Here, I'm still queer

Stirling for me seems to be naturally associated with family, parents with young children and generally seems to be home to lots of white middle class families. I think it’s fantastic that the Macrobert therefore offers such a wide range of work, but it made me reflect on my idea of what it means to be queer in different cities. In Brighton it’s clear it meant celebration, embracing outward expression of queerness through clothes and clubs. But specifically at the Macrobert, which is a family orientated venue, at this family festival, I asked myself do I feel other? 

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Given that the idea of LGBT people as being potential parents or having the ability to be family orientated has only just begun to be widely accepted, I guess the idea of LGBT people at this kind of (family) event is a pretty new one. What’s more, queer people often have a more troubled relationship to family due to lack of acceptance by their families. This and the fact that queer culture often works outside of the normative family (monogamy, marriage, having children) means that theoretically many who identify with queer do not relate to work with strong themes of a mainstream, heteronormative idea of ‘family’ or ‘age’. Some queers even feel strongly positive about this, they are anti-gay marriage and anti-assimilation of LGBTs in to mainstream ideas of family. They feel radical notions of family are beneficial for revolutionising patriarchal structues in society- click here to read more about queer challenges to the politics of inclusion.

 

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That said, I am lucky to have a very supportive family and in particular have had a strong relationship to my Grandma. Hence, perhaps it is the role of a queer artist in non-queer (or overtly queer) spaces to not confine oneself to performing queerness. Of course, there will be spaces where not only am seen as Other, but there may be hostility and I am by no means suggesting one should not be visible in their queerness. Similarly, there is no harm in feeling welcome in spaces you did not expect to. I was pleasantly surprised by the queer themes in Sarah Hopfinger’s presentation at Luminate on intergenerational performance. Her ideas that explored enacting rather than acting, that ‘things are their interactions’ and the need to re-orientate thinking away from  ‘ ‘‘us’’ and ‘’the rest of it’’ felt indicative of a queer perspective. Although discussed in the context of intergenerational performance, if applied to a wider context, the need for heterogeneity resonated with my queer brain. I am learning when it is my agency to speak up from a queer perspective, and when I can cherish the fact that queer ways of being are all around me.

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me & my parents at London Pride 2013

Intergenerational - a term for (hetero) normative families?

My experience at Luminate was particularly interesting as it followed the week in Brighton, allowing a direct comparison between the two cities in relation to queerness. Being thrown in to discussions on arts in dementia (to which I had little previous knowledge), and intergenerational performance (to which I didn’t know I had so many opinions on) made me consider relationship to age within queerness and perhaps how intergenerational relations are more natural within queer culture. As J. Halberstam discusses in Gaga Feminism, queer culture differs from the heterosexual mainstream tending not to ‘outgrow certain forms of cultural activity (e.g clubbing)’ meaning:

‘queer spaces tend to be multigenerational and do not subscribe to one generation giving way to the next’. (Gaga Feminism, Halberstam, 2012, p.2)

This goes against the idea of being defined by your age, as age is in part defined by what cultural acititivities you subscribe to, making it easier for people of different ages to connect. Halerbstam futher explores the different relationship queers may have to time in her book 'In A Queer Time and Place'. She talks of the 'imaginative life schedules' queers tend to have, due to the fact that:

'(queer) futures can be imagined according to logics that lie outside of those paradigmatic markers of life experience - mainly birth, marriage, reproduction, death' (In A Queer Time And Place, Halberstam, 2005, p.2)

That is to say, plently of queers do not take part in many markers of life experience or 'bench marks' such as getting married or having children, another thing that can seperate people of different ages. But, when age is not marked out by these life experiences, people of different ages cannot be separted by what 'bench mark' they have and haven't yet reached.

