I'm a landlocked lad, struggling to grow a fin and swim into the great big uncertain sea.—Jax Jackson, Chimera Project Riis Beach participant, 2012
Chimera Project: Riis Beach (2012) was created in response to the suicides of four trans people in spring and summer 2012.1 The resonances of these deaths rippled through local Toronto, New York, and Chicago communities and the internet; the effect was devastating.
Chimera Project is a collaborative photography project in which trans people can participate as subject and photographer simultaneously. The photographs are attributed to all the participants, each of whom is mourning a deceased trans loved one. Each Chimera Project shoot is in response to local transphobic violence or the loss of a trans community member, with trans mourners and survivors aspiring to channel mourning as a generative power.
Using photography as a generative process for survivors of transphobic violence, this project uses skill sharing, oral transmission, and intergenerational collaboration as methods of building trans art histories relationally among peers. Each frame is a shared combination of performance, composition, and guided technical experimentation. Each participant confirms the boundaries of their participation, in voice, technics, and desire, with freedom to improvise and change roles as they wish.
Participants included Tobi Halberstroh, Jax Jackson, Zackary Wager Scholl, Kerry Downey, and Tinker Coalescing. The fishtail costumes were designed and fabricated by Aimée Finlay, founder of Beestung Lingerie, for Chimera Project: Toronto (2004).2 Nogga Schwartz and I taught the participants night photography, painting the subject with torches, lit by the August supermoon. It was also on the birthday of my beloved friend Flo McGarrell, a trans artist creating a unique safe haven for LGBTQ+ in Haiti, killed in the earthquakes of January 2010, to whom I dedicated my role in the shoot.
Imagining trans futures, Chimera Project reclaims the chimera motif from its transphobic application. As derived from various classical sources and mythologies, a chimera's sole purpose is to embody a lesson or provide “object-voice” to wisdom the hero/protagonist needs to continue his journey (Dolar 2006). As a discontiguous entity, a chimera has no purpose without a hero to encounter and is not the protagonist in its own story. It exists only to dazzle in the realm of the fantastical/symbolic, not as a person—with lovers, family, friends.
The silvery light in long exposure creates images that shimmer in simultaneous darkness and brightness as an analogy to the complexities of a lived trans life. The camera's historic relationship to queer bodies, as a pathologizing and colonizing tool, is counteracted; rather than “taking” a picture, we are “making” an image,3 while exchanging memories and wisdom inherited from our friends who passed away. The spirit of Chimera Project is t4t; creating possibility together via a horizontal model of intergenerational skill sharing, oral histories, and play as queer sustainability tactics.
Whenever I travel, I feel compelled to bring the mermaid costumes. I travel only when invited to be an artist-scholar somewhere, for a month, or six, or eleven. In the likelihood that I will meet other trans people who are mourning a trans loved one lost to suicide, bashing, cancer, medical neglect, I can propose to them Chimera Project. I ask participants to bring as many cameras as they can and, in memory and celebration of our dead friends, please, “tell me what you learned from Aligül (Istanbul) and I can tell you what I learned from Flo (Haiti), regardless of how little else we have in common, we all have unresolved anguish, love, and laughter for our dead friends. I want to learn about your friend, and I want to share with you about my friend. To take the unspent churning energy of mourning and do something with it, despite the religious traditions that rejected you.”
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Thus far there have been three Chimera Project collaborations in Toronto, Brooklyn, and Istanbul.
“Mentors” exhibition, CFHill, Stockholm, December 8, 2016–January 6, 2017, curated by Rick Herron.
“Mentors” exhibition catalogue, CFHill, Stockholm, 2016. www.tobaron.com/cfh_mentors_cat_final/.
“Chimera Project,” Jordan Arsenault, 2BMagazine 10, no. 7.
Private collections in Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, and New York.
Marc Aguhar, Kyle Scanlon, Leo O'Hanlon, and Xavier Ruiz Caldo Flores (DJ Sirlinda).
Chimera Project: Toronto took place in a swimming pool in Toronto, with materials from the now defunct Goodwill sewn in philosopher Shannon Bell's (Fast Feminism) kitchen.
A distinction I learned from Del LaGrace Volcano.