Claye Bowler: Top
8 October 2022 – 15 January 2023
Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
- The first solo exhibition by sculptor Claye Bowler.
- Bowler’s work explores queer and trans narratives. The exhibition includes work made during the processes of obtaining top surgery in the UK healthcare system.
- Latex and plaster casts, video, works on paper, photographs and collections of ephemera will be on display.
The Henry Moore Institute is delighted to announce Top, a solo exhibition by sculptor Claye Bowler. Bowler’s work explores queer and trans narratives and how they have been hidden, erased or destroyed. He uses sculptural practices, in object making and within film and performance, to subvert these tendencies.
Top reveals Bowler’s own history, a trans history that, while individual, has much in common with trans people globally. The exhibition includes work made during the processes of obtaining top surgery (an operation to remove chest or breast tissue) within the UK healthcare system. The procedure took six years from Bowler’s first visit to a GP in 2016 to his recovery after surgery revisions earlier this year.
Latex and plaster casts, video, works on paper, photographs and collections of ephemera will be displayed on metal shelving racks and within archival cabinets, mimicking the storage spaces in museums and archives that are typically hidden from public view. The lack of visibility for trans people, including in museums and archives, underpins much of Bowler’s enquiry. Collectively, the objects on display unravel an emotional narrative that highlights experiences of dysphoria — a state of unease, or dissatisfaction with life, often relating to the body. Bowler has reflected that many consider dysphoria to be a distant, complicated issue, or something predominantly only experienced by trans people.
Through his sculpture, Bowler represents his experience of dysphoria, the emotions trans people can feel and some of his own coping mechanisms: before and during the processes of top surgery, Bowler made casts of the body he wanted to have and see. Trans people have to fight for treatment and help with dysphoria, typically joining long waiting lists, whereas cis people are generally seen much more quickly for many treatments that reinforce gender. Bowler uses his work, in part, to show how many of the issues experienced by trans and cis people are the same, they are just dealt with in different ways.
Despite a deliberately haphazard technical approach to some of his object making, there is an adherence to systems and order in Bowler’s work that is also informed by his role working as a museum registrar – the function that oversees the care of objects in storage, conservation, and movement. Many of the objects in the exhibition are presented within drawers to be opened or behind things that need moving in order to be seen, highlighting an act of making visible but also the fundamental need for human touch. The references to the preservation methods employed by museums is also an assertion of the urgent need to collect queer histories, their current invisibility, and the speed at which traces, memories and material culture are lost — or destroyed — without intervention.
This exhibition follows the realisation of Bowler’s Measured Transition 2016-21, co-commissioned by the Henry Moore Institute and Yorkshire Sculpture International. The performance and video were the culmination of a five-year durational performance around the subject of top surgery within the UK public health system. The opening of Claye Bowler: Top coincides with the date Bowler was estimated to receive top surgery had he remained on the NHS waiting list, six years after joining. Ultimately, Bowler fundraised the necessary £8,000 to have the procedure completed privately. The waiting list was still nine months and required intrusive interviewing to validate. Work within this exhibition will be accessioned into the Museum of Transology, housed at the Bishopsgate Institute, London.
Notes to Editors
About the aritst
Claye Bowler (he/him) recently moved to London from West Yorkshire. His work explores the archive – the body as an archive, hoarding as archiving, and the political priorities of history. He is interested in how queer and trans narratives have been perpetually hidden, erased or destroyed historically and currently. Bowler uses sculpture and performance to subvert these practices, whilst also creating space to showcase and support other queer and trans artists through founding and directing Yonder Gallery 2019-22 and Yorkshire Trans Choir 2018-22.
Bowler was Young Curator for Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival hcmf// 2019-22, commissioned artist for Yorkshire Sculpture International 2021 and exhibiting artist for UK New Artists (UKNA) Leicester City Takeover 2022. His work was recently included as part of the group exhibition On Queer Ground at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2022) and he has an upcoming residency with Jerwood Arts and Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange (2023). He is currently Assistant Registrar – ARTIST ROOMS – Tate & National Galleries of Scotland, London & Edinburgh. Top will be his first solo exhibition.