Walking:Holding

where my girls at? the lack of (queer) female artists

Rosana was one of five (one of whom was not listed in the brochure) female artists on the line-up at Homotopia. I was painfully aware of this when we went to the DIVA talk on queer female sex and desire. Perhaps that is why 50 odd women in a room discussing all manor of things from the powers of the clitoris to butch & femme felt radical. The four speakers, (Campbell X, Paris Lees, Caroline Walters, Dr. Meg Barker) were amazing in the variation between their talks. cliteracy

 Cliteracy by Sophie Wallce, referenced in the DIVA talk, click here to find out more

I was also painfully aware of this as I watched Holestar, soldier (or ‘state-sponsored murderer’ as Hoyle proclaimed) turned performance artist. She was brought on as a guest, part of David Hoyle’s show. I was frustrated as I watched her sing songs, seemingly aimed at the gay men in the audience, about the importance of intimacy in sex. This on its own is a perfectly valid point, but thrown in with mentions of Grndr and Gay Saunas, she was basically aiming all of her sentiments at gay men. Or at least, what she perceives to be gay male behaviour, which in itself is an assumption of the stereotype that gay male homosexuality revolves around being promiscuous. She kept insisting in a semi-confident persona ‘that’s fine’ but let’s maybe talk to each other before we fuck, which clearly showed she didn’t think it was fine and wasn’t fine with it at all.

It was a shame, because she proved my theory that when we embrace ourselves that’s when we become most interesting. But that’s the hardest thing to be sure of. That’s why her performance not only lacked eumph and seemed shakey, but was bordering on offensive.

Why didn’t she talk about her own story? Why didn’t she speak about queer female issues? Why was she using the guise of a queer performance artist to address a trope of mainstream (gay) culture? Do many queer female artists feel to afraid to make work about themselves?

Come on ladies, self-identifying or otherwise, let's be brave in speaking from our perspective!

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We don't always have to try to appeal to men or speak in relation to them!

I fear that even the queer world has not reached the state of basic gender equality, and it too does not escape the historic under-representation of women. I must be echoing something I know feminists have been saying for years, but I was hoping the queer world might have been different. Or, rather I was hoping queer spaces would remember to make the effort to invest in female artists. Long before Simone De Beauvoir highlighted women as ‘Other’ (even in her own book she begins with how hesitant she was to write about women), women have struggled against male-domination in many fields. Unfortunately being a queer female artist still means being in the minority, even in your queerness.

(Ruth Goldman writes a great essay on the queer queer – click here to read my post about this)

To leave on a positive, l leave you with this lady; Esther Perel’s brilliant ted talk on desire.

[ted id=1669]

Homotopia & Glasgay - unexpected things they have in common

Experiencing the work in Liverpool was again full of differences but also the wonderful constant; a feeling that seems to carry with the work that this group of people is deeply connected. The context was interesting this time, as the work was put on, as part of Homotopia an annual queer festival that was set up in 2004 -the year Liverpool became the city of culture. What is amazing is that in contrast to Glasgay, Homotopia has managed to go international and attract queer artists at the top of their game. Hence, this year, there was a stunning exhibition on April Ashley which worked to inform people on trans* rights. There was an exhibition by David Hockney, and performances by John Waters and David Hoyle. The funny thing about the festival is that in queer terms, these names are huge. But, as someone very new to the scene, I had little idea about who they were – and I assume this would be the same for many. This paired with the already elite nature of the art world, made for an amazing line-up for what I imagine was a specific audience.

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 Homotopia.net

Perhaps the organisers are aware of this. A festival that embraces otherness and celebrates the celebrities of the queer world is not an inherently bad thing (like the afore-mentioned Arika). I do, how ever, think it negatively effected our involvement in the festival. Homotopia generally managed us badly:

-       accommodation was wrongly booked

-       no formal meet and greet was arranged

-       Information on W: H was displayed wrongly in the brochure; it was not made clear that the audience were booking for one-on-one slots

Inccidentally, on the Saturday only 6 out of 15 slots were filled. To be honest, the bad management we could handle. But it was the work, and therefore the people who were committed to it, that were effected by the lack of audience. The participants still took away heaps from the experience, and I know it deeply affected them all from hearing their reflections, but we couldn’t help but feel they could’ve been getting that extra bit more. They would’ve had more people to experience different conversations with, to get in to the flow of the work.

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What’s more, Rosana’s work was the only piece that really brought the queer topics and discussion that were happening as part of Homotopia to the outside. This brought visibility to things that were being hidden by studio spaces. She brings sexuality and gender out in to the public, for them to respond to. For me, I think queer visibility is a really important cultural issue and I would like to see more work on this theme at these queer festivals.

