Louie Fermor’s Pulp
Photo by Shireen Merchant
Pulp by Louie Fermor
Reviewed by Meagan Eve Cole
Eastern Edge Artist-Run Centre Main Gallery
September 1, 2023 – October 14, 2023
Pulp is created and curated by Louie Fermor (they/them) and features life-sized recreations of lesbian pulp fiction cover illustrations alongside their source material and a screening of Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992), a film by Aerlyn Weissman and Lynne Fernie.
Fermor’s works hang like full-length mirrors in the gallery space; the figures in the paintings pose like reflections. Their faces replaced with Fermor’s gazing back, identifying with whom these illustrations were meant to represent. Fermor has stepped into their art, into their re-creation, or rather a reclamation of cis-normative depictions of lesbians in vintage pulp fiction.
The book cover re-creations that populate Pulp depict Fermor’s head on the bodies of illustrations representing lesbians, especially femmes, in the 1950s and 60s. Fermor explains in their accompanying pamphlet that they used “paint and drag” to reclaim cis-normative and incredibly limited depictions of queer people. Though, at the time, these pulps may have been the only source of queer representation widely available. Fermor’s beautiful reclamation of these illustrations is very sweetly and gracefully paired with the documentary Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992) projected on the wall: a heartfelt rebuttal to the flat and prejudiced fictions conveyed in the original illustrations, laying a soft spell over the room with quiet words of love and community and the wonderfully varied faces of queer people sharing their lived experiences.
The large scale of the paintings and the incredible detail therein naturally led me to want to know more. Louie Fermor’s Instagram profile, @louiefermor, houses fascinating photographs of the Pulp works in progress. For anyone curious about the history surrounding lesbian fiction and what inspired Pulp, Fermor’s posts refer to queer authors like Sloan Britain (writer of First Person Third Sex), to censorship laws that controlled how stories with lesbian characters had to end tragically, and to how queer people have subverted censorship and prejudice both historically and recently.
Photo by Shireen Merchant
Something about being in the room with Pulp felt both hallowed and whimsical. The re-creations of the book covers are so true-to-life in the sense that Fermor has transcribed the small-scale illustrations so faithfully into such a huge format (the paintings are taller than me) that it felt like I was a tiny creature perusing human-sized books. The scale was particularly effective for me — the original pulps are so small that it is easy to miss the subtexts on the book covers, and those subtexts are filled with prejudiced language that stereotype and demonize lesbian relationships. For example, the first piece on the left, a re-creation of The Delicate Vice, has the subtexts, “Men had hurt her so she embraced what she thought was a safer kind of love” and, “formerly titled ‘Unnatural.’”
The arrangement of Fermor’s large works interspersed with the tiny vintage pulps around the gallery space has a kind of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland feel on the surface. This juxtaposition made the gravitas of representation so clear. These tiny books likely influenced how many young queer people felt about themselves, how other people saw them, and how their relationships should look.
Eastern Edge Artist-Run Centre’s facility has undergone some great renovations to make their space more accessible, including ramps and a fantastic new accessible bathroom with an electronic button door lock. The screening of Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992) includes quiet audio for a calm sensory experience and large, bright subtitles. The gallery is brilliant, with plenty of room to navigate the floor space efficiently, and each painting and accompanying piece is placed comfortably low. The gallery attendant provided great insight into the exhibition and shared vital talking points from Fermor’s opening reception presentation.
Meagan Eve Cole is a photographer and writer from St. John’s, NL. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, English Literature, and Film Studies from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Meagan creatively concentrates on works that explore self care and emotional growth.