Claye Bowler: Top
Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Sculptor Claye Bowler 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.
This solo exhibition Claye Bowler: 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.
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.
About the artist
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.