It started off as an art piece for a local fundraiser, but if its co-creators have their way, the Queeriodic Table is going places.
Inspired by a blog post of a periodic table made entirely of cupcakes, artists Jen Crothers and Kona thought a queer version would be an ideal way to raise money for Out in Schools’ annual fundraiser, High School Confidential.
“What queer doesn’t love smart and delicious in the same thing?” asks Kona.
The pair quickly realized that the logistics of baking 112 cupcakes was beyond their collective skill set and instead parlayed the idea of a queered periodic table of elements into a set of posters and buttons.
The resulting table was an instant hit and has since been displayed at various events and conferences around the city.
A sprawling new vinyl banner version and an accompanying installation complete with school desks and teacher is scheduled to be displayed May 20 to 22 at this year’s Seattle Erotic Art Festival. The annual festival, mounted by the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture features hundreds of jury-selected art pieces and is billed as a place where art that is rarely seen in mainstream galleries and museums can be celebrated, discussed and supported.
Though they’ve been challenged by some critics who claim the table isn’t real art, Kona believes the thought and dedication she and Crothers have put into the project tell otherwise. “We didn’t always have agreements about the elements or where they went or whether they should be included or not,” she says. “Some of the debate that happened between us very closely mirrored the kinds of debates that I have watched people have in front of me as they’re interacting with the table: ‘What is this? Is this this? Is this that? Does it matter? What does it mean? Is this exclusively queer or this in the straight world too?
“That’s the role of an artist,” Kona continues. “To sort of take stuff in and then reflect it back out in a way that causes people to think or have conversation or so that people feel moved. This thing prompts that in a very active and cerebral way, and fun way.”
The table has continued to evolve. Some elements have been moved, others removed and replaced. Snog has been replaced by “Hope”; “Uniform” has been changed to “Old Guard.”
“We opened it up to feedback, to say what do you think’s missing? People would argue with us: ‘That shouldn’t be there,’” says Kona. “I had [one woman] go on at serious length saying there’s no such thing as a ‘BiDyke.’”
“’Two-Spirited’ was one that we missed the first time around,” adds Crothers. “It really deserved to be on here.”
The artists made a conscious effort to include some queer words from other countries and continents: “Zami,” “Banjee,” “Poofter” and “Ginger Beer.” Crothers says the latter, which is Cockney rhyming slang for queer, has since been self-adopted by many redheads who have seen the table.
Some terms that have played a part in queer history have also been incorporated into the art, such as “Act Up” and “Homophile.”
Beyond the original posters and individual element buttons, the table has also been recreated in magnet form. “Not everyone necessarily wants to wear a button proclaiming that identity, but it is something that’s close to their heart, so they feel more comfortable putting it on their fridge,” says Crothers.
While many people wholeheartedly embrace the labels while interacting with the piece, she says many others resist just picking one. “[They’ll say] I’m this, but I’m also this, or I’m a little bit of this, but I’m a lot of that,” she says.
“They’re little boxes that we can fit ourselves into. We identify with words because it’s a way of going, ‘We are the same.’ There’s a whole lot of people out there who are not the same as us, and by saying we have this thing in common — we have this element in common — we can have solidarity with each other.”
The duo has been energized by the enthusiastic response to their art and hope to take it as far they can. Calendars, puzzles, a book and even a cross-Canada or North America tour are just some of the possibilities they’ve envisioned.
“If I had my way, because it’s totally nerdy, because some of these are about history and not everybody knows what Act Up is, there’s a part of me that really wants to take this and make it even bigger,” says Kona. “My private wish list is to see ‘Fisting’ writ large on the side of that huge Rogers building.”
However far it goes or for how long, they have committed that partial proceeds will continue to go to Out in Schools. “We hope to be able to cut them a cheque twice a year from the money we raise,” says Crothers.