Agnes Questionmark on Humans, Aliens, and Sea Creatures

Agnese Questionmark is a performance and installation artist based in Brooklyn. (photo by Jose Cuevas, all photos courtesy the artist)

This article is part of HyperallergicPride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.

We’re kicking off the last week of Pride Month with a conversation with Agnes Questionmark, a performance and installation artist from Italy now based in Brooklyn. Questionmark, a trans woman who also identifies as interspecies, often uses her practice to interrogate the perceived differences between humans, animals, robots, and aliens. Earlier this year, the artist embarked on one of her most ambitious projects to date: She spent 16 12-hour days suspended in a constructed greenhouse in Milan’s Lancetti train station. Questionmark wore a sculptural tail for the site-specific installation, titled “CHM13hTERT” (2023), to create the appearance of a nearly 23-foot-long “non-definable alien-marine creature.” The artist rested on a surgical bed she modeled after images of operating tables for horses and sea lions. This medicalized element, Questionmark says, speaks to a larger theme in her work: the ways in which people treat non-humans differently. Ultimately, the artist said she wanted “CHM13hTERT” to provoke questions: Was the figure viewers saw a human or animal, a man or woman, a sculpture or a real person?

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Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?

Agnese Questionmark: My research focuses on the possibilities of human and non-human DNA and the capacity of genetic codes to expand and transform into ever-changing forms. I am fascinated by the destruction and reconstruction of social and political values, particularly those which uphold binary and normative systems. My work refuses to conform to oppressive edifices of power and control. It is instead an inquiry into liquidity, transitivity, and permeability — inside and outside of the human experience.

Agnes Questionmark, “CHM13hTERT” (2023), performance and installation

H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?

AQ: My work is a deconstruction of not only gender norms but also any codifications of species and identities. Over time, my artistic focus has hybridized: humans with non-humans, bodies and robots, aliens, and deep sea creatures. To me, my work is not a direct or obvious reflection of my gender identity, but because I exist in a transgender body, inevitably the image and the “consumption” of my work becomes focused or related to gender identity.

I aim to confuse people, to force people to question, and to question myself. With these questions, a new imaginary is created in the gray space where any answer is possible — a world that belongs to everyone, to a future speciation and evolution where transitivity is understood as a basic component of social and political structures.

I do not think gender identity should be an exclusive code through which my work is read or perceived because it does not speak to transgender or queer people alone. I hope instead to employ a universal language in which everyone is considered, where everyone can be revolutionized.

H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?

AQ: Lately I have been inspired by Dr. Jo Zayner, a genetic engineer and biohacker, and Neil Harbisson, a cyborg artist based in Barcelona. 

I have been reading Discipline and Punish (1975) by Paul-Michel Foucault and Humankind (2017) by Timothy Morton.

I am also a lover of Hito Steyerl and her philosophical inquiries on the disappearance of bodies and their oppressive status. One of my largest sources of inspiration and reference has always been the online world, where I forget myself in frenetic exposure to images, videos, and texts.

Agnes Questionmark, “Transgenesis” (2021), performance and installation (photo by Henry Kisielewski)

H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?

AQ: As I said, I do not believe in any form of oppression or control. My wish is that those who have no choice but to hide under unbearable conditions will find the path toward reinvention. I hope those who can speak up will be loud and proud for those who can not. I hope alliances are being made across nations and ethnicities. I hope passport controls are just theater rehearsals and public toilets are just labs of transgenic fusions. I hope streets remain the stage for a troubled generation who resist constant codification and control, and doctors and lawyers are just mechanical reproductions of nonbelievers. 

Finally, I hope that new languages are being spoken to avoid dated translations and new images of resistance are being shared in the untamable waters of the media. 

Transformation is in your hands.


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