Like a stringy purple bird, artist J. Casey Doyle sheds a glossy coat of ribbons, strand by strand, in a silent video on display at the Contemporary Art Center exhibit, I am my own cheerleader. This molting transpires on the grass of an empty football stadium. Divested of his feathers, the artist gathers up clusters of discarded ribbon — the ashes of a violet phoenix — forming loose pompoms, and, facing the empty bleachers, raises them in a silent cheer.
“No one else is going to be my cheerleader,” Doyle explains. “So that’s why I had to do this performance alone.”
The solo transformation in the video recognizes the fact that our biggest changes in life occur within; there are no witnesses. We embark upon and experience these interior triumphs alone.
Doyle’s concepts addressing issues of developing self-esteem, endurance and sexual identity resonates with the LGBT community as well as straights. With works taking place in football fields, swimming pools and frilly pompom-like material used throughout, the entire exhibit has a high-school pep-rally vibe. Continuing the team-spirit feeling are shaggy tapestries of bright woven ribbon in pink and blue, purple and green — but rather than promoting a sports team, the bold, fluffy capital letters declare “I AM” or “OWN.”
The emphasis on self and self-celebration stem from the artist’s personal experiences. “People can tell you that you’re amazing, but until you believe that, nothing’s going to happen.”
The use of inexpensive party ribbon relates with and celebrates the beauty of ordinary people who are, in fact, all capable of accomplishing extraordinary things — which, of course, begins with belief in yourself.
“I’m also interested in materials that are gendered,” Doyle adds, elaborating on his use of ribbon. “Women have craft rooms or rooms full of wrapping paper. I’m a gay man, and I have boxes of ribbon. Hipsters are bringing back knitting, but if you go back further, men were knitting to make nets for fishing, so there’s this history.”
Dominating the center space, the largest tapestry depicts the blue and yellow Human Rights symbol, and guests are invited to participate by curling strands of the ribbon.
“Let’s all take a moment to take ownership of this symbol,” Doyle says. “It represents equality for all of us.”
Adjacent to the blue and yellow fleece, another silent video, titled “Resistance,” plays out. We see the artist, in a one-piece swimsuit, emblazoned with a pink sequin letter “I,” sitting next to an Olympic swimming pool for several minutes, crocheting a yellow cord. Tying the cord to his waist, he jumps in, back-stroking to the other side until the cord pulls tight, binding him, like an umbilical cord, to the side he jumped from. After a few moments of swimming in place, he unties himself from the cord and swims on.
“Resistance” takes the expression of needing someone “to throw a rope” for your salvation and inverts it into self-saving. “Until I don’t need saving anymore. I release it when I realize its just holding me back.”
I AM MY OWN CHEERLEADER, J. Casey Doyle, Contemporary Art Center, 107 E. Charleston Blvd. www.lasvegascac.org