'queers use space and time in ways that challenge conventional logics of maturity, adulthood and repsonsibility' (In A Queer Time And Place, Halberstam, 2005, p.13)

Another way in which queer relations lend to being intergenerational is that queer spaces often work outside of typical notions of safety and secutiry, unlike the family unit. There is a long history of queer spaces that induldge in radical sex practice, and here the notion of 'reliable adult' (structured day around child-reering, involvement in a monogamous relationship) is challenged. That is not to say queers aren't reliable, but that they challenge maturity being defined by how 'settled' you are. In normative terms, age is pressumed to bring about more responsibilty in having reached these 'bench marks'. Queerness goes against this, meaning age is not necessarily defined by being settled and sensible, and youth by being care-free.

Certainly for some gay male communities during the AIDS epidemic, men of all ages were brought together. Growing older is associated with greater threat of disease/death, but here threat of disease was present for all, no matter your age.  'The constantly dimishing future creates a new emphasis on the here, while the threat of no future hovers overhead like a storm cloud' (In A Queer Time And Place, Halberstam, 2005, p.1).

Hence the notion of intergenerational performance, people of varying ages on stage together, as a novelty often does not apply within queer art. Queer artists do not need to label their work ‘intergenerational’ nor explore this idea so overtly as it already naturally transcends age gaps and the idea of a person being defined by their age. Furthermore, queer art naturally attracts a range of ages in its audience members due to there not being expectations of what cultural activity one should partake in at a given age.

Given this lack of pre-determined roles of how to act at a certain age, and the tendency for queer space to be multigenerational, how useful is it to label a performance, or a type of performance, as intergenerational? Shouldn’t we just accept it to be? For example, at Luminate the clearest example of intergenerational performance was seen in Barrowland Ballet’s Bunty and Doris, a community dance piece that saw lots of bodies, from babies to over 70s, mainly female, dancing together.  It was advertised and talked about as a great celebration of all different ages. Although in many ways it was, because age was the focus, that was all the piece came to be about. I found this problematic, as what I then felt emerged was a piece where the elderly were performing old, and the children performing child, everyone was adhering to stereotypes.

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photo: https://twitter.com/Barrowlballet

In comparison to Walking:Holding, which due to seeking a range of participants and putting itself in a queer context simply is intergenerational, I felt I got to see far less of the individual on the stage. Walking:Holding allows participants and audience alike to not be confined to pre-conceived notions of age, as well as gender. This is due to being shown in queer contexts/spaces, but also because it does not cling to being multigenerational as its selling or focus-point.

Of course, W:H is a very different genre of work to that choreographed by a theatre company such as Bunty and Doris. But, this week I also managed to see Janice Parker’s Private Party. It was a similar vein to Bunty and Doris, it too placed a range of ages on stage and celebrated human connection through dance. Only, although you could see people from various communities and ages had come together to collaborate, identity had been transcended so that what you were witnessing was the interconnectedness of bodies in space. The difference in looking at age from a queer perspective, and my experience of these other pieces of work is perhaps why the ‘performing’ of age and therefore perpetuation of stereotypes became so apparent to me at aspects of Luminate.

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photo: http://www.joverrent.co.uk/

The artist and the producing-artist

Placement this week took me to the Macrobert again, this time for Luminate a festival of events of which Buzzcut were producing three pieces of work. The range of events all happening under one roof was really inspiring, from discussions, to live art to large-scale dance productions. The three pieces of work, by artists from different areas of the UK, were all linked by the fact that they all looked at aspects of old age by exploring their relationship to their Grandmothers.

Will Dickie’s Memories of Suburbia, with his constricting and twisting movements around the objects on stage belonging to his Grandma, conjured up images of rows of houses in London’s suburbs and the feeling of claustrophobia. You were brought right in to the conversations with his Grandma, and her words bringing a harsh reality on old age; it’s no life.

Similarly, but with a brighter, playful mood, Laura Bradshaw’s 29:92 Phyllis explores her ancestry and the difference in the way she’s living at 29 compared to her Grandma.

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Bristol-based artist Jo Hellier gave an insight in to living with dementia, and a touching visual expression of memory; you can’t hold on to it all the time. Sometimes you have to let some things go, to let others become present.

