I WILL BE GIVING A TALK AT ICP! March 13th (6:30pm - 8pm)


How do subjects present themselves to the camera? What are the power dynamics between the photographer, subject, and audience? Who historically has been deemed worthy of photographic commemoration and who is missing?

Join us for a lecture and conversation—moderated by ICP assistant curator Claartje van Dijk with scholar and artist Ace Lehner and photographer Pixy Liao—on challenging notions of power and visibility in portrait photography. The evening will begin with Lehner presenting their own work at the intersection of trans and non-binary photographic representation before a discussion on methods of interrogating power dynamics of lens-based portraiture with Liao and van Dijk.

This is a free event, but please register in advance. ICP Members have access to preferred seating in our reserved members’ section.

This program is held in conjunction with Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection. Our ICP Museum–public program combination ticket grants $10 entry to the galleries starting at 4:30 PM to those attending the program. Tickets are only available online when you register for the program.

Ace Lehner Interviewed by D. K. Broderick for the Wassaic Project


In response to the question, “Where do you call home?” you expressed that home is wherever you feel comfortable. In doing so, you didn't site home in a specific geographic location but instead in and around a specific emotional response — comfort. Where do you feel comfortable and how does your idea of home factor into your past and present writing, photography, and video work?

Creating my own family, as a queer person, was important. It’s really common and prevalent in the queer scene, it’s a part of what we all do, create our own families. It's not an axiomatic, but it’s an inter-generational, family. You find older people that are queer that become your mentors and your family. Having the privilege to go to an art graduate school in the Bay area was so helpful to me in that way. Because I had so many interesting queer mentors and family of all backgrounds. People that are the same age become family. People that are younger become family. And that process has really been more helpful as a family structure than any other. And this isn't just limited to queer people, but extends to those who are dealing with things that I'm interested in artistically, social justice-wise, and in terms of scholarship. All that feels familial.

And so wherever I find these communities — the progressive, radical, anti-racist, trans-positive families — geography is less important than feeling like I can have conversations that I want to be having with people that are critically engaged, thoughtful, and socially conscious. With people that get me. That's more important to me than the geography of it. I've found different geographies and spaces to be fascinating. Living in the Hudson Valley can be super comfortable as long as the people around you make sense. It's the people that I'm surrounded by that make it home.

In regards to how that informs my practice, I think that's an interesting question because sometimes, when changing geographic location, I notice how people interact with me differently. For example, living in the Bay area, people are totally comfortable with trans non-binary people. For example they’re accustomed to asking everyone “what's your pronoun? They, them? Ok, cool.” Right off the bat, you ask people that and it's fine and you’re over it and you move on. But then, living in the Hudson Valley, I go into a grocery store and people are like "uhhhhh." Suddenly you become a unicorn when you're not in a pack of unicorns. So that's interesting because it's made me take up more space in my own work as a non-binary person. So I've been making more work about that because it seems important to take up that non-binary space. Like now I have to make representations about myself and my own identity because here that's not happening, no one’s doing that, and there’s no trans and non-binary visibility or knowledge. It is interesting how geography changes and impacts what I'm making. In the Bay area, thinking about representation meant making photo and video work about exploring what it means to be a Mexican-American queer person in that place, because you're in a landscape that used to be Mexico but now has been colonized and become California. So there's these layers of history, and there it made sense to think about that condition, that history, and how it impacts peoples’ lives today. I collaborated with Libby Paloma on the project Chingona Por Vida, which was about her identity in that space and what it means to be a queer femme Mexican-American in the Bay Area today. You'll actually meet later. We're married.

Queer Concordia graduates make their mark in the world


Ace Lehner: Bringing the trans community into the mainstream

Ace Lehner is PhD candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz, and is an artist, photographer and visual culture scholar. Photo: Courtesy of Ace Lehner

Trans non-binary artist, photographer and visual culture scholar Ace Lehner, BFA 03, is helping advance mainstream acceptance and integration of the trans community by exploring the representations of trans and non-binary people in contemporary art and visual culture. A PhD candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz, Lehner teaches, is a freelance writer and also works as a commercial photographer.

What are you doing now?

Ace Lehner: “In my dissertation I am looking at four different cases of trans self-representation, from high art in museums to selfies on social media. I also just found out that I will be chairing a panel on trans representation at the College Art Association Annual Conference in New York City in February 2019.”

What does being part of the LGBTQ community mean to you and how does it inform your work?

AL: “Personal experiences as a queer person inform both my art and scholarship and each mutually inform one another. Being a member of the queer community provides me with a lens through which to see the world.”

What was your Concordia experience like?

AL: “I was just 20-years-old when I moved to Montreal and studied fine arts at Concordia. Working as a peer counsellor at the Centre for Gender Advocacy, I learned how queer and trans identities intersect with class and racialization. I became more politicized and began to think critically about social-justice issues. It changed my life and I am still trying to do what I can to make the world a better place.”

Research and writing featured in Art Journal Open's Bookshelf

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

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

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 http://www.randomparts.org/ace-lehner/ 

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

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 Bentham’s conception of the Panopticon. For, like Bentham’s Panopticon -a conceptual structure that, never actually housed any prisoners- Wapato Jail’s surveillance cameras perpetually watch over constant emptiness.