James Fowler: Catch & Release

James Fowler, SHELTER, 2024, Multimedia, 84 x 84 x 84 inches

Catch & Release
James Fowler

June 20 – July 18, 2024
Workshops: Crocheting a Granny Square, Saturday, July 6 and 13, 1 – 4 pm
Opening Reception: Wednesday, June 26, 6 – 10 pm
Red Head Gallery, Toronto

The Red Head Gallery is pleased to present Catch & Release by James Fowler

Catch & Release is an immersive visual art exhibition that challenges conventional norms and stereotypes of sport by purposefully juxtaposing the culture of ice fishing with recognizable features of queer aesthetics. The presentation reframes narratives of masculinity, prompting viewers to question arcane but persistent patriarchal norms and to engage in a more inclusive dialogue on issues of identity and gender. The exhibition confronts the ‘toxic masculinity’ prevalent within the sport of ice fishing and deconstructs associated forms of conformity and aggressivity, while highlighting alternative expressions of masculinity – emphasizing vulnerability, empathy, and uniqueness.

By merging vibrant colors and gentle handcraft techniques – such as embroidery, crochet, weaving, and quilting, the exhibition visually breaks boundaries, redefining the value of craft within a contemporary art context. The installation recenters traditionally feminine handcraft practices and the use of textiles to challenge traditional gender roles and art world bias. The use of recycled materials with unique provenance, such as retired drag queen costumes, leather and fetish gear, and gay bathhouse linens, reclaim and reconstitute queer cultural totems. These materials represent diverse queer identities, promote sustainability, and weave together threads to tell a story of community.

James Fowler, SHELTER (stills), 2024, Four-channel video, 6:23 minutes

The exhibition unfolds as a funhouse, with multiple items on display, but the whole has a deeper significance. Divided between two planes, “above the ice” and “below the ice,” the installation moves from whimsical to contemplative, to consider what lies below the surface. An ice fishing hut is enveloped in a tea cozy, complete with a crocheted canopy structure, which serves as a playful introduction to the interior space. Above the ice, there are sport-specific tools, objects, and apparel, rendered in unexpected materials. The ice fishing hole is a conduit to an interior world. Transitioning to this underwater realm, the audience adopts the perspective of the ‘catch’, in this case the fish. Here the audience experiences being the victim, the hunted rather than the hunter. This movement represents a reversal from the role of aggressor to agent of change.

James Fowler, SOFT RODS, 2024, Crocheted yarn, 2 x 2 x 48 inches

In tandem with the exhibition is a series of collaborative community craft practices. A call went out to various community groups for the creation of crochet granny squares, which have been collected and assembled by the artist into a quilt, fully covering the ice fishing hut. Additionally, free public workshops held during the exhibition will invite the community, and especially boys, to learn how to crochet as an act of caregiving. In this way, the exhibition extends its impact beyond the gallery walls. Incorporating these diverse community contributions expands the creative landscape and reinforces the idea of shared narratives. The community-focused approach aligns with the initiative’s broader goal of fostering inclusivity and breaking down traditional artist-audience barriers.

The participatory social practices engage viewers beyond the visual spectacle. The blend of art-making and social observation serves as catalysts for conversations about the problem of toxic masculinity, the need for greater inclusivity, and the potential for positive social change. The goal of the exhibition, and its community engagement, is to leave a lasting impact on individuals and communities by reshaping perceptions of masculinity and replacing it with a more inviting cultural landscape.

Artist Bio:

James Fowler’s practice as a visual artist is complemented by his curatorial pursuits and his community involvement. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film and English from York University, having pursued an earlier career in photography and film. James’ curatorial and artistic practices interrogate our relationship between individual or collective identity, our positions, places, and environments. His work challenges notions of tradition, employing culture mapping to critique social norms.

James is the creator of the 10X10 Photography Project, which he has curated annually since 2011. He is a founding member of The Throbbing Rose Collective, which produces Nuit Rose, an LGBTQ Performance and Art festival. He is the co-curator of the Church Street Mural Project, a member of The Red Head Gallery, and the Nipissing Regional Curatorial Collective. James maintains a full-time studio practice in Toronto.

View James Fowler’s previous work.

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