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06/03/14 Artist Eli Sudbrack (aka AVAF) on His “Cyclops Trannies” and Current Exhibition in New York

Color, especially made vivid, is confrontation. Brazilian installation artist Eli Sudbrack, known more widely under the pseudonym avaf (assume vivid astro focus), often uses color aggressively. As geometric abstraction on wallpaper or video projection, his pieces with Paris-based collaborator Christophe Hamaide-Pierson reference LGBT issues spanning AIDS activism in the ‘80s to anti-queer cleansing in Uganda.

The collective’s works are characterized by hulking “Cyclops Trannies” that burst in Hanna Barbaric color. These supreme beings wield fierce, mutated genitalia, at once probing politically into backwards systems in order to avenge gay rights. By exhibiting at Spain’s La Conservera, squeezing in a retail-centric collaboration with Lady Gaga, and a re-installation of their Whitney Biennial 2004 piece, avaf’s vibrant sexual revolution has been persistent and far-reaching in the past few years.

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With “Adderall Valium Ativan Focalin (Cantilevering Me),” the collective returns to New York with its first solo exhibition in the city since 2008. At SoHo’s Suzanne Geiss Company, avaf’s transsexual titans are in full force, this time banding against the urban overdevelopment Sudbrack has witnessed while shuttling between São Paulo and New York. Beyond oppressive commercial and residential structures, the Cyclops trannies continue to battle for equality.

Amid his exhibition’s run until June 21, Sudbrack chats with NOUS about getting tranny inspiration from Marvel superheroines in the ‘90s and a much-needed return to solo projects.

“Adderall Valium Ativan Focalin” is your first major solo exhibition in New York since 2008. Can you talk about some highlights during the interim?  

We haven’t exhibited in New York since 2008 but we have shown in many other places. We did a retrospective of our wallpaper pieces in a labyrinth form, plus a giant inflatable slide, at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo in 2009. In 2010, we turned those walls from the Oslo show into a giant pyramid installation with four huge inflatable trannie skydancers at La Conservera in Murcia, Spain. 2010 was also the year when we had a solo show at Galerie Hussenot in Paris, where we displayed four trannie neons and released our first 300-page monograph through Rizzoli. In 2011, we made a series of more than one 100 “Cyclops Trannies” drawings and also did two public murals for Wynwood Walls, Miami. In 2012, we were part of Art:21, an incredible PBS TV series that features interviews with artists. In 2013, we had a solo show at Casa Triângulo in São Paulo and were part of a special section at the Armory Show called Armory Focus, curated by Andy Warhol Museum’s director, Eric Shiner. Last year, MOCA Miami also did a show of their collection and re-installed our Whitney Biennial 2004 installation – a very dear project for us. Recently, we are also featured in Robbie Antonio’s collection at the foundation he just opened in the Philippines with a wallpaper installation—that was part of our show at Galerie Hussenot in 2010.

That’s quite an expansive reach. What distinguishes your latest series so that an exhibition in New York was in order?

The show at Suzanne Geiss features the first paintings on canvas we have ever made. Some of these paintings are abstract but most of them feature the recurrent characters we have been working with, the “Cyclops Trannies” – a symbol of faith in change, of destabilizing the status quo and breaking recurrent taboos. Our cyclops trannies are these supernatural beings of great power and amazing mutations; they might have failed a few times through their lives—maybe implanted too much silicone to their faces or added one too many boobs to their bodies—but they are “demolition” goddesses of our contemporary world, demolishing not only their bodies and identities but also retrograde views, beliefs, and morals.

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What culture were you exposed to that led to the ideas around the exhibition?  

We are interested in images of the hyper-feminine, be they transsexual or not. The culture we have been exposed to is more like trash porn magazines from Brazil and Spain; über-sexual, oversized marvel super heroines from the ‘80s and ‘90s drawn by the likes of John Byrne, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, etc; and american “booty” magazines like Sweets or Straight Stuntin’. These are direct influences to this body of work. In fact we are more interested in exacerbating images of straight women, adding penises, oversizing their features and turning them into transsexuals.

If you could lead an attack right now, against which institutions would you deploy your trannies?

Our Cyclops Trannies should drop a love bomb on everyone who is against gay rights and make them fall in love and revolutionize their views.

Has the exploration of canvas inspired you to look into other mediums or technologies for your art? 

Lately we have been interested in exploring ceramics. Making beautiful delicate porcelain trannie vases. We also have been dying to make an interactive 3D dancing video, like the game “Just Dance.” So visitors could have a private one-on-one dance with one of our Cyclops Trannies.

Since we released our Rizzoli monograph we have been willing to have a more “intimate” time with our work and not work with other collaborators. The monograph sort of sealed a period of time in which we were collaborating with different people all the time for various shows. We got a bit tired of doing that. We need more time alone in the studio, more focus, less production calls and e-mails.

We just want to devote ourselves entirely to one body of work. Painting on canvas became the perfect medium for our “new momentum.” As you know, me and my avaf partner, Christophe, live in different countries and hardly ever see each other. Last time we had seen each other was at our show in São Paulo in 2013, more than a year ago. So we already spend a lot of time on our own but unfortunately, we would constantly be sidetracked from our “focus” for production reasons, dealing with manufacturers, galleries, museums, other collaborators. We need more peace and even more solitude. So these works are a reflection of this time alone we both spent in our studios separately and it’s great to finally share them with the public.

You’re known to change the elements of the AVAF acronym. What does it stand for at this moment?

Right now we are still stuck with the title of our current show: adderall valium ativan focalin (cantilevering me), but we should soon think about a new avaf acronym for our solo show in Berlin later this year.

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