SoiL Thornton was born in the U.S. in 1990, now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and is a nonbinary person. Their pronouns are they / them. Thornton’s art crosses boundaries of media, ranging from painting, sculpture, and photography to installation art. Their art has been presented internationally in solo and group exhibitions. Thornton also works as a curator.
SoiL grapples with identity politics, diversity, systems of order, and regulative apparatuses. Instead of toying with the cultivation of individualism that prevails on social media and dating platforms and conceiving their own persona and biography as capital to be valorized, SoiL takes an interest in the prerequisites and rules of various systems, including those of the art world. These (external) orders serve Thornton as “neutral” aids for creative decisions—to be followed (or not)—while also enabling the artist-figure to disappear behind this structural setting.
For the exhibition Choosing Suitor, Thornton has created a series of new works. Their titles and the accompanying factual information give illuminating clues concerning their subject matter. Reflecting Thornton’s penchant for playing with language and meaning, they also evince distinctive lyrical qualities.
Visitors arriving to see the exhibition are immediately confronted with an intervention by Thornton: the entrance to the gallery is barred by a large inflatable sculpture that also blocks the view of the space’s interior. Titled Husband Chair (SV),* the object was manufactured specifically for this exhibition; at circa 85 feet wide, it is custom-tailored to fit the gallery’s dimensions. Its height and depth, meanwhile, are derived from the height of the exhibition’s curator. Its placement compels the visitors to enter the exhibition through the backdoor—an unusual mode of access. The dislocation may remind us that there are always multiple alternative standpoints and that we have the ability to change our perspectives and orientations. The artificial constraint also draws attention to another concern: the question of access to institutions, spaces, and discourses of art, which are supposedly open to everyone, could actually be established and lived.
Once visitors are inside the gallery, the inflated sculpture spreads out before their eyes in its full size. The installation also comprises photoprints and series of pictures as well as objects loosely scattered across the floor; acquired elements of New York construction site barriers painted in the characteristic hunter green and embellished with small mirrored tiles accentuate subdivisions of the space. An extended series of photographs featuring Tinder profiles—the customary information on names, ages, and distances is set in front of abstract color fields rather than “tweaked” profile pictures—forms a horizontal line running along the walls of the entrance area. Pink plush toys with nametags individually embroidered in pink, blue, and white lie scattered across the floor. The names are hybrids, each blending a girl’s and a boy’s name that currently rank among the most popular names in the U.S.; small green number tags attached to wooden letters that once served as Christmas decorations allude to the commonplace practice of registering and identifying livestock, making for an odd contrast with the individualization of the names. Some of the letters are left inactive, while others are screwed into the floor and might be read as a statement or a question (IS MR MS).
Sprawling over an entire wall, Name that Grisaille consists of sheets of paper painted a monochrome luminous green, and white ones that are blank except for names written in red nail polish by different hands; they were contributed by people from SoiL’s orbit. Who might Fiona, Graham, or Puppies be? The piece raises questions: can a person’s attributes—sex, gender, cultural or social background—be inferred from a name? And to which extent do names and signatures lend themselves to commercial exploitation as “labels”?
Thornton challenges the dominance of a “heteronormative normal” that speaks, for instance, from the conventional allocation of names and colors or from certain dress codes: think only of baby pink and baby blue, which still cater to clichéd ideas about gender. A neutral alternative to these colors fraught with meaning, SoiL argues, is the bold Chroma key green used in film and television productions in so-called “green screens,” which make it easy to insert different backdrops later on. The green color fields are placeholders, leaving room for unconstrained projections of personal ideas and associations and alternative readings.