Kaucyila Brooke, Spirals, 2012, photomontage, 42 x 30". From the series “Can We Talk?, Tit for Twat,” 1993–.

Kaucyila Brooke, Spirals, 2012, photomontage, 42 x 30". From the series “Can We Talk?, Tit for Twat,” 1993–.

Kaucyila Brooke

Kaucyila Brooke, Spirals, 2012, photomontage, 42 x 30". From the series “Can We Talk?, Tit for Twat,” 1993–.

Explicitly gay perspectives in art can all too easily be interpreted as merely individual permutations of “otherness” or “difference,” and now-familiar strategies of camp and queerness can be used to evade essential questions, not just of gender specificity but also of social and cultural determination. Kaucyila Brooke faces such issues squarely, which makes her first major survey exhibition, “Do You Want Me to Draw You a Diagram?,” all the more important.

At the center of the exhibition was Tit for Twat, an ongoing work begun in 1993 and now encompassing nearly thirty large-format photomontage panels telling a variation on the biblical creation story in photo-novella style. Instead of Adam and Eve, a lesbian couple, Madam and Eve, are the protagonists. Using humor to turn the story upside down, the piece takes up lightning-rod issues such as creationism, reality TV, homophobia, and tabloid journalism. But Brooke does more than simply rewrite the Book of Genesis in favor of women and homosexuals. She also incorporates themes of fundamental epistemological importance into her narrative. For example, she shows Madam and Eve being invited onto a television talk show whose host, Maury Povich, asks, in a cartoon bubble, “If we embrace the discontinuous, will we lose such principles as ‘influence’ and the exception that we all call ‘genius?’” Geraldo Rivera, in turn, queries: “Is it monstrous to suggest that our lumpen bodies have always been stitched together out of a fabric of race, class, gender, and sexuality?” Complex questions of how a particular narrative can shape individuality and social interactions are put into the mouths of popular television personalities. In addition, Tit for Twat shows the story of creation as a story of the creation of hierarchies, too: The essential ordering of things it inaugurates—the naming of animals, plants, rocks, and also people—becomes the foundation of historic systems of classification and valuation. Expanding on this idea, the last part of the work addresses nature through various gardening traditions, from the strictly ordered gardens of the Baroque era through current biosphere projects, each reflecting a distinct worldview.

Brooke also explores the evolution of systems of classification in the photographs of Vitrinen in Arbeit (Showcases in Work), another major piece (though not on display in this exhibition) spanning years of research, and one that received widespread attention when it was produced between 2002 and 2005 in Vienna’s Natural History Museum. Brooke follows the transformation of the museum’s natural history collection into an edutainment experience, interweaving stories about human history (conveyed through empty display cases and antique museum objects) with her own interrogations.

“Do You Want Me to Draw You a Diagram?” also included early works from the 1980s and ’90s that further illustrated Brooke’s idiosyncratic approach to narrative, as well as many documents and materials from the artist’s personal archive to give a deeper understanding of her working methods. With its range of material, this exhibition offered a comprehensive overview of Brooke’s oeuvre. Still, the exhibition’s greatest contribution was showing for the first time the twenty-year evolution of the ambitious Tit for Twat in its current entirety. With its formally rich, almost opulent imagery, its fundamental questioning of the cultural order, and its own evolving composition, Tit for Twat, like the exhibition as a whole, achieved its nearly encyclopedic aspirations.

Daniela Stöppel

Translated from German by Anne Posten.