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These pieces and the way in which they were made differ greatly from the kind of work I have been assisting on/ seeing reactions to with Rosana. They are less overtly political or in relation to a wider discourse, and although experiential sit with theatre at their core. I think it’s really important that artists engage in work that they wouldn’t make themselves. The gap between work which is autobiographical and has a feeling of tenderness, and work that is political and shocks perhaps even traumatises its audience is something I’m fascinated with. How can I make work that is political, and tests preconceptions, but is still embodied? That engages with my full self, that doesn’t purely come from cerebral thinking?

Part of making space for other artists is allowing yourself (as producer) to be exposed to work and discussions you may not usually be a part of.  

 

Between artists and artist-producers there seems to be an inherent respect for each other. The producing artist knows what it is to try to make work, so knows first hand how they like to be treated by organisers and producers. Artists have respect for those artists who not only make their own work, but make it their priority to provide opportunities and new contexts for the work of others. I am constantly enlivened by the way Nick and Rosana consider the experience of the artists that they produce, going above and beyond the formal role of producer. Opening their home to visiting artists, for meals and accommodation, makes for a welcoming and hopefully enriching time in Glasgow.

I think the role of the producing-artist in the current climate of the art-world is bringing back the intimacy and grounded feeling that bigger arts organisations and elitist institutions often lack. In a time where the arts are constantly being cut, it gives me hope to feel like there are artists who just want to make the process of showing work a bit more human.

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.

My research question put to the test!

This week I could focus more on my third research question of making space for other artists whilst being rooted in your own practice, as in contrast to last week, this weekend was helping set up and frame other artists’ work. I was to be a performative waiter at A La Buzzcarte, a café run by Buzzcut only serving performance instead of food, as part of THAT Festival at the Macrobert. 5 artists had made 5 and 10 minutes pieces in the shape of a meal, to be performed round a table to 6 audience members at a time.  

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Although our main priority was to set up and clear away for each artist, we also created 3 different ways in which the audience could order their meals that allowed us to create the context around the performances.  Audiences had to pick from illustrations, actions or objects and partake in a slow-motion race. Both Rosana and Nick were bringing themselves as artists to the event; the use of personas that experiment with gender presentation, and taking a well-known construct and playing with it are things they both explore in their own work. A small dining table and one performer provides the intimacy and opportunity for connection with strangers, a theme clearly seen in Walking:Holding.

 

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Though they, and I guess myself included, naturally brought themes from their practice in to the work, I felt like the practicality of sustaining a persona and worrying about logistics for each course was that I was often forgetting to perform. There was a lot going on, having not just to support in the set up but having to hold the space. I was actually testing out the question: can one literally stay rooted in one’s practice (i.e hold on to a persona) whilst literally making space (setting and clearing tables) for other artists? I would certainly say it is possible, and for some of the runs we kept that balance successfully. To go deeper in to the question, it is a matter of not whether it’s possible but how. For me, it was good to experiment with a new concept but next time I think setting a clearer rule/intention to create a specific world within the café will help the waiters/hosts to not feel as if they are flitting between performing and logistical concerns.

 

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Another aspect to balance with work that is ‘hosted’ by performers in persona is making the work about the artists and their pieces, not about your performance as someone creating a context for the work. We found when devising that although we had many ideas of entertaining things we could do, if we had put them all in we would have had too much going on in between each course. This would have taken away from the performances we were framing; I think there is an element of letting go of preciousness around your input as an organiser.

All in all it was a successful day, because of not being afraid to prioritise the artists’ work but simultaneously allowing themes from one’s own practice to exist in the context. I think we also had an awareness that perhaps there needed to be more waiters or more of an intention with the world to make it easier for us to be physically rooted in the personas as well as performing a functional role. What felt especially uplifting was the way in which Rosana and Nick made space for me as an artist, being completely open to me having creative input and discarding hierarchy. We could have very easily slipped in to the roles of placement provider and placement, there everyone is clear in their pre-defined role. But I am fast learning that I’m lucky enough to be on placement with people who aren’t interested in roles that we already know how to perform, but in exploring what comes if we float in between or transcend pre-defined roles completely.

 

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