Exploring Tenderness in Art at the VAV Gallery

By Nicholas Raffoul

For their first exhibition of the year, Concordia University’s VAV Gallery explores the concept of tenderness (both physically and emotionally) of artistic mediums, as well as vulnerable sensations such as love, grief, and intimacy in I FEEL TENDER. Vulnerability and tenderness is a theme in both artistic production and artistic reception, which may arise from the mediums used in the conception of an artwork or the emotional process of reading a work of art and its many layers. Among the ten artists, this tenderness took many forms, some artists choosing to focus on themes of touch, heteronormativity, and the politicized queer body.

Clare Grehen embodies a sense of tenderness in her work, Contact, celebrating the power of touch between three male friends, an emotional and physical closeness that is inappropriate under patriarchal norms. Grehen’s vivid and distorted work reflects the significance of a tender embrace between friends and the intimate bond that is built from a group of male friends expressing vulnerability and appreciation to each other through touch. Grehen illustrates a very compassionate and non-sexual embrace, showing an unusual sight among a group of male friends where they are expressing emotional tenderness, and a vulnerability unfamiliar to heteronormative norms.

Artists Joules and Jacqueline Beaumont represent a tender and vulnerable queer experience in two very different approaches. Joules’ A Space Where We Can Exist is an installation piece that brings to life a safe haven for queer identifying people. With translucent fabric and a series of digital portraits, Joules creates a hanging installation of a space protected from heteronormative narrative, a warm place where she can express love to her significant other, in which queer folks are not susceptible to pain and suffering from heteronormative and patriarchal society. Joules’ work is endearing, raising the importance for safe spaces for queer relationships to blossom.

Beaumont’s striking work, Sodic Bodies, communicates the vulnerability of transgender bodies and the trans experience. Sodic Bodies is a three-part work, a body bag made from the bed sheet of a trans person, a petri dish of the artist’s dried tears of sadness for her murdered and missing trans sisters, and a print of satellite imagery depicting where Marsha P Johnson’s body was dumped in the Hudson River after her assassination on July 6, 1992. Beaumont’s compelling work manifests her personal vulnerability and tenderness in having to produce the work, but also the politicized, unsafe, targeted body that is the trans woman. Beaumont depicts the vulnerability of the trans body through symbols of death and saltwater, while portraying tender emotions of grief and mourning for her trans sister, Marsha P Johnson in the production and final product of this work.

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