Artistry, diversity on display from new collective members

The work of nine new members of artist collective Vox Populi is now on display in “With For And Against” — a collection diverse in focus and scope.

The artists, who work in varying disciplines, are Joe Bartram, Meg Foley, Jesse Harrod, Matt Kalasky, Kirk McCarthy, Tiona McClodden, Chad States, Julia Staples and Suzanne Seesman.

“Their addition to the collective has altered its constitution and brought diverse material and conceptual considerations to the expanded group,” said VP director Bree Pickering. “This is certainly exciting to me programmatically, but I view it as additive rather than strictly transformative.”

This crew truly has its metamorphic act together, especially when addressing sexuality and gender. Bartram’s collage may examine how we build relationships in our environment, Foley may deconstruct traditional choreographic forms and Kalasky may be represented by a finger-pointing wall mural, “Author Culprit Liar Pulpit.” However, when it comes to Harrod’s textural macramé sculptures and States’ highly charged (literally) installation pieces, sex and gender politics are addressed directly and imaginatively.

For States — a Philly-based photographer and installation artist — diversity comes in the manner on which he sentimentalizes queer ideals while (in Vox Pop’s words) creating mythos around the marginalized spaces they inhabit. In his (literally) greening photographic book, “Cruising,” States looked at the wooded cruise spots of Delaware with an eye toward the romantic.

Installation came late in his game of art-making, as States was first trained as a photographer who worked with that sole medium for years. After a while, though, the Philadelphia artist wanted to start “creating experiences instead of documenting them. I could then begin to explore things historically instead of always in the present.”

His “Nightlife” neon, when teamed with “Shimmer of Possibility” — shattered car-window glass collected off the streets of Philadelphia meant to emulate cocaine — is certainly an experience worth re-creating.

In terms of communicating a sexual/ritual vibe, States said “environments work better than images on the wall because it starts to affect the entire body and not just the eyes. The body is always a part of my work with installation. I like to romanticize ideas of queerness to transform them into beautiful and desirable objects.”

He points out how one of his pieces, “Heaven Knows” (steel, marble sourced from a tombstone, hand-blown glass cloche, black marble scrying bowl, amyl nitrate), presents a highly elevated way to do poppers — often seen as low and seedy.

“I like to invert these ideas and imbue them with a sense of beauty, to create a mythology around sexualized ways of being beyond just being queer too.”

If States is creating mythologies around ways of being, Harrod’s knotted fiber-esque work — rope, metal, cloth sculptures — tying together what Vox Populi calls “subtle accents such as strap-on harnesses, cock rings and fetish ornamentals to infuse their seemingly organic forms with prosthetics of queer sexual practices” dives right in.

Harrod’s macramé-like crafts-y sculptures developed while the artist lived in rural Virginia before moving to Philly.

“Feminism, queerness, diversity were challenging notions for many and I reacted by becoming further politicized,” he said. “I was hesitant to use macramé, as it so completely references my mother’s ’70s aesthetic. However, I realized the technique of using a visual language of ’70s feminism brings a layer of meaning that can enrich my work. By playing with scale, color and materials, I can make macramé contemporary, while remaining in conversation with formative feminist art.”

How macramé works best for the sexual/ritual vibe of Harrod’s work comes down to plant morphology as a way to explore sexuality and gender expression — an apt stand-in for the body. Queerness is confronted through the exploration of symmetry between sex and material.

“Queer lives and sexual practices, like craft-making, often rely on do-it-yourself strategies of creativity; there is no guidebook or inherited cultural roadmap for lives lived outside of normative structures,” Harrod said. “I hope to relay the same senses of self-determination, inventiveness and resourcefulness I have experienced and witnessed within queer lives and sexual practices in my sculptures.”

Harrod said working with the eight other new members — who brought the collective’s total numbers to 24 — is both challenging and motivating.

“It’s hard work to be in a collective with that many people, yet those challenges force me to think about my actions and responses in a much more thoughtful way. I love being part of a team.”

“With For And Against” runs through June 28 at 319 N. 11th St. For more information, visit www.voxpopuligallery.org