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Agnes Questionmark on Humans, Aliens and Sea Creatures

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Agnese Questionmark is a Brooklyn-based performance and installation artist. (photo by Jose Cuevas, all photos courtesy of the artist)

This article is part of Hyperallergics Pride Month Seriesfeaturing an interview with a different emerging or mid-career transgender or non-binary artist each weekday throughout June.

We kick off the final week of Pride Month with a conversation with Agnes Questionmark, an Italian performance and installation artist now based in Brooklyn. Questionmark, a trans woman who also identifies as interspecific, often uses her practice to interrogate perceived differences between humans, animals, robots, and aliens. Earlier this year, the artist embarked on one of her most ambitious projects to date: she spent 16 12-hour days suspended in a greenhouse built at Milan’s Lancetti station. Questionmark wore a sculptural tail for the site-specific installation, titled “CHM13hTERT” (2023), to create the appearance of an “undefinable alien sea creature” nearly 23 feet long. The artist rested on a surgical bed that she modeled after images of operating tables for horses and sea lions. This medicalized element, Questionmark says, addresses a larger theme in his work: how people treat nonhumans differently. Ultimately, the artist said she wanted “CHM13hTERT” to prompt questions: Was the figure viewers saw a human or an animal, a man or a woman, a sculpture or a real person? ?

Hyperallergic: What is the current orientation of your artistic practice?

Agnes Questionmark: My research focuses on the possibilities of human and non-human DNA and the ability of genetic codes to grow and transform into ever-changing forms. I am fascinated by the destruction and reconstruction of social and political values, especially those that support binary and normative systems. My work refuses to conform to oppressive edifices of power and control. Rather, it is an inquiry into liquidity, transitivity, and permeability—inside and outside of human experience.

Agnes Questionmark, “CHM13hTERT” (2023), performance and installation

H: In what ways, if any, does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?

QA: My work is a deconstruction not only of gender norms, but also of any codification of species and identities. Over time, my artistic focus became hybrid: humans with non-humans, bodies and robots, aliens and deep-sea creatures. For me, my work is not a direct or obvious reflection of my gender identity, but because I exist in a transgender body, inevitably the image and “consumption” of my work becomes focused or tied to the gender identity.

My goal is to confuse people, to force people to question themselves and me. With these questions, a new imaginary is created in the gray space where any answer is possible – a world that belongs to all, to future speciation and evolution where transitivity is understood as a fundamental component of social and political structures.

I don’t think gender identity should be an exclusive code through which my work is read or perceived because it’s not just for transgender or queer people. Rather, I hope to use a universal language in which everyone is considered, where everyone can be revolutionized.

H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?

QA: Lately I’ve been inspired by Dr. Jo Zayner, genetic engineer and biohacker, and Neil Harbisson, a Barcelona-based cyborg artist.

I read Discipline and punish (1975) by Paul-Michel Foucault and Humanity (2017) by Timothy Morton.

I am also a lover of Hito Steyerl and his philosophical questions about the disappearance of bodies and their oppressive status. One of my greatest sources of inspiration and reference has always been the online world, where I forget myself in a frenetic exposure to images, videos and texts.

Agnes Questionmark, “Transgenesis” (2021), performance and installation (photo by Henry Kisielewski)

H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community right now?

QA: Like I said, I don’t believe in any form of oppression or control. My wish is that those who have no choice but to hide in unbearable conditions find the path to reinvention. I hope those who can speak will be strong and proud for those who cannot. I hope that alliances are formed between nations and ethnicities. I hope passport checks are just theater rehearsals and public restrooms are just transgenic fusion labs. I hope the streets will remain the scene of a troubled generation that resists constant codification and control, and that doctors and lawyers are just mechanical reproductions of unbelievers.

Finally, I hope that new languages ​​are spoken to avoid dated translations and that new images of resistance are shared in the wild waters of the media.

The transformation is in your hands.

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