I feel Gary Everett really missed a trick. When he finally did say hi, he implied the lack of ticket sales was due to her being an ‘emerging artist’ and perhaps next time they would bring her up earlier. In every other city the work has sold out. I believe it was their disregard for her work, not the public’s, that effected this. Just comparing this treatment to the way Buzzcut treats its artists, you can see appreciate how radical their human approach is and how things really not need be carried out in an elitist fashion.

Homotopia begun to feel like Glasgay’s anti-thesis. Except they have one key thing in common*, they are run by white middle-aged men. If Glasgay and Homotopia had a baby and ditched their organisers, a beautiful festival would be made. (Plus there would be a radical ten year age gap).

A festival where both radically queer performance art, and contemporary work on LGBT relationships could be put on.

A festival where gender, sexuality, intimacy, visibility and activism could be addressed in theatre and non-theatre spaces.

A festival where emerging artists are given the same space and respect as established artists.

A festival where work is made by queer and non-queers, seen by queers and non queers, but everyone believes in queerness.

A festival inspiring hope, by challenging the present and imagining the future.

The first step towards this is to have different people in charge. Women (trans* and cis).

The second is to bring in more artists as producers, or producers that have been artists. That understand how to welcome artists in, how to make them feel like their work is worthwhile. Change those two key things, and I think major shifts would start to occur in the running and work put on.

MORE WOMEN

MORE PRODUCING ARTISTS

MORE SPACE FOR EMERGING ARTISTS

= LESS ELITISM

*To be clear, I do think the naming of Glasgay as a ‘queer’ festival has come completely from the top and curators’ thinking that queer is the new cool term for LGBT. Homotopia has been queer at its heart since its beginnings; it just has unfortunately got tied up in the elitism that often comes with the art world. But the essential power still seems to lie in the same place.

Walking:Holding - Brighton!

IMG_0874 This week, I assisted Rosana in Brighton where The Basement and Pink Fringe had programmed Walking:Holding. In light of my recent response to a Glasgay talk, this week of placement seemed even more uplifting and inspiring. Not only was it spent in one of the most queer-friendly cities in the UK, full of queer art, it was spent with incredible people. It made me see that when a place is liberal, you can really revel in your otherness and queerness - and celebrate that connection that brings a queer community together; their differences.

This is perhaps why from the workshop with the 6 participants, exploring our relationship to hand-holding, to discussions around the dinner table at the end of the weekend, I felt wholly connected to the group of people I was working with. The work became very tentative and simply about connecting and intimacy. There was far less of a strong reaction to same-sex couples, and so intimacy and beauty took the forefront. Whereas in London we felt united in the fight against animosity, and could feel how important the work was in fighting prejudice, in Brighton we were united in celebrating that which transcends the norm; queerness and holding hands with strangers.

'Our public displays of affection have the power to move us from the periphery to the center of society by showing that our love, lust, and everything in between are legitimate and do not need to be hidden'

Click here to read the full Autostraddle article about the positives of seeing queer couples in public

 

I've realised how much I appreciate work that does not intend to 'help' or create a community, but having such a strong agency does so of its own accord.

Seeing how much queer performance was going on, I saw lots of posters and leaflets in venues we were in, and all year round, makes me even more defiant in my stance on Glasgay (or rather, those who run it).

 

 

 

It's a shame we had a lack of a cross-dresser this week, for all its liberalness Brighton still has gender stereotypes...

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The future of queer performance; should it be aiming to embrace its otherness or assimilate in to the mainstream?

The thoughts that I take in to this week of placement, which will be spent assisting on Walking:Holding in Brighton, naturally provide a frame for this week. I attended a talk as part of Glasgay, titled ‘What’s next for queer performance?’ and found that I had a strong response to lots of the things raised by the speakers and audience members. This article is in response to something said by Steven Thompson, producer of Glasgay. Questions had been asked around definitions of queer and queer performance, who it’s for and who it should be made/performed by, generally with the consensus that queer art should be aimed at and made by both those who identify as queer and those who don’t alike. Yet, when Thompson was asked about what he thought the role of Glasgay was in the mainstream, in comparison to an event such as Arika at Tramway, I was shocked in his reaction and my guttural response to it. He implied he saw little value in performance art that seemingly indulged in nonsensical actions, and would rather watch a play where there were characters and themes he could recognise in his own life, where audience members could see how normal LGBT people were, and that was what Glasgay was about. Although I am aware I am paraphrasing, I wish to explore all the ways in which I find this statement problematic in relation to the future of queer performance.

