Interview: Alexander Glass

Alexander Glass is a sculptor and installation artist who lives and works in London. Through his sculptural installations, Glass explores the separation between images and reality in spaces commonly associated with the virile male body. By leaving subtle traces of violence and catastrophe in scenarios that first appear seductive and communal, Glass creates an atmosphere of suspense that leaves the viewer questioning whether something terrible or erotic is about to happen. Viewing one of Glass’s installations is almost like sitting in the cinema with no idea whether a horror movie or a porn film is about to appear on the screen.

Recently, Glass has been focussing on recreating scenes that are frequently used in films to fetishise the male body, such as swimming pools, gyms and locker rooms. To many of us, these places make up the fabric of our everyday lives or past experiences. Although these spaces symbolise physical strength and beauty, many LGBT people will remember them as the place where they first realised that they didn’t fit in. Locker rooms are a place where men seem liberated, but are also constrained by their expectations of each other. Donald Trump has frequently attempted to justify bragging about sexually assaulting women by dismissing his words as “locker room talk”. There is perhaps no better example of the exaggerated and often toxic masculinity that is associated with these spaces than this. Still, the relationship between overt and stereotypical maleness and homoeroticism is complex; you only need to turn on Grindr to see that.

We caught up with the artist to hear more about his latest projects and current ideas.

Hi Alexander! What are you working with at the moment?

The installations that I have been working on over the past year have revolved around spaces that are frequently seen in cinematic, pornographic or advertising narratives of seduction, particularly when they are homoerotic. Spaces like the locker room in Head in the Game, which represents the transitional space with the materiality of the objects on display subverting the space into a slightly more unsettling version of itself. Towels made from sheet rubber and t-shirts made from a shower curtain. Elements of psychopathy have been entering the worlds of my work. There is an effort through this to conflate violence and narcissism by displaying abject ideas within aspirational scenes.

Tell us about your most recent exhibition.

In my most recent work and first solo show Standing on the Deep End at Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, I created a surreal and almost sickly beautiful image of the pool with looped videos of clichéd poolside seduction. The short loops have a small, creepy glitch within them and there are elements in the installation that attempt to ruin its image as simply a sexy minimalist image. Beginning with this installation, I am trying to create my work through a new persona, a more extreme narcissistic and violent version of myself, someone who believes they can have anything or anyone. I want the work to be a critical and humorous reflection on the problematic nature of that perspective.

What do you think contributes to something ‘looking gay’?

That’s a very difficult question and I’m not sure there is a good answer, in terms of aesthetics I think there are several divisions of what ‘looking gay’ could mean, but I believe that the fundamental contribution can only be down to perspective and intention. The most potent heterosexual image has the greatest potential to be transformed by a homoerotic intention.

What have you learned about gay sexuality or your own sexuality through your work?

I recently wrote my Master’s degree thesis which was titled Homo-erotica & Horror: Thematic Potentials of the Sport Space, and this has helped me re-evaluate my understanding of the potential sexualities of the spaces which I have been working around. I think what I am most fascinated by within this research is the compatibility of vulnerability and sexualisation within the same sites of male representation. Where teen movie, jock-type characters can be legitimately sexualised in the locker room, the horror genre uses the same space as one of potential violence. Sexuality and violence are commonly understood to be linked but the spaces that theses two themes can simultaneously exist in have become the fertile ground for my sculptural practice.

What do you find interesting about the link between sexual seductiveness and advertising/consumerism?

Desire is the heart of my work and consumerism is all about desire. It is a conflicting notion for me as the needing/wanting of something through aesthetic display seems like a form of trickery, but desire and the tension it can create within myself I find one of the most compelling and exciting feelings. I want my work to be able to replicate those feeling of sexual tension that are frequently seen in advertising, whilst existing in a context which poses the imagery as a critical question.

What’s the key to making something sexy?

For me sexy is a seductive promise of further pleasure, it has to be an offer of something more than is currently attainable.

Your work is sexy but not overtly or gratuitously. Is this subtlety a conscious decision?

It’s definitely a conscious decision, as with the idea of the seductive promise, offering erotic or pornographic content within my work could never achieve the subtly and soft questioning of both material and physical desire, I think subtlety offers more in it’s quiet questioning.

There is a startling lack of diversity in advertising, both in reflecting different ethnicities and non-hetero relationships. What do you think about this?

I think there is very slow progress being made to change the advertising world but I hate the way the change feels so tokenistic. I think my work can often reflect that problem as it is incredibly white, the conversation of race in advertising is interesting to me but I am more interested in the intentions of advertisers when sexualised imagery of male celebrities or sportsmen. Who are the adverts for and how much consideration is there for homoerotic appeal? My favorite example of this is the Tommy Hilfiger Rafael Nadal commercial It all comes off. It’s an hilariously teasing and confusing advertisement with seems to be a parody of pornographic fantasies.

As gay culture becomes more mainstream, how do gay people remain radical and continue to question the status quo?

I worry about that question and I’ve had few heated conversations about it. There will always be radical people and I admire them and support them where I can. I don’t think I fall under that category at all. I think the divisive social world we live in doesn’t need anyone telling anyone else how to behave or there being any ‘correct’ way of being gay. I think that the whole problem is people being outraged about how each other acts. There can be a mainstream gay culture but there will always be sub-cultures.

What’s the hardest thing for young artists right now?

There are a lot of great things about being a young artist right now and I don’t think they should be ignored. Social media (in my mind) has generated a much wider community and developed visual communication between artists. I think I have benefited from that endlessly. However, other than the lack of funding for the arts, I think the hardest thing can be figuring out what opportunities to pursue and trying to figure out how much you can give up your time and talent for free when you are finding a place within the creative world is incredibly frustrating.

What do you like most about the queer community?

I can’t say that I am incredibly involved with the queer community, but I can never get enough of going to [club night] Sink The Pink and seeing the amazing scenes there – it’s a beautiful nightmare. All the queer club kids steal my heart every time.

…And being a queer artist?

I used to worry about being described as a ‘queer artist’ or being pigeonholed by that term, but my work comes from a queer perspective and has become much more honest through my acceptance of that being part of my artistic identity. What I like most about it is being able to offer an alternative perspective on mainstream understanding of particular imagery.

If you want to see more from Alexander Glass please visit alexanderglasssculpture.com

Photography by Harry Meadly

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