Queer Obstruction

February 10, 2009

So like I mentioned a while ago, I’m thinking maybe that thinking of queer abstraction is thinking of something I want to get at in the wrong terms.   What I think I mean by abstraction is actually problematizing representation, but those two things are not the same.

And what I’m reacting to is this, to sum up nicely: I was reading an article on Antony and the Johnsons and the article writer mentioned a dip, in the ’80s and ’90s, from a queer avant garde (think Jack Smith) to simply the fetishization of the (nude) male body.  There are lots of terrible examples of third-rate Mapplethorpes out there, and while using that fetishizing as an opening for critique (as in Dean Sameshima’s Figures of Lust series) is a good move, my reaction to getting away from Gay Art that would hang in the tasetful, understated apartments of gay assimiliationists is to get away from the queer body. 

For a while, I thought that meant abstraction.  It turns out, though, that abstraction’s depoliticizing of things is a tough nut to crack and doesn’t accurately address the body problem because abstraction is easily fetishized itself.

(I’ve had a whole lot of coffee today.)

So then the question becomes how to reframe the body-fetish, tanned, rested and ready depoliticized gay art I see, and increasingly I’m thinking of that not in terms of representation vs. abstraction, but of portrait vs. landscape.  Queer territory.  The best example of this I can think of is Kaucyila Brooke’s mapping of the lesbian bar scenes of cities worldwide through photograph of the (often former) bars, interviews, and actual literal maps.   To see what I’m talking about, look here.

What this adds up to in my own work, then, is a question not of avoiding the body but avoiding the (currently) apoliticial fetishizing of it.  For me, now, that means traces.  Images of bdsm gear instead of an event.  Images of the dense flora of a cruise park instead of pictures of the traces of activity there.  Pictures of mattresses instead of pictures of idealized bodies laying on them.  Index cards about male desire instead of directly addressing male desire.  And so on.

I think this is the way forward with the queer abstraction problem; I may change my mind next week.

Below, a diptych of “twinned” mattress photos ala Felix Gonzales-Torres.  (If you’re gonna rip somebody off, start with the very best.)




2 Responses to “Queer Obstruction”

  1. Will Says:

    Was the lesbian bar series done as art or documentary? At first
    it looks like the latter, but the lack of interiors and the slideshow
    format start to suggest the former. Interesting how the windowless
    wooden shopfronts remind me of businesses with identical shopfronts
    here, though in Korea they’re “tea rooms” with names like “Secret.”
    They’re very low-lit small places for men in their 40s and up to have
    drinks and arrange favors from the 40s-ish women working there.
    In summer they stand at the open doors, allowing you to see inside
    a bit, but when a foreigner approaches they duck inside and close the
    door (to protect their reputations among their clients). Also, I’ve seen
    a multi-city map marked with gay and lesbian bars/bathhouses etc.
    here, which a gay friend showed us, laughing at people who say there
    are no gays in Korea.

    I like the idea you’re working on but I’d need more context than the
    mattresses to get the point, maybe through evocative titles. Good luck
    with your current approach until you replace it with another one. 😉

  2. After seeing the Two Germanys show at LACMA, I’m all about moving away from dichotomies now. I’ll have to think more about a move from a queer avant-garde, but I’m thinking the 80’s was much more complicated. A lot of folks were dying off and/or got involved in political action. Some folks came from the era that first presented male nudes as gay male nudes, and presented them in a context that was not purely pornographic or couched as physique pictures. There was the political backdrop of Reagan/Bush, Bowers vs. Hardwick, and people like Jesse Helms…along with Log Cabin Republicans and the first out gay assimilationists. At the same time you had a gay cabaret/club scene in LA and NY, and it seemed that a lot of the pop music of the era was made by gay artists.

    I went to the Hans Haacke talk at REDCAT Tuesday, and I didn’t know that he studied abstract painting in school. He was in Kassel (the site of Documenta) and at the time, abstraction was seen as a political act. I think artists in West Germany saw the social realist painting in the east as being too similar to the approved art under Hitler. Even in the west, the idea of abstract art being degenerate persisted. The CIA helped fund the sending of 50’s NY AbEx painting to Documenta, so the work became symbolic of the cold war itself. I think Haacke lost interest in abstraction when it stopped being political and degenrated into quaint formalist debates.

    In some sense I see all queer art being portrait AND landscape. Even if tangentially it’s about the body (hence a portrait of sorts) and about its context (its landscape). The trick is maintaining the integrity of the subject.

    Some other stuff I’ve been looking at:

    Eve Fowler at DC’s:

    Homotopia trailer:
    [video src="http://s76.photobucket.com/albums/j14/chrischips/?action=view&current=HOMOpreview.flv" /]

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