AMIGXS is a new exhibition of photographs by Colombian-born artist Camilo Godoy, which explores friendship and “the importance of constructing relationships beyond the nuclear, biological family”
In 2017, photographer and dance-performance artist Camilo Godoy resolved to put out an erotic zine, having barely touched his camera in the five years since his father’s swift, staggering journey through terminal cancer.
Godoy’s zine would allow him to reconnect with his arts practice and reconstitute a chosen family, one portrait at a time. It would also require non-models – friends, colleagues, past and present lovers – to assume poses conducive to onlooking, all while in the buff. Per Godoy’s penchants for choreography and pastiche, many of his portraits recall the veiled legacy of erotic spectatorship: from classical Roman sculpture to the beefcake pictorials of the mid-20th century. “When I first started the project, some people were pretty hesitant to engage in this kind of portraiture,” he says. “Other people were totally into it right away, or got horny in the process of modelling.”
Now on the eve of Volume 4, the zine has also garnered Godoy a solo exhibition at OCDChinatown in New York this summer. Among the new prints are reimaginings of Sleeping Hermaphroditus and Marlon Riggs’s 1989 polemic Tongues Untied, as well as a nearly billboard-scale odalisque: AMIGXS (Sammy), 2021.
Artistic references aside, the allusive project’s title is a multifaceted citation in itself: the zine cover’s blocky typeface is a facsimile of AMIGO – an obscure photojournal, subtitled as Studies in the Male Nude. (While Godoy estimates AMIGO 1.0 was published in the 50s or 60s, semi-NSFW periodicals of that ilk were generally undated and/or entirely unattributed.)
Prior to settling on an overarching theme – “amigxs” is the gender-inclusive, plural form of the Spanish word for “friend” – Godoy had read what became a subtextual anchor for the project: Michel Foucault’s interview-turned-essay, Friendship as a Way of Life. “I was researching and playing music in my studio at the time, and the song Girl by Destiny’s Child came on,” he recalls. “[Like the Friendship essay], that song is all about friendship and togetherness and solidarity. All of a sudden I knew I needed to make a project about friendship, and the importance of constructing relationships beyond the nuclear, biological family.”
Friendship as a Way of Life first appeared in 1978, in a poppy outlet called Le Gai Pied. Foucault was apparently an unlikely member of its readership: “You’re in your fifties,” the interviewer starts by saying, counterweighting this with the 25-to-35 age range among their staff and target reader. Nonetheless, the conversation yielded some prescient soundbites on the incipient march toward queer liberation: “The problem is not to discover in oneself the truth of one’s sex,” Foucault says, “but rather to use one’s sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships.”
Incidentally (or not), AMIGXS is reminiscent of Le Gai Pied, which became France’s first mass-market gay publication, circulating a heterodox visual culture of queer erotic expression. Part of Godoy’s mission is to resurrect the archive of subversive print media circa post-1950s, which he collects and studies as documents of a latent but collective homosexual identity. “I collect these materials because they’re so rich in what they show and tell of those periods,” he says. “How, even in light of the harrowing conservatism of the early 20th century, there were artists making this kind of material and creating a network of images, [whereby queer] people subscribed and identified themselves.”
Born in Bogotá and based in New York, Godoy plumbs the hidden histories of human physical desire, undermining entrenched social codes both past and present. Prior to launching AMIGXS, Godoy – along with ten hired counterparts and a live audience – gathered at New York’s Judson Memorial Church. There, he and his dancer cohort attempted to reprise an 18th-century work-on-paper from the Ottoman Empire, wherein ten male figures “engag[e] in sodomy, essentially.”
Godoy hopes to eventually mount a full-scale production in this vein, combining history-affirming excavation with life-affirming live reproduction. Of course, those plans are blocked by certain barriers, like limited institutional funding for dance and performance anxiety. Recalling the would-be climax of his test run at Judson Memorial, Godoy admits, “There wasn’t full-on penetration. For about five minutes in the dark, it was more like ten people in a circle, just trying to get hard.” It’s a tale as old as time.
AMIGXS is at OCDChinatown until 19 July, 2021.