 Firstly, I agreed firmly with panellists Stef Smith and John Binnie in their beliefs that presenting the ordinary or mundane in the lives of LGBT’s can be radical. They have both attempted to stay away from writing archetypical gay characters in their plays, that is to say portraying LGBT characters with mental health issues (a trope known as the 'tragic gay'). Not only is portraying characters who identify as LGBT already going against societal norms, but it allows those who identify as LGBT/Queer in the audience to cherish the sight of actual representation and reflection of their lives. As for those who may have more conventional views or lifestyles, seeing Queer/LGBT people perform day-to-day actions, live and love as they do allows them to see the ‘sameness’. Here, the personal is political.

How ever, where performance art differs from traditional theatre is that it allows the representation of difference or struggle without the illusion that the work is speaking for a homogenous group. This is mainly as this type of work is autobiographical, and is performed by individual(s) speaking as themselves, not characters. So, although presenting ‘everyday’ queers lives is radical, I take issue with anyone who wants to only present the smooth day-today, omitting any struggle that people who do not conform to heterosexuality face. Is there a risk that in representing the ordinary, and rejecting the trope/cliché/stereotype of ‘the tragic gay’ character, we forget to represent the everyday struggle, that is still very much a part of being queer despite many perceived improvements in equality. Is there a way to use mundane or everyday life to show the small things that effect queer life in big ways?

I understand the desire to move away from the ‘tragic gay’ character, which is where I feel performance art comes in and why I feel disheartened at Steven Thompson's narrow view of what it can achieve. Perceiving all theatre to either fall in to the category of a) alienating high performance art or b) plays with relatable characters not only works within a binary, but is simply not true. I have seen plenty of plays with stereotypical characters that bear no resemblance to my life, and plenty of performance art where I feel connected to the performer’s life experiences, and vice versa.

Secondly, I worry about Thompson’s definition of and inability to embrace ‘queer’. His affirmation that Glasgay is all about showing how ‘normal’ LGBT people are goes against all queerness stands for. By showing we’re ‘normal’ and rejecting the abnormal don’t we invite those outside of the Other to reject this also? Then where’s the space for those who do want to embrace otherness? What is ‘normal’ anyway?

Furthermore, when one looks at the definition of queer, it is about quite the opposite:

Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant - Halperin

Not only is it harmful to try and represent LGBTs as ‘normal’ but it isn’t possible. As Butler says, you are already placed outside of the binary by not conforming to heterosexuality, by having same-sex partners we already perform differently from what is expected of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Don’t we as queer artists want to work outside of binaries? Isn’t that what queer art is? If we just adhere to societal norms don’t we just perpetuate stereotypes and the labels that confine us? It seems Thompson is only concerned with the type of otherness that is acceptable, people are more likely to accept otherness if they can put a label on it – be that ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ or ‘transgender’. ‘Queer’ is in its nature fluid, and works outside of the systems to which all the above labels are a part of.

Finally then, if we see the word queer as having multiple voices, working outside of a binary, and seeing definition to one fixed thing as reductive, then actually Glasgay is not a queer festival.

The point of queer art, in fact art in general, is not to push people to conform or ‘fit’ but to explode ideas and ways of thinking. The sooner audiences and performers alike begin to see that when we let go of the need to be ‘normal’, the sooner they see no-one really fits in to these norms anyway. They’re all social constructs, we should be freeing ourselves from needing to live within the confines of 'normal' in a patriarchal, heteronormative, western society.

Glasgay seeks to show the everyday LGBT person, in traditional theatrical form, that’s not to say it’s not radical or effective, but it is not showing a spectrum of work by a variety of people in a variety of different genres/art forms. Furthermore its’ producer sees no reason to develop this, it seems by leaving out alternative theatre forms in Glasgay, its programmers can avoid being seen as ‘Other’, despite the topic of the talk. Live art and performance art inherently embrace otherness, as they work outside of theatrical conventions. Perhaps some queer art deliberately seeks to set itself apart, and therefore automatically alienates non-queer identifying audiences, or even LGBT people who don’t identify as queer. But as Walking:Holding shows, this does not have to be the case. The work very simply asks its audience to engage with the person, not the label, whilst its taking place in a city allows it to be visible and for the audience to not only see but experience for themselves how hostile some environments can be for queer people.

Personally, I feel the wrong people were discussing the question of ‘What’s next for queer performance?’ Although I do believe queer art can be accessible to those who do not identify as queer, I think it has to be made by those who at least believe in the word. I’m interested in a future where queer performance is about embracing fluidity, between art forms and ideas, between the gender binary which effects queer life so deeply – I’m not interested in a future that continues to divides a community that’s meant to be united, because it’s too scared to let go of the need to cling to a clearly defined, fixed labels.

