CONNER CALHOUN: WHISPERS FROM WIZARD MOUNTAIN
First Friday performance feat. Spookstina and OPS: Friday, Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.
For many people, being queer is an inherently magical way of existing in the world. In fact, before it underwent several reinventions, the original Pride flag contained eight colors, including a turquoise stripe for “magic.”
For Raleigh’s Conner Calhoun, this historical tenet of queerness is still central in their artistic practice and how they navigate the world.
Calhoun’s exhibit Whispers from Wizard Mountain is on view through December 13 at Lump, the downtown-Raleigh gallery where they work as special projects coordinator. (Visit on First Friday for a musical performance by Spookstina and OPS and a tape release by Calhoun and Devon Tuttle.)
The exhibit leads viewers on an ethereal, fantastical survey of Calhoun’s work, which is whimsical and disorienting, existing at the intersection of the fantasy genre and the overtly sexual queer experience.
Calhoun finds fairies fascinating for their playful approach to gender and sees queer beauty everywhere, from the everyday to mythology. They are fascinated by the idea of the gay wizard, which has current as well as historical relevance. After all, Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter and Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings, the two most well-known wizard figures in modern popular culture, are gay—well, sort of.
“Everyone called Gandalf a gay wizard because he is played by a gay actor, and Dumbledore is gay just because J.K. Rowling said he was one day in an interview, way after the fact,” Calhoun says. “But it was also my first experience where a gay character was revered and beloved—a feeling of acceptance. Which is complicated, because they aren’t showing any stereotypes, so how do other queer people become accepted who maybe do show stereotypes? The whole word “stereotype” is really complicated.”
The exhibit is also partly inspired by illuminated manuscripts, which you can see in the ornate details of pieces such as “I walked the walls and not the labyrinth.”
“I started off making illuminated manuscripts as a way to sort of not only question things that are very religious and heavy, especially within the Bible Belt, but also using marginalia as a metaphor in thinking of queer people as being marginalized, but also being able to make really amazing things within the margins,” Calhoun says. “There’s a lot of metaphorical connection between the illuminated manuscript and this really colorful queer life that I’m living.”
For Calhoun, Whispers from Wizard Mountain is an important blending of a body of work that spans a significant developmental period in their life. When asked what they wanted people to take away from the show, Calhoun says, “We are all morally gray, like my hair. I think wise wizards understand that, and we really should strive to be more like wise wizards. And to look more closely at things.”