unfired terra cotta clay
various sizes, ~2 x 2 x 2"
Exhibited in Holding Patterns by Art Spin (2018)
About Unidentified Remains
Teeth, vertebrae, nipples, and his “peen”: Unidentified Remains is a cache of one thousand tiny, unfired terracotta clay sculptures that use abstracted body parts mixed with forms from nature to talk about Valentin Brown’s transitioning transgender body. Unidentified Remains are indiscernible objects in flux that are simultaneously “both” and “neither.” They are human and inhuman, male and female, all to feel the tension of belonging and alienation that he feels having his body.
Unidentified Remains queers nature—plant, animal, and human—in order to create tension, while at the same time expressing a sense of gentleness—something Brown calls, “soft body horror.” The pieces of remains, each carefully tended to and no bigger than the palm of your hand, hint at a range of body parts, while at the same time refusing to give away their identity. You may find something that might look like genitalia, a femur, or a torso, and yet altogether not quite human or even animal at all.
Is it a tooth, or an iceberg? A nipple, or an upside down mushroom cap? Long bones, or water weathered logs? Is that the “trunk” of the body? No two pieces of Unidentified Remains look exactly alike, making them individuals, while at the same time, they swim together in the vastness of an inseparable collective, like individual voices sounding in a crowd.
Each piece of Unidentified Remains is tiny and unfired remembering the portable art of prehistoric humans, who made their work small, to be carried from place to place, and sometimes only sundried their clay, allowing it to continue to transform. Such work is always in a state of site-less-ness and metamorphosis, which reminds Brown of his experience of alienation as a trans person. Making each piece of Unidentified Remains so small suggests intimacy, preciousness, and deliberateness—all qualities required in learning to love his trans body. At the same time, firing would force the work into one form forever, while leaving it as it is keeps it eternally in flux, eternally subject to change, not unlike his body, which will always be changing with hormones and surgery, and always one foot in belonging and the other in alienation.
Brown has made so many pieces of remains as a practice of loving self-curation. Through this work he takes parts of his body and repeats and collects them over and over, abstracting them using forms from nature, as a way of owning them. He hoards every part of his body: his chest, hips, genitals—which displace and alienate and cause him dysphoria—along with and with just as much care as the parts that he has always loved, such as his feet and his teeth. Forming in clay both angular cuts and biomorphic curves, Brown embraces his roundness just as much as the harder, pointier parts of him.
Allowing the remains to remain unfired heightens their sense of Brown’s personal “trans-ness,” of never settling on one thing or another, and never quite belonging. Making a cache of one thousand tiny pieces, every one tenderly formed under his fingertips, suggests gentleness and devotion. Human or inhuman, male or female, individual or collective, contemporary or prehistoric, dynamic or static, hard or soft: Unidentified Remains is never this or that, just like Brown’s trans body, sitting somewhere both between and outside belonging and alienation.