Walking:Holding London

I'm interested in how Walking:Holding works to gently subvert expectations of the performance of gender in relationships. I saw first hand how strongly the public can react to the piece. What was fascinating was seeing how an audience member can also be drastically effected in this way. Last night an audience member, who was a straight man, seemed at first genuinely confused at the whole concept of the piece, and was really tested by holding hands with several gay men and a cross-dresser. When Simon approached him to hold his hand, he laughed out loud seeming very uncomfortable. Afterwards I spoke to the woman who ends the piece, and he had said to her after a string of 'you know, me and most guys would feel...' that 'oh, I see you're trying to get me to think about myself, aren't you?' Which is exactly the kind of person you want to be involved in the work. Someone who has been pushed out of their comfort zone. The way the work gently disrupts the everyday is similar to the work of Group Material, an activist-art group formed in the 70s. Their practice is based in 'efforts to mobilise a dialectical approach to reality through the means of art' (see below, p 92) which I think is what W:H works to do too. They also believe:

'it is impossible to create a radical and innovative art if this work is anchored in one special gallery location. Art can have the most political content and right-on form, but the stuff just hangs there silent unless its means of distribution make political sense as well' (The Spirit Of Art As Activism, 1995, p.99 Jan Augikos)

The content of W:H sits perfectly with its very public site, and is translatable to any town or city in the world. What's more, there is opportunity for audience members to become participants after experiencing the work - and they often do. As for public reaction, whether they are shocked, pleased or traumtised, hopefully the acts of intimacy will stay with them - and there is much more opportunity for them to than if the piece was attempted in a theatre/performance space.

I'm saddened by my own increasing acceptance of the abuse/comments that were said about Simon, very quickly the laughter and strange looks became a normal part of the walk. It's scary how fast we settle in to accepting what is far from acceptable.

When Simon and I had to run between two audience members, the amount of attention we got increased. We were making ourselves far more visible. I thought back to the Iris Young article 'Throwing Like A Girl', and how she explains as women we are taught to not be seen and often have the habit of being less inclined to take up space. This can be applied to queer or transgendered people too, as they are also perceived as 'Other'.

From my experiences at the weekend, I can see that this 'performance' sits in the balance of emphasising the frame of performance enough so the audience feels the need to be present and perhaps say things they would not usually say to a stranger, but not forgetting that they are still in the act of being two people walking down the street. That is really happening, and the public may not view it as a performance. Futhermore, they may have strong reactions to it. This balance was tested when one audience member saw the performance as a site-specific piece of theatre, perhaps expecting actors to do unexpected things. Did she miss the point the simplicity by being hyper-aware that she was in a 'performance' and anticipating a more traditional theatrical experience?

Walking:Holding - The Yard, Hackney Wick

This first week of placement I have spent assisting with Walking:Holding, a delicate piece that asks the audience to go on a series of short walks with strangers. I headed down to The Yard in east London. My role was to watch out for Simon, who was cross-dressing for the first time, in case anything should kick off - luckily it didn't.

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Click here for a link to an interview with Rosana about the work.

This was actually a pretty unique position to be in, walking behind him for three evenings in a row astonished and angered by people's reactions to what is basically a man in a dress. People seemed to be confused and genuinely angry at what they perceived as an attempt at 'passing', that is to say Simon trying to pass for a woman. Had Simon been in more heightened drag queen attire I think there may have been a different response, but due to his relatively low-key look, people seemed offended by his lack of conforming to the gender binary. Butler discusses in Gender Trouble how drag implicitly reveals the imitative nature of gender itself, in this context Simon evoked a reaction from witnesses as they experience this for themselves. Simply by being visible, the way Simon was dressed allowed the public to have an awareness or examine their own gender presentation.

Men walking on their own exclaimed 'fuck!' or 'nah man!'

Women in groups whispered and tutted as if we were in the playground.

Teenagers laughed like Simon and I couldn't here them.

But the scariest response was men who asserted their masculinty by objectifying Simon as they would a cis-woman. Wolf whistles, 'alright darling', honks from a van and comments on his legs were all ways in which these man asserted their power to avoid feeling threatened by Simon transcending the boundaries.

That said, I was refreshed by the way the performance was led and organised by Rosana. As all the participants were performers themselves, and had got in touch as they had seen/heard about the piece and really believed in it. They all told me how they liked the simplicity of the work and what its trying to do. I felt like just a group of people about to embark on something we all felt passionate about, rather than an artist and participants. That's why when I felt the stark contrast between the check-in we all had before the performance and the abuse Simon faced during, I kept thinking: Queer means a community in any city, but animosity at every corner.