Talking to Ourselves and Other F*ggots at Trafalgar Avenue

 'Talking to Ourselves and Other F*ggots' (my own self-censorship) is a two-person exhibition of works by London-based artists Corsin Billeter and Leon Pozniakow. I first encountered the latter at an exhibition of emerging talent at Annka Kultys earlier this year, and I can honestly say that his painting 'Bristol International - Newark to PDX' left a deeply profound imprint on my memory. Aside from stunning visual qualities in a rich, deep blue hue, its depiction of queer tenderness is incredibly emotional and potent, and as such I was excited to see that the artist was showing in South London, at Trafalgar Avenue gallery space, which sits nose-to-nose with Burgess Park. My hopes for a continuation of the themes I had seen in that one work were a little indulgent, but fortunately they were met and exceeded, with a deeper narrative.

Leon Pozniakow, Untitled (Jock II), 2022. Silver-plated copper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Trafalgar Avenue.

Leon Pozniakow, Bristol International - Newark to PDX, 2021. Watercolour on canvas, 105cm x 150cm. Image courtesy of Annka Kultys Gallery. [not on view at Trafalgar Avenue]

Something that had dawned on me after leaving Trafalgar Avenue was the disconnect between my enjoyment of the exhibition and its, perhaps, lack of 'Instagram-ability'. While this is fairly self-explanatory, I feel the need to expand upon it a little. Of course, as it is a visual platform, the power of Instagram to make an exhibition successful is relatively un-paralleled, short of an artwork going viral. Yet, what happens when the work is excellent, but somehow visually quieter and than the big-hitters on Instagram? Will the bloggers who go round to commercial art galleries (seemingly on a whim across the world) just to pose in front of artworks make it to 'Talking to Ourselves and Other F*ggots'? Probably not. In that observation, the treasure of this exhibition is revealed. The tenderness that is present between the two artists, who have a close friendship and have not been thrown together as strangers for the sake of the exhibition, is palpable. 

Simply put, the work exists delicately in the face of clickbait, algorithms and clout. Revisiting pieces within the space is essential, as while there is no concrete story being told, the urge to explore the detail in the works is compelling. There are several different bodies of work, by the artists respectively, plus the addition of the eponymous gold-plated copper chain. Made by the artists collectively over a long period of time, the themes of tenderness, creativity, gossip and dialogue fuse together, creating a piece approximately 23.5m in length which hangs across the ceiling of the whole space, uniting the exhibition while emphasising that moving at a pace and direction that sits right with the viewer is paramount. 

Installation view: Corsin Billeter and Leon Pozniakow, Talking to Ourselves and Other F*ggots, 24 October - 12 November 2022, Trafalgar Avenue, London. Image courtesy of Trafalgar Avenue. 

The closest taste to my first encounter with Pozniakow's work was found in the series 'The Reliquaries of Aquarius', small diamond-shaped works depicting small details of different bodies. Whereas 'Bristol International - Newark to PDX' is a blue watercolour on canvas, works in this series are comprised of cotton paper, cobalt violet, jesmonite and 24ct gold. A glow-up if ever you've seen one. My initial draw to the artist's work had been the intricacies on a large scale, but here the loyalty to one colour is made powerful in a different sense, demanding the viewer leans in on these intimate scenes, even though we are only allowed to view one small angle from the perspective of the artist's choosing. 

Leon Pozniakow, Jonah (The Reliquaries of Aquarius), 2022. Cotton paper, cobalt violet, jesmonite, 24ct gold, 33cm x 19cm x 3cm. Trafalgar Avenue, London.

While Pozniakow's work was my point of entry to this exhibition, the way in which the two artists complement and enrich each other's practice is evident, and Billeter's digital paintings are delicate, warm and inviting. Similarly to the reception of 'The Reliquaries of Aquarius', digital paintings on steel, silver and copper are minute snapshots of domestic life. They are far from banal; in fact they act as a stark contrast to the over-stimulation and fast pace of society and, by proxy, our own lives. The quiet warmth of paintings such as 'Husband Sewing' leave the viewer between a vaguely uncomfortable space of voyeurism and a heady romanticism, that might make you want a husband, a hobby that you aren't pressured to monetise as a side hustle, a domestic environment that feels safe and that you can call your own, the list goes on... 

Corsin Billeter, Husband Sewing, 2022. Digital painting, decal transfer on vitreous enamel on steel, silver, copper, 16cm x 7cm. Trafalgar Avenue, London.

Together and separately, the two artists simply, quietly and gently show us what love might look like, without the commercialisation, the overt bravado and braggadocio that is so prevalent on social media. So yes, perhaps this body of work is incompatible with not only the visual styles of Instagram, but also its behaviours. These are artistically beautiful, and largely poignant, images of scenes that do not, and will not, wrestle for your attention; instead, one must lean in and embrace the silence. Love does not scream its own name; we must find it and investigate what it is, what it means, and grapple with what its sustainability feels like.

That being said, it would be remiss to claim that the show is one filled with solely a devotional queer romance. There is room for filth too, such as in the series 'The Candy Boys in the Garden of the Ogre', where a body of three pearlescent works on ablated opal glass depict various sex acts. These are not vulgar as such, moreso a nod to one aspect of the queer experience. Yet again, the invitation to lean in and check the minutiae becomes a compulsion. The intimacy that had been not only missing but outlawed for so long is back in our lives (or at least has the capacity to be), but friendship, love and companionship are not what they were. We are all changed, emotionally and often physically, from the pandemic and its various residual traumas. 

Carsin Billeter, Untitled, 2022. Digital painting, decal transfer on vitreous enamel on steel, silver, copper, 7cm x 16cm. Trafalgar Avenue, London.

This renewed, certainly altered, attitude towards intimacy is surely a significant factor in how 'Talking to Ourselves and Other F*ggots' is received by the viewer. Even the eponymous chain that hangs through the space, bridging the two rooms of the gallery, evokes a masculinity that is hard to resist (why are those slutty little chains so sexy? Annie Lord, writing for Vice, asked this very question back in 2020). There is no scent (or olfactory culture, if you will) in the room but I can smell the man wearing that chain. The collaborative element of this piece, and the wider exhibition, allows us insight into the long-standing friendship of the artists, and how their shared conversations and time together might have shaped their respective practices. There is a tangible love there which is exuded, and leaks, into their art; it is not always a love we might recognise immediately, but when has authentic love ever fit the one-size-fits-all cookie cutter?

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