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boihugo Is Inventing New Photographic Languages that Capture the Multiple Facets of Desire

03.02 2023

What is the substance of our sexual desire? Is it images or objects? Is it site or bodies? Or is it clothes, architecture, or identities? For boihugo, it's all of the above. Through photography, found images, and photo manipulation, their work explores the messy and sexy interpenetration between memory and the present, media and imagination, scenes and actions, and between them and us.

Home Sweet Home (2020-2021), inkjet printing on aluminum. Image courtesy of the artist.

In Home Sweet Home, this exploration zooms in on family-theme homoerotic pornographies, where sexual passion is entangled with material desire manifested as home decoration. These family erotic situations involve stepfather, steps-sons, and stepbrothers. They come close to but fall short of more serious transgressions while erupting in an otherwise calm and "decorous" setting of home. A beige couch, a carpet with stock abstract patterns, and a polka dot painting evoke an interior decoration that could be nowhere and everywhere at once (in Europe or the United States, at least). The interpenetrating images reveal that while these settings, perhaps overlooked by some, may seem only supplementary to the main action that takes place, they are in fact central to the production of desire and sexuality. While the actors take off their clothes, and partly their roles, and partially dissolve into messy actions, it is the couch, the carpet, the fridge, and the kitchen that continues to construct the fantasies. It doesn't stop there; the home setting does not seem satisfied with being only metonymical with sex, but in some cases, has become metaphors for intimate actions. The artist literalizes the phrase "turn me on" by overlaying a nipple with the image of a light switch. A few faucets are visible, and some drains hide beneath, always already there, ready to flood the scenes.

The Swage (2019), inkjet printing on archival photographic paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

On the other hand, The Swage captures the queer fantasies of the cityscape. The snippets of desire give you just enough to be aroused but never turns into full-on encounters, only offering a sneak peek into the artist's imagination. Long shots bleed into close-ups, and pornographic previews sit on top of scanned images of underwear pressed against the machine's glass. Through images of skyscrapers in New York City, Renaissance statues, peculiar plants with thorns, close-up foam in a sink, anonymous white men in suits, watermelons, and metal chains, boihugo manages to capture the distance, tension, pressure, and temperature that are all essential parts of erotic experiences but always elusive to representation. The titles appropriate the sometimes violent pornographic languages, such as "Young Asian Twink Fucked by White Cock,” "White Dad Breeds Asian Faggot,” and "Big Daddy Mike Fucks Cute Asian Twink Dylan." However, the work turns the gaze around and paints not the Asian themselves but the landscape of their sexual desire.

While boihugo's project centers the experience as a queer East Asian artist in the global landscape of racial-sexual politics, their approach is never reductive. Instead, they embrace the multitude of positionalities in their imagination and explore the emancipatory potential of erotic daydreaming. Inventing new photographic languages that capture the multiple facets of desire, they also precisely dissect the construction of racial masculinities and modern sexuality.

Writer: Shaonan Xi
Shaonan Xi is a writer and art critic based between Shanghai and Providence and a PhD candidate in Theater and Performance Studies at Brown University. His writings about contemporary art, queerness, and nightlife have appeared in various international bilingual art magazines including LEAP, Code 52 and untitled folder.