Jonathan Lyndon Chase: Big Wash
On ViewFabric Workshop and Museum
January 2, – June 6, 2021
Jonathan Lyndon Chase answers an unasked, but important question: what might a gathering of strangers, a party, perhaps, look like in these times? Ostensibly set in a laundromat, the center of Big Wash features a clothesline, a three-dimensional washer and dryer (which emit soap bubbles), and a tiled linoleum floor. The show is joyful and boundaryless, highlighting queerness as a form of inclusivity—reminiscent in some ways of José Esteban Muñoz’s famous injunction to “take ecstasy with me.” Elaborating, Muñoz argues for queerness as a horizon, a movement out of the present: “we must vacate the here and now for a then and there. Individual transports are insufficient. We need to engage in a collective temporal distortion.”1
The first principle of this collectivity is abundance. In addition to the sculptural elements, the walls of the second-floor gallery are filled with paintings of many sizes and cut-outs of small butterflies, flowers, or excerpts of poems. There is much to see and all of it bursts through the frame, challenging the idea of an edge.2 This immersive quality, with which the exhibit’s affective quality surrounds, creates its own bubble which makes the viewer feel as if they have stepped directly into Chase’s world. This is a lush world of casual intimacies and fabulosity—behold the ever-present butterflies, which Chase described in a press preview as “for everyone!”
Beyond plenitude, Chase also creates a lively connective tissue through the repeated use of an orangey-pink and blue patterned fabric—more butterflies and flowers. This screen-printed fabric, created in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s team, is found on the boxers hung up to dry on the clothesline, as underwear on some of the painted people, on another standing pillow person, and in the backgrounds of some paintings. Everywhere, in short, offering a reminder of the ways that the personal moves between private and public, and that in a gathering of strangers, there might still be threads in common. Given that Chase explicitly borrows from the color palette of Forman Mills, a Philadelphia department store famous for providing hip and size-inclusive clothing at affordable prices, this inclusivity has multiple dimensions.
In the show’s ostensible set-up, people are gathered at a laundromat and, while cleaning is an important theme in these times of COVID-19, this cleansing is more about the public and collective sharing of vulnerability amidst difference. This is underscored by a video of Chase, nude and facing away from the camera, tenderly washing their husband’s boxers (made of this same fabric) with a washboard in their bathroom. Vulnerability, care, and intimacy are very much entwined. In this way, the aesthetics of the paintings also match the theme. Chase brings together multiple surfaces to paint on—bedsheets, canvas, paper—and uses many hues of acrylic, spray paint, pastel, and glitter to generate people. They are drawn by employing different techniques, which highlights their unique qualities; the lines are thick and hazy or detailed finely or we find amorphous shapes saturated with color. Thus, Chase renders each form individual. Every body is different and every body is given their own space to shine. Many of the paintings also feature casual engagement, so that this is not a party that dwells on difference as the impetus for coming together, but instead foregrounds the ways that people can and have come together. Instead of a focus on representation, we are plunged into Chase’s suggestion that engagement is the thing—people are caught in mid-conversation, in repose, just being. Together, but casually. Together, and with joy and tenderness. Again, Muñoz is useful: “Take ecstasy with me thus becomes a request to stand out of time together, to resist the stultifying temporality and time that is not ours, that is saturated with violence both visceral and emotional, a time that is not queerness.”3
Most striking in Chase’s portraits are the tender eyes and voluptuous lips. They radiate lushness and the possibility of intimacy in this collective space. I keep invoking Muñoz because while Big Wash exists now, it does require collective engagement to get to that vision of sensual and hopeful queerness. Here, we see especially how Chase uses the laundromat to illustrate how practices of the quotidian—washing, here—can bring together individual needs and vulnerabilities into a form of collective possibility, showing the ways that care (both of the self and others) is fundamental to community.
José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 185.
Amanda Gluibizzi, “On Edge(s).” The Brooklyn Rail, September 2020.
José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 187.