Last year I came across a methodology generated by Jeniffer Tyburczy, the author of “Queer curatorship: performing the history of race sex and power in museum”.
Jennifer Tyburczy was the curator and director of programming at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. Queer curatorship takes as a starting point how visual information is being generated and perceived in The Attendant of Julien Isaac (1993).
“The Attendant is a film in which Julien explores where black men stand in these histories, and whether they need to embrace a moral stance that would foreclose the practice of SM. At the Leather Archives, I was compelled to conduct a similar investigation, one that used the museum as a site for exploring how race and slavery are typically erased when sadomasochistic representations are discussed in white queer discourse.”
I was fascinated by Tyburczy’s experimental methodology that was basically states in earlier essays that all museums are sex museums in terms of performing a heteronormative display with one closed-off reading. A practical example of the above methodology relating to queer curatorship could be the following anecdote.
While Tyburczy was working as a curator and programming director at the Leather Archives a whip was found in the storage that was not a sex-toy whip, but one that was used under slavery conditions in Louisiana, USA, quite some time ago. So the curators got confronted with the dilemma of what to do with this whip in the Leather Archives and Museum, which is occupied with leather, kink and fetish lifestyles. They decided to make it visible and place it in the display of the museum together with a whip from the BDSM community. Phenomenological, the whips look the same, but on paper they took parallel or cross bridging references, letting the viewer to create associations based on the information between objects and bodies in history under mechanisms of oppression and submission that are based on consent or not.
For Tybucszy that was an act of bringing queer theory "back" to its practical utilizations. Looking beyond dichotomies but rather placing these phenomenological different subjects into one object and triggering ways of how a subject can be received without acknowledging its entire history and how we relate to it.
Tyrburczy states: “I propose queer curatorship as an experimental display tactic that stages alternative spatial configurations for two distinct purposes:
1. to expose how traditional museum socialize heteronormative relationships between objects and visitors, and
2. to cope with ethically fraught objects of queer cultures, which in paper take the form of leather whips with historical to both gay leather/ kink culture and antebellum slavery”
I took as a starting point my experience and the polyphony of subjectivities in terms of spectatorship and authorship generated by working under a wage as dress.as.girl (drag) or dress.as.character (drac) in fetish club Church in Amsterdam. As a paid art director I place my characters in club Church, where the audience can come overdressed, undressed or casually dressed. The audience can have sex, entertain or be entertained.
Working and devoting the major part of my lifestyle in a specific drag queen house of Netherlands (House of Hopelezz), I found myself to share an affinity for drag/drac in relation to anti-commodification within the marginalized commercial fetish club industry. By avoiding objectification and working in a parallel mode with the drag production of consensus, I create two characters with different purposes and lingua franca.
The first character, Taka Taka moves from artistic references as an avatar, that in the drag-scene can be objectified as dragctivist without clear reference to gender, dragctivism that is not happening in the streets with costume but happening within clubs such as the above mentioned. Appropriating activistic logic for the sake of the community interest can be tested in this way.
The second character, Nancee Negative, is a lesbian dominatrix with an interest in bringing sex as BDSM into the form of drag. She portrays the betrayal and she refuses the maternal. Today in the drag queen community American moralism dictates what type of forms of drag can be generated, which mostly end up to caricature and misogynistic references of a woman. Nancee is taking a fetish standing by using sex in video depictions as material to stretch the boundaries of how the one character can generate meaning today in Amsterdam. Today where Amsterdam Gay Pride seems to be pro gay but rather pro sex with creating complete exclusion for what type of drag form can be understood as liberating and political.
In the above characters there is a differentiation between la politique and le politique, depending on the context of being discussed and experienced from the individual spectator based on their subjectivities. They are not individual characters but rather belonging and expanding from the context that they operate in Club Church.
Here we come to understand the main differentiation between engaging and adapting. It comes from how the one artist relates himself with a community. Engagement means that one artist works with a community and a preset toolbox that has been generated from previous projects, an artistic toolbox that can apply to every community by looking at it as an external that is willing to engage.
On the contrary, adaptation is an act where the one artist becoming actively part of the community; this process takes time, in order to come close and work with the actual context. It is not a parachuting attitude of going to work for an x amount of time and transfer the result of an idea to the art sphere but rather staying close and becoming part of the community in the first place.
So let’s say that if an artist wants to generate work within a drag queen context in club structures it is not about documenting as a sociologist or perform once the life style of drag queens, or as an artist making a series of photographs which aestheticize drag queens and so on.
Adaption then is when I will become a drag queen under wage and understanding the complications of the subject by fully embodying it. And this process takes years of becoming. And for sure this does not mean that if one that wants to make a work for guerilla warriors in a war zone one has to become a warrior as well. But by approaching each subject from full embodiment, we can come closer to understanding what actually the conditions are. Understanding these conditions can give us a sense of responsibility to know what we can place in the cultural capital as a result.
Already in 1987 Douglas Crimp pointed out in Mourning and Militancy a relevant critique to artists who place the struggle concerning AIDS in representational spaces. That is the moment in which art institutions and artists just try to raise money for the fight against AIDS and basically generate representational ‘political’ techniques within the given frame of rights of the state. These mechanisms were more harmful rather than helpful in ending the struggle and created more polarization and discrimination towards AIDS victims. WE can see the quote of Douglas Crimp as a relevant metaphor here for how we relate today to struggle and representational aestheticizing techniques.
To quote Crimp: "We don't need a cultural renaissance….we need cultural practices actively participating in the struggle against AIDS. We don't need to transcend the epidemic; we need to end it."
For social adapting praxis it is crucial to avoid aestheticizing struggles and over-thematizing oppression of communities in institutions which are occupied or not with the above established genre.
How can this voice be heard and from and to whom? How can one artist or collective re-presents these results by documenting it into artistic capital?