Lois Bielefeld: The States Project: Wisconsin
Lois Bielefeld navigates the waters of two distinct photography worlds. By day, she shoots high level commercial fashion work, both in the studio and in glamorous locations. Her artwork, which often involves photographing people, addresses issues of community and identity in a variety of ways. She was the first artist selected for a new three month artist residency in the country of Luxembourg, open to Wisconsin artists. Her ambitious project Androgyny, which has been exhibited in both commercial gallery and university settings, uses still photography, video and installation to bring distinct aspects of gender identity to the viewer. Like many have done, Lois lived away (school at RIT and work in New York City) before returning to her home in Milwaukee. We’re glad to have her back.
Lois Bielefeld is a conceptual photographer and filmmaker who splits her time between fine art and commercial/fashion photography. She works in photography, film, audio and installation. Lois was born and currently resides in Milwaukee, WI with her girlfriend and daughter. Lois has her BFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology and from 2003-2010 she lived in NYC. Besides photography, she feels passionate about swimming, urban gardening and bicycling adventures. She is a 2012 recipient of the Nohl Fellowship and has shown at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Inova, ArtStart, Portrait Society Gallery, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and UW-La Crosse. Lois recently finished a ten week artist residency in Bourglinster, Luxembourg through the Museum of Wisconsin Art and the Luxembourg Ministry of Culture. Bielefeld is represented by Portrait Society in Milwaukee.
Androgyny explores the power and complexity of gender identity in a series of photographic portraits, short films, and an installation. The work challenges social constructions of gender and celebrates gender expression and fluidity.
Merriam Webster defines androgyny:
1: having the characteristics or nature of both male and female
2a: neither specifically feminine nor masculine <the androgynous pronoun them>
2b: suitable to or for either sex <androgynous clothing>
3: having traditional male and female roles obscured or reversed <an androgynous marriage>
In cultures with a binary gender system, such as the U.S, we innately categorize by sex because it is uncomfortable for us to not know an individual’s sex. For example, the typical first question following the announcement of a pregnancy is if the parents know the sex. Those who do not fit neatly into a category, such as the androgynous or gender non-conforming, are subject to sneaking glances or outright stares, a probing and/or invasive question or two, and incorrect categorization. The issue is compounded and can potentially turn hurtful or violent when individuals choose to present themselves androgynously – to not perform their sex as society expects. Not conforming to the cultural norms of gender/sex presentation can lead to altercations in public restrooms where individuals are chastised for being in the wrong bathroom or being constantly questioned, teased, and bullied. These are all examples of incidents that have happened to my subjects. On the flipside my subjects spoke about the empowerment that comes with gender fluidity. Doors are opened for “women,” “men” can use the shorter bathroom line, and both feel safer in certain situations alone. Most importantly, my subjects regularly spoke about just being themselves.
The portraits are in a neutral setting and are entirely about the subject and how they present themselves. The portraits work in conjunction with several short films and an audio installation of the subjects’ experiences and thoughts on androgyny. My subjects encompass a wide range on the gender spectrum; some identify as androgynous or gender fluid, some who don’t think they are androgynous but the public pegs them as such, and transgender individuals that identify as male or female but are still mis-gendered or have been during their transition.
The photographs invite the viewers to look, stare, and question, which unfortunately is what happens to the subjects on a regular basis in public. It is in The Bathroom, that the viewer will encounter the reverse where they can sit and listen to the subjects experiences, thoughts, and feelings while immersed in the space that everyone knows too well: the public bathroom. The piece begins gendered as there are 2 entrances, male and female, but leads to the same space. This is a direct commentary on our current bathroom system and the need for safe unisex bathrooms.
The video pieces Girl, Boy, Both, Selfie, and Miles Long/Leah Knightly deal with Androgyny in 2 different manners. Girl, Boy, Both is a documentary film following a Milwaukee public school’s second grade class as 2 students (Amaya in 2nd grade and Ami in 4th grade) teach Amaya’s class about gender acceptance. Both girls have struggled with bullying due to their look and presentation. Dale Weiss, Amaya’s teacher, worked with them to develop and teach a unit on gender acceptance. Student posters created during the unit accompany the film. Both Selfie and Miles Long/Leah Knightly are conceptual pieces that centers around the idea of identity fluidity based on presentation. Selfie is a series of animated gifs of the artist dressed up in stereotypical characters. The audio is comprised of voiceover from the artist using contrasting content from lude gender jokes to the biology of gender to Yahoo Answers on what the legal definition of male is as defined by it’s users. Miles Long/Leah Knightly follows the transformation of Michelle Ewald-Neumann’s masculine drag character Miles Long into her feminine drag character Leah Knightly. The film addresses the notion on how fragile our identities are and how much painting and packaging goes into identity.
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Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman: The States Project: WisconsinJanuary 10th, 2016
Naomi Shersty: The States Project: WisconsinJanuary 9th, 2016
Jon Horvath: The States Project: WisconsinJanuary 8th, 2016
Lois Bielefeld: The States Project: WisconsinJanuary 7th, 2016
Sonja Thomsen: The States Project: WisconsinJanuary 6th, 2016