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Artist Makes Testosterone Soap and Other Paradoxical Objects

Testosterone and soap seem like they don’t mix, but Jes Fan explains why they do.

by Andrew Salomone
Jan 2 2017, 5:40am

Testo-soap, Depo-testosterone, lye, soap, silicone base, 2016. Photo: Jacob Schuerger

While a frat party might seem to be awash with testosterone, a recent sculpture literally can be a wash with testosterone. Created by Jes Fan during the artist's fellowship at The Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, Testo-soap is part of an ongoing body of work that navigates the malleable space between binary gender categories and consists of soap made from testosterone. Fan tells The Creators Project how the materials they choose to work with help them to understand the complexity of identity: “For me, making is a way of knowing, and materials are the conduits to that new knowledge. My work is driven by a haptic obsession to critically engage with the cultural objects that constitute us.”

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Stranded between one act and another, polished resin, hair, 2016. Photo: Jacob Schuerger  

The idea for the Testo-Soap project came from questioning what materials underlie gender. “Holding a bottle of T in my studio, I researched all the ingredients listed on its label, to discover that testosterone hormone is suspended in cottonseed oil.” Because soap making requires the combining of fats with lye, Fan realized that the fat in the cottonseed oil that contains the testosterone could be made into soap by simply mixing it with water and lye. The resulting Testo-Soap is more than just a conceptual juxtaposition of materials; it’s an ingenious feat of chemistry that references the role of gender in traditional production processes like soap making. “The intention is to materialize the performativity of gender at a biopolitical level, as well as drawing a parallel between the repetitive act of cleansing with the act of maintaining one’s own gender hygiene. Whether if it has practical masculinizing effects or not I think it is beyond the importance of the piece,” says Fan.

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T4T, silicone casting, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist

Besides soap and hormones, Fan also works with: resin, silicone, glass, and hair. And, like the Testo-soap, Fan uses the physical properties of these materials to subvert defining characteristics of the objects they depict. In a work called T4T, a barbell is cast in pink silicone. Fan undercuts the function of the barbell as an object used in weightlifting by making the sculpture out of a material that’s too light and limp to provide adequate resistance for building muscle. The result is an object that represents seemingly contradictory qualities: heaviness and rigidity, as well as lightness and flexibility. The disparate collection of characteristics represented in Fan’s work mirrors the complexity of personal identities and the difficulty of trying to fit them into one distinct category.

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Wedged I, II, III, resin, silicone, glass, 2016. Photo: Jacob Schuerger

Fan is currently developing several works, in addition to the Test-Soap, that will be displayed in the Museum of Arts and Design’s project space. “I am working on a set of prosthetics named Dispose to Add, made for no specific bodies in mind. Second, I am making a candle out of testosterone. Third, I am planning to show a series of drawings named To Hide, which are composed of engineering drawings of implants and prosthetics on latex. Lastly, I want to make [another] bar of soap out of estrogen, however, that has been difficult because there has been a shortage in the supply of Estradiol,” says Fan.

You can visit Jes Fan every Tuesday through Friday and Sunday in the Artist Studios at The Museum of Arts and Design, and an exhibition of their work will be on display there from February 28th through April 9th. You can see more of Jes Fan’s work on their website.

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