10:37 – Chiffon Thomas at PPOW Gallery
September 9 – October 22, 2022
P·P·O·W is pleased to present Staircase to the Rose Window, Chiffon Thomas’ first solo exhibition with the gallery. Synthesizing embroidery, collage, drawing, and sculpture, Thomas’ practice contends with the crafted body to examine wider issues of gender, race, sexuality and institutional power. Forcefully eschewing easy classification, Thomas’ “impossible bodies” embrace the space between figuration and abstraction. With an intuitive application of utilitarian and industrial materials, Thomas creates a visual language for translating both cultural narratives and personal experiences which push toward tangible forms of healing. Inspired by science fiction authors such as Octavia Butler, childhood memories, and his own physical experience of transformation, Thomas’ Staircase to the Rose Window transports the viewer to a dystopian world that allegorizes the quest for satisfaction in the face of persistent longing.
On the South Side of Chicago, amid the Bronzeville community’s sprawling public housing units, Thomas remembers childhood encounters with an incongruously gothic rose window towering above the complex’s main courtyard. No matter how many steps he climbed, the window was always just out of reach, its hazy oculus becoming an inaccessible portal, encapsulating unrequited promises of transformation, desire, and possibility. As Thomas notes, “this idea of being transformed foregrounds the cosmetic upgrades my own body has endured over the past decade. My body is that of a trans person; a culmination of hormones, haircuts, scars, muscle and fat redistribution, presentation, and demeanor, that subtly shift the way the world perceives me and the way I perceive myself within the world. I have watched my body reconfigure itself only to reach a state of relief, comfort, or contentment. In doing so, I have also grieved parts of my body that I have had to detach from physically and mentally.” In Staircase to the Rose Window, Thomas physicalizes these emotions and experiences in a parallel post-apocalyptic world: a hot, inhospitable desert filled with the detritus from a pre-existing civilization. Amid discarded box fans, rusted hardware, and peeling columns, a central figure wanders within an inconclusive loop under the watchful eyes of rose-window-adorned-towers.
“History is slanted, but Thomas can write his own story.” In Staircase to the Rose Window, Thomas makes pliable the social, political, and religious institutions once considered rigid and impenetrable. In Rose Window Tower, 2022, Thomas burns, welds, and transforms forgotten architectural elements such as wooden columns and tin ceiling panels to reconstruct designs of a former society and its hierarchical social systems. The sculpture’s woven tin and steel dome rises above the landscape, operating as both surveillance tool and gateway. In an ongoing new series also on view, Thomas reconstructs Christian Bible covers into a series of “Bible houses” each named after specific Chicago public housing communities. Grappling with experiences of growing up within Jehovah’s Witnesses, Thomas’ delicately sown and suspended miniature structures pay homage to the fervent religious communities on the South Side of Chicago by harnessing a resourceful materiality, revealing the simultaneous vulnerability and power required to uphold communities, cultures and identities.