We live in a world of seven billion individuals, seven billion lives that constantly and consistently touch others as part of our existence, but that are very often equally separate and alone. Human connection has so many levels, from the tentative, to the intimate, to the near non-existent. We embrace this myriad of connectors all of which form part of the stability of our personal character, our personal lifestyle, and our personal history. But how real is our connection with the individual, and how fragile, or firm is it?
The artist Austin Boe, who is a contemporary fine artist, printmaker, and filmmaker, explores the two points of connection, the subject, and ourselves. He screen prints images, very often of himself, onto highly polished mirrors, so we are faced with a double image, one showing Austin as subject, but also one of us as viewer. How we respond to this creative connection, probably says a lot about ourselves as individual characters, as it does about our society, and our species.
Mirrors are a clever form of the artist getting us to think about our role, are we participator or non-participator in his compositions, or are we both? It is image as representation, and representation as image. The mirror is the great inventor of self, and the ultimate fragility of the mirror image is also the isolation of self. We are at one and the same time, the living, pulsing being, surrounded by and constantly interacting with their environment, forming links and relationships with everything around us, but staring at us from the mirror, is another version of ourselves, one that is flat, two dimensional, trapped in the isolation of glass and frame.
Austin encourages us to ponder on this double image of ourselves, he encourages us to take part in the compositions that he has created, to see ourselves as being integral to the composition, a part of the artists narrative, but also to be aware that there can also be distance, hesitancy, a sense of disconnection.
By thinking of ourselves as participator and non-participator, Austin is getting us to see that we can be both active agent, as well as voyeur. In many ways, our own perspective allows us to choose which role we wish to play, and in many ways we are playing, with Austin's active consent and encouragement, the role we choose, or the one that has been chosen for us, by ourselves.
Austin's subject matter works on a number of levels, some seeming to be more overt than others, depending on your viewpoint of course. There is the obvious and unapologetic attention to 'queerness' that the artist intentionally gives to many of his compositions, there is also the attention to sexual desire and lust, which is so much a part of our truly deep connections with others, but it is one that we sadly misplace, or deliberately downplay.
The triangle of lust/love/desire is at the centre of the beating heart of what it is to be human, it is part of the celebration of our humanity, and yet it is also a part of our character, our human essence that we so often insist on cramming underground. Whether for social, religious, or political reasons a large chunk of who we are has to remain silent and untended. In a way, those who see Austin's imagery as overt, in your face, indecent, and all the other negatives that are so loosely and regularly churned out when concerning artwork that deals with body, imagery of self, feelings, are often the same individuals who have much to hide and little to show, rather than as it should be, having much to show and little to hide.
However, the main driving theme of Austin's work always seems to come back to the one of connection, whether achieved, or missed. Connection of one individual with another is one of the great benefits of life, one of the great and enduring legacies of what it is to be human and alive. However, it is also one that so often fails, disconnections between individuals are frequent and are often seen as a potentially haunting part of our lives.
Sometimes we can only look on to a connection that cannot be formed for whatever reason. There is a glance across a room, a hesitant smile, an eye of lust, tides of the heat of desire, a sense of what could have been, but cannot be, a sense of loss, confusion, of the frozen.
As we look on at the images of Austin and see ourselves placidly reflected back at us, still and quiet, a viewer, but not a participator, we are struck by that same feeling of interaction unreleased, of connection disturbed. The two images, of the artist and the viewer are frozen in an unconnected moment.
However, the same composition can also show us a different outcome, but with the same parameters, a sense of true connection, over the feeling of loss, we achieve gain. We the viewer can become part of the composition. By gaining a sense of filling the space with the image of Austin, we are at one with the artist, inhabiting the creative moment, sharing the benefits of true connection in the space provided by the artist.
Of course, it will be up to the individual viewer as to the form of their connection. As with most artists, Austin is happy for you to draw your own conclusions, deal with your own thoughts on his work. That he would like you to consider the ideas he has put forward, to ponder the real reflection of self that you see, both his own and of yours, as well as the connection or disconnection that you gain from that, is what any artist would want. To get you to think about your own preconceptions regarding Austin's subject matter, to get you to think about those same preconceptions held within your community, and within your culture, is something we all need to do, and regularly.
More of Austin's work can be found at his comprehensive website: www.austinboe.com. he can also be found at a number of other sites including vimeo, as well as instagram, twitter, tumblr, facebook
Please be aware that all of the images used in this article were kindly supplied by Austin, and are therefore copyrighted to him. Please ask the artist before reproducing, thanks!