This past Friday, Andrew Lyman unveiled dream boy at Non-Fiction Gallery. The brazenly honest exhibition, Lyman’s first solo effort, maps and questions the distance between the digital and physical, fantasy and reality, ideals and actualities.
Lyman employs a vast array of media, including photography, writing, installation, and ceramics, to immerse viewers in his own coming of age—a resonate story that mirrors the journey of his peers, specifically gay men. More generally, it addresses those confronted with developing their identity and sexuality in the internet age.
At entry, a grid of portraits, all young, presumably gay men, staring up into the camera, meet the audience. While earnest, the images of the boys toy with the viewer. In the age of selfies, questions of self-representation surface.
Lyman responds with a self-portrait hung on the opposite wall. In it he is looking down into the camera from above, implicating himself in the act of photographing and bolstering the sincerity of the portraits, while also casting himself as an arbiter.
Further into the gallery lays a meticulous mess of Lyman’s dirty laundry in predominately white hues. Within the strewn fabric are white porcelain objects—small cherubs and cast copies of the artist’s penis, some in naked porcelain and others with shiny white glaze speared or dripping from the shaft like fresh semen.
One of several recurring elements in the exhibit is also intermixed: large paper text message bubbles with opened ended phrases such as “Nm u” and “This is awkward”. In this piece, Lyman matches innocence with insecurity while considering the film of filth that can accompany forays into maturity.
In two photo collages of gridded 4×6 snapshots, he arranges the subtle forces upon his psyche—family, friends, trips, and lovers—revealing emotional and psychological interconnections through visual correlation.
The incongruencies of visual content are challenged with an awkward mise en place. A young boy stretches out his arm, leading the viewer’s eye to the adjacent image—Lyman’s nude body, slightly bent over a bed, his bare ass presented. It feels intuitive, yet exudes intention as strict as the gridded composition he manipulates.
On a lone podium sits a shattered porcelain shaft, the slivers and remnants scattered around a crumpled text bubble asking ‘Who is this’. The splintered member and the ego-deflating message reveal the fallacy of the phallus as a source of strength and identity.
Photographs, almost exclusively of figures, grace each wall. Nearly every figure is pictured alone, yet often presented physically close to another image—a comment on the internet age where relationships can be forged in isolation and offer just the slight scent of a human on the other end. This isolation also echoes the reverberating theme of queerness.
An interactive installation brings the exhibition to a crux. An open yet intimate nook with thoughtful details transports the viewer to the artist’s personal space. A worn mustard colored armchair rests before a stool where Lyman’s personal computer is perched. A pile of clothes lay before the stool. Beside the chair sits a fake house plant and a small floor fan throws a breeze on the viewer as they plop into Lyman’s chair. The computer is open to a boldly candid yet poignant story of Lyman’s interaction with a lover.
His thesis is cemented in that honest prose. Grappling with identity, representation and relationships requires confronting the gap between the fantasy and reality of our expectations of self and others. It also requires confronting the inequivalence between projected humanism in digital communications and interaction within actual relationships.
When seemingly clean online air devolves into the stench of daily life, Lyman is left to sort and sift through heavy ideas, intertwined yet distinct mental prescriptions. He reacts in isolation, resorting back to dreams to placate reality.
Lyman says he worries for the next generation who will come of age completely in the online realm. Yet one could argue, he is that generation.
While scattered throughout dream boy are hands reaching out to the analog world, it’s clear that the influence of the digital world has hijacked experience. It is how Lyman came of age. Being a queer boy in an unforgiving high school environment, he turned to the likes of MySpace, Facebook, and Grindr.
dream boy is a process document. Arguably, Lyman is still coming into his own—reconciling, accepting, and embracing himself and others—and certainly our society has yet to even scratch the surface of understanding the online world. But it is work like this, raw and honest in both its content and the questions it poses, which allows us to find our humanity again, hidden in the filthy corners and in the unyielding space between ourselves and others.