installation view, quilt by Amy Cousins
Take a step back to the 1970s in a women’s separatist colony. Breathe in the freshness, the dirt and the unbridled hope that there can be new ways of living. Shift gears to the 1960s where a young gay man in Kansas City is working toward gay liberation amidst an incredibly hostile backdrop. His mother sat in her living room, collecting both distressing and promising materials to preserve this time period, labeling the collection the “Spirit of Hope.”
Fast forward to present day. Artists Amy Cousins and Ruben Castillo have poured themselves into these time periods through archival materials to create the exhibition, “All Modes Are Open to Us,” at Guldner Gallery inside Kansas City Public Library’s Central Branch. The result is a touching collaboration that looks to queer pasts to fill in gaps in queer presents and imagine potential queer futures.
Philadelphia-based Cousins took inspiration from the archival magazine, “Country Women,” an expansive, feminist publication from the 1970s that included topics from tractor repair to vaginal health. Kansas City-based Castillo pulled inspiration from Phyllis Shafer, mother of LGBTQ+ activist Drew Shafer and adamant queer supporter through her “Spirit of Hope” scrapbook. With what Castillo referred to as, “a maternal sense of care,” she meticulously collected any articles related to LGBTQ+ issues and pasted them onto colorful, patterned wallpaper samples, at times with hastily written notes to pay attention to or remember a particular fact. Her loopy cursive is seen in the exhibit, imploring, “Please read, so important to all of us.”
Entering the gallery, the pieces induce a sense of domesticity and decoration. The walls are lined with floral wallpaper etchings, quilts, and newspaper clippings. Messages scribbled on sticky notes sewn into the quilts and the remnants of Shafer’s scrapbook are deeply personal, lending the viewers a sense of intimacy, as if we have rummaged through the artists’ drawers.
Cousins’ “I’m down in the garden; here’s coffee; I love you (censored version)” is a floor to ceiling quilt containing the titular phrase, “All Modes Are Open to Us.” Along the edges of the quilt squares, she has sewn phrases from “Country Women” as well as some of her personal thoughts, allowing the two to blend without distinction. The phrases would only be uttered in private, to oneself or maybe a lover, or anonymously to a magazine.
Castillo’s “Three Cloud-borne Cherubs (Reminders For a Decent Future, After Tiepolo, Sara Ahmed, and Heather Love)” is another wall-length piece containing the familiar, mischievous faces of cherubs twisted into his own style. Found within gaps in the patterns are quotes from Sara Ahmed and Heather Love that lend themselves to the overall sentiment of past, future, preservation, and care. One quote reads, “Someone will remember us I say even in another time.” Castillo is that rememberer for so many past queer figures. After spending time with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) and studying the objects and stories that were carefully preserved, he has given them a new life through his work.
In many ways, “All Modes Are Open to Us” is steeped in layers of meaning, allowing more to be revealed at each pass. However, it is also accessible without context because the overarching themes of queerness, intimacy and meticulous care are so pronounced. Cousins explains this sentiment, saying, “When I am working with an object from the archives, spending time on that project, trying to make it look nice, it’s not a frivolous thing; it’s an act of care to honor that document.”
“All Modes Are Open to Us” continues at the Guldner Gallery inside Kansas City Public Library’s Central Branch, 14 W. 10th St., through Aug. 12. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 816.701.3449 or kclibrary.org/exhibits/all-modes-are-open-us.