One of artist Sean Fader's recent projects project may be named Insufficient Memory, but his crucial work in memorializing LGBTQ+ history will hopefully never fade over time.
In 2018, FaderA New York City and New Orleans-based artist who works across a number of media began compiling a database of every LGBQT+ person killed in a hate crime. The queer explorer drove 15,000 across the United States to photograph the locations where the murders happened, then uploaded the images with descriptions to Google Earth. This created an interactive map to engage and educate viewers. Several of these low-resolution prints were enlarged and displayed at 659 West Wrightwood Avenue as part of the current Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art exhibition.
Fader was born in 1979 in Los Angeles and grew up in New Jersey. His background was originally in musical theater, but his mother's hobby was photography, so he had a darkroom located in his basement.
After studying both theater and photography at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, he ultimately received degrees at the New School in New York City, the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He now teaches students photography in New York and New Orleans.
After a recent press conference in Chicago Fader spoke in person at the Wrightwood 659 gallery.
Windy City Times: How did the creation of Insufficient Memory begin?
Sean Fader: I had moved to New Orleans to begin teaching at Tulane University. I inherited a professor's office who was a hoarder. I found a Sony Mavica, which was the first commercially successful digital camera that used a three-inch floppy disc.
I was really interested in queer history from the southeast at that point. Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998 and Barack Obama signed the updated Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 to include LGBTQ+ people. There were several names that were brought up with the hate crimes bill that I hadn't heard of before when I read through the bill. I started researching the people to learn more.
WCT: Did you find anything online?
SF: After googling the names I didn't find anything. Smaller publications weren't digitized as compared to larger publications. Unless The New York Times wrote about the hate crime, then it would often be lost.
I started working with librarians across the country and mapping everything to organize it in my brain. I drove 25,000 miles to 38 different states, and even flew to Puerto Rico, to photograph all the locations with that Sony Mavica camera to create extremely low-resolution pictures.
WCT: What was the thought behind that?
SF: It is to show in digital spaces how records were made and how queer visibility was at that moment in time. It turned out that the libraries across the country had nothing more than what I found out digitally.
We make a mad assumption that the Internet captures our whole experience, which is a fallacy. It includes more things as we move forward in time. This was a real transition for the world back then, with Y2K and the beginning of digital visibility for queer communities.
WCT: Talk about your art that is hanging here.
SF: These hanging pieces are extremely low in resolution but are graphically blown up, so they destroy themselves. On the back are their stories and there is also an interactive piece that anyone in the world can have access to with the Internet. With Google Earth, they can learn about these stories
WCT: Is anyone else helping you with this valuable work?
SF: I have worked with a partner for an eight-month residency with MASS Design Group [a Boston-based architecture advocacy organization] to create 500 augmented reality triggering site markers across the country. We will be interviewing people in the community who knew the victims so others can hear their stories at these 500 locations when they point their phones at the displays.
I am in the process of working with the California Legislative Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Caucus to partner with every location across California now.
WCT: How did you connect with the Caucus?
SF: I wrote them blindly and heard back within an hour because they were interested in telling these stories. That is how we change hearts and minds, through stories.
WCT: How did you find their story if they weren't out of the closet yet?
SF: In the late '90s there was a website called gender.org and it had a section called "Remembering Our Dead." People could self-report their stories. When the website shut down someone pulled all that information and put it on a spreadsheet. It was floating around on the Internet so I was able to find it.
During International Transgender Day of Visibility, people would post about remembering someone's death so that I could find records that way. Generally speaking, this usually happens closer to major cities where trans people have a community.
One of the most graphic things I ever read was about a trans person in Chicago.
WCT: How do you cope with all of this as you explore traumatic events?
SF: Well, I cried every day for two years and read a lot of murder confessionals, which was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. The reason I was nervous about doing this large-scale project was because I was already doing too much at that time.
I am working on hiring assistants and raising money to do that right now. This artwork points at the fact that we are failing these stories in the way we study history. Nothing is digitized the way we think it is especially with queer archives. The challenge has been trying to get the information into a system that is searchable.
WCT Are things heading in the right direction for the future?
SF: Artificial Intelligence is coming next and some of it is homophobic because of what it is based on. If we can build a massive archive of the LGBTQ experience then we can bring attention to that fact with the truth. I have a lot of agendas right now!
WCT: Have you ever thought about teaching LGBTQ+ history classes?
SF: The development of that part is constantly changing. One of the theory classes in my photo department is about images from queer history. There are more LGBTQ classes happening on campus now than ever before.
Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art is currently on display from now until December 16, 2023. For further information about mask-wearing and tickets visit Wrightwood659.org . For more on Fader focus on SeanFader.com .