and purple tentacles rises out of a deep bubbly sea. Jezmina Von Thiele said the piece was inspired by the deep emotions that the COVID-19 pandemic brought up, their family’s Romani heritage, and the gender fluidity of the octopus.
“My grandmother was really big about speaking to nature when you are happy or when you are in distress looking for wisdom,” they said. “I was doing this deep meditation on the octopus spirit. And I was also at that same time really understanding my own gender.”
“The more that we look at what's happening in nature, naturally we see that there are no hard binaries,” they said. “There's so much affirmation in seeing yourself in nature, and also seeing yourself in art.”
A series of pieces in the entryway also highlighted creatures that reflect queerness in nature – a nudibranch, a brightly colored sea slug that has both male and female reproductive organs; a seahorse, a species in which the male carries babies; an antlered doe.
As some visitors took in the art hung around the room, others worked on a collaborative coloring project – an outline of a person with wings surrounded by flowers, with the caption, “Let yourself bloom.”
“The art is really important. But for us, art is a tool for community building,” said Randall Nielsen, one of the founders of the group.
Nielsen’s art hung next to a window – two square frames on top of one another. In one piece, a ripple of shining magenta bursts out of dark moss. Nielsen said the piece was inspired by the phenomenon of plant fasciation, in which plants can present themselves looking mutated.
“I was really envisioning some kind of, like, alien flower that was expressing itself in a bizarre, queer way,” he said. “I included glitter to give it a little sparkle.”
Underneath Nielsen’s flower is a shimmering square with dark divots that almost glow, the figure of a person suspended in the center.
“It's a tableau of somebody drifting alone in the middle of the ocean, which is something that I find very alluring,” he said with a chuckle. “Not everybody does.”
Across the room, Jason DeYoung’s depiction of slime mold crept out of its frame, rendered in two kinds of yarn. Slime mold, he said, and its ability to grow and spread, is kind of a metaphor for queer community.
“A lot of people find us icky, but that's not really the case,” he said. “Like, we are beautiful in our own way.”
DeYoung co-founded Queerlective with Nielsen, his fiance. The effort has grown a lot since its inception, he said, and with lawmakers focused on restricting care for trans people and drag shows facing threats, having a space to come together is more important than ever.
“The queer community is constantly under attack,” he said. “We just need to be with each other. And that makes us feel so much safer and just know that the world is not as terrible as it seems sometimes.”
For April Landry, the artist behind a three-panel comic strip featuring colorful birds on a summer day, nature is another space to seek comfort when the world seems to be a difficult place.
“There's a lot of forces against us, but it honestly doesn't feel like any of those forces are coming from nature itself,” she said. “Nature is kind of just like the cure for me for a lot of the things that I'm worried about.”
Landry’s piece reads, “My favorite summer activity is to sit outside and wait for the birds to come back.” Landry says it’s based on her experience of going outside, watching the birds leave the space where she sits, and staying still for long enough that they come back.
Kimmie Whiteman, the director of the Massabesic Center, reached out to Queerlective to host the event. She said she hopes the exhibition makes the Audubon more visible to people in New Hampshire.
“We want everybody to come experience the center in whatever way that they relate to nature, whether it's through art and this exhibit, or through just enjoying the experience of being on the trails and in the gardens,” she said.
Blossoming Beyond: Celebrating Queerness in Nature will be on display at the Massabesic Center through the end of March.