Research and writing featured in Art Journal Open's Bookshelf by Ace Lehner

Bookshelf: Ace Lehner

I’m currently working on a visual studies research project investigating the politics of trans and gender non-conforming representations in contemporary culture (mainly in the United States). Building on methods forwarded by cultural studies founder Stuart Hall, the project surveys a variety of visual culture forms in order to comprehend how identity categories are being proposed, contested, and negotiated in the visual field. I am interested in actively working to undo the partitioning of various identity-based discourses from one another in efforts to better understand the complexity of the ways visual culture relates to the constitution of identity categories. Looking at film, photography, magazines, and selfies, the project embraces interdisciplinarity to thoroughly attend to the interconnectedness of gender, ethnicity, racialization, and class as they relate to corporeality, representation, and systems of identity regulation. The books I am sharing here are either demonstrative of this type of approach in their praxis or their methodologies are foundational to probing such concerns, and they all are significantly impactful regarding my current work.

Situating contemporary self-representations of trans and gender nonconforming subjects in an art historical lineage of radical, self-representations made by members of the LGBTQ community, I argue trans self-representations (including those found in zines and on social media) are critical interventions in visual culture and imperative counterpoints to problematic representation of trans people produced in mainstream culture. Ultimately my project argues that it is in marginalized forms of representation that trans and gender non-conforming people are creating self-representations that constitute new artistic forms and new identity categories. Alongside this scholarly project I am also creating studio-based work investigating similar concerns.

Selfies, Self-Portraits, and Social Media April 14-16, 2016 by Ace Lehner

I am honored to announce that I will be speaking at the The 2016 Kern conference

The 2016 Kern conference will be focused on the spectacle of the “selfie.” Key issues that drive this inquiry include: 1) intense interest in social media, co-creation, and participatory consumer culture, 2) a desire to historically contextualize the selfie within art history, identity theory, and photography, 3) positioning the selfie as a distinctive self-performative act, and 4) conceptual and methodological foundations for studying the selfie as a visual communication phenomenon. Goals include exploring current developments, research methods and interdisciplinary research into how social media, self-portraiture and the selfie interact. One particular theme is to develop a series of historical and contemporary examples to trace a visual genealogy of the selfie, following interpretive and historical work in consumer culture theory, photography, and visual culture.

Within strategic communication, the selfie has been deployed to promote brands as authentic, to invoke the “average consumer” as a credible product endorser, and to show how brands might fit in with regular consumer’s lifestyles. Many questions remain. How do consumers use selfies to construct and present themselves in social media? When do certain selfies go viral? What methods are useful to study selfies? How do issues of privacy, security, and surveillance inform the use of the selfie?                          

Following in the tradition of Kern conferences, we plan a rich program of interdisciplinary scholarship and conversation. A special journal issue is planned for selected papers from the conference.

Invited speakers include:

  • Douglas Allen, Department of Markets, Innovation & Design, Bucknell University          
  • Melissa Gregg, Intel Experiences Group, Intel Corporation
  • Lee Humphreys, Department of Communication, Cornell University
  • Mehita Iqani, Department of Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Richard Kedzior, Department of Markets, Innovation & Design, Bucknell University
  • Joonas Rokka, Department of Marketing, EM LYON Business School, France  
  • Catherine Zuromskis, School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, RIT

GANGSTERS REVISITED opens December 5th by Ace Lehner

December 5th, 2015 - January 9th, 2016

Opening Reception: Saturday, December 5th from 4-7pm

Artist talk Friday, December 11th, 2015 8pm

Random Parts Gallery, Oakland, CA - 1206 13th Avenue, Oakland, CA 94606 

Cookie Paloma and Renee De Jesus were in middle school in the Bay Area, California in the 1990s, a time when the schools they attended and neighborhoods they hung out in were predominantly low income, Latino and overflowing with gang culture. Both Cookie and Renee were repeatedly harassed and threatened for being a “Gringa.” As youth they were afraid and angry. “I’m no Gringa!” Cookie recalls yelling angrily at throngs of gangsters. But words were not enough. The best way Cookie and Renee could survive was to make their Latina heritages visible, which translated into becoming gangsters. Becoming what they self describe as “gangsters” was not only a strategy for survival but it was also a way for them to visually represent their Latina identities, to assert family history, in Cookie’s case a history that involves migrant Mexican farmers struggling to survive and cultural assimilation that came in the form of embodied white-washing. 

Today Cookie and Renee no longer regularly identify as gangsters, but their relationships to their formative teenage years spent as Cholas are still integral to who they are. Through Gangsters Revisited they explore the gangster parts of themselves from a safe distance.

This collaborative work is one part performance and one part authentic reenactment, it points to the failures of photographs to ever present unmediated truth, while also relying on pictures to point to the surface of identity performances and the relation between identity and aesthetics. Picturing Cookie and Renee as Gangsters now is about exploring their former selves from a place of safety and reflecting on how their identities are tied to deep and complex personal, geographic and political histories. To reflect this they pose in the natural landscape (rather than an urban setting where they would have typically been found in their youth), this also subtly gestures toward the fabrication of the picture. Picturing Cookie and Renee in the landscape also points to the way their personal histories are reflective of the history of the landscape of California, a landscape that used to be Mexico and that speaks to manifest destiny, colonization, racial inequity and the American Dream.

Essay Commissioned for ERNEST's Wapato Jail Social Practice Project by Ace Lehner

Essay Commissioned for ERNEST's Wapato Jail Social Practice Project
 (click link above for more info)

Surveilling Emptiness at Wapato Jail

Ace Lehner

 (essay excerpt)

Unlike most empty prisons, Wapato Correctional Facility’s 525 beds are not haunted by ghosts, instead pristine pillows rest atop heinously cheap and hideously green mattresses that have never been slept in and do not hold indentations made by the weight of past trauma. There are no stains, no hairs, no traces of human suffering. Completed in 2004 the Multnomah County jail has stood empty till today and while it has often been described by locals as an albatross, it might more fittingly be considered a physical manifestation of Jeremy Benthams conception of the Panopticon. For, like Benthams Panopticon -a conceptual structure that, never actually housed any prisoners- Wapato Jail’s surveillance cameras perpetually watch over constant emptiness.