Paintings & Photography

From: Renate Lorenz Queer Art A Freak Theory. March 2012, 180 p., 19,80, ISBN

From: Renate Lorenz Queer Art A Freak Theory March 2012, 180 p., 19,80, ISBN A queer theory of visual art based on extensive readings of art works Queer Art traces the question of how
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From: Renate Lorenz Queer Art A Freak Theory March 2012, 180 p., 19,80, ISBN A queer theory of visual art based on extensive readings of art works Queer Art traces the question of how strategies of denormalization initiated by visual arts can be continued through writing. In the book s three chapters art theoretical debates are combined with queer theory, post-colonial theory, and (dis-) ability studies, proposing the three terms radical drag, transtemporal drag, and abstract drag. Renate Lorenz (PhD) works as an artist and as an independent author, mostly in the fields of queer, gender, and art theory. She is professor of art and research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. For further information: transcript Verlag, Bielefeld Contents preface 7 an introduction 15 freak/y epistemology (prependix) 35 I. radical drag A a body/bundle (shinique smith) 53 B drag work (ron vawter) 57 C doubling embodiment/pain and pain (bob flanagan and sheree rose) 78 II. transtemporal drag A the chronopolitics of becoming salome 93 B speaking backwards (henrik olesen) 110 C the beauty of the form of time displayed (jack smith) 118 III. abstract drag A an activity in absence (zoe leonard) 131 B the topography of desire (felix gonzalez-torres) 136 C respeaking (sharon hayes) 145 an end 155 appendix (methodology) 161 literature 173 list of illustrations 179 Preface This book is based in many aspects on two collaborative practices: a conference and my artistic work with Pauline Boudry. In the summer of 2009, as a project of the Collaborative Research Group SFB Kulturen des Performatives (Freie Universität Berlin) I organized the conference Freaky Queer Art Conference at Berlin s Ballhaus Naunynstrasse. The conference was aimed at opening up a space to collectively develop and work on queer-theoretical perspectives on contemporary art practice. It was not only the objects at the conference (the artistic works) as well as the methods for analyzing them that were meant to be experimental. We also attempted to generate different and innovative formats in which to approach these works. The lecture hall was thus at the same time a meeting point: the place for meals and drinks as well as an exhibition. The four artistic works shown by Nao Bustamante, Ines Doujak, Latifa Echakhch, and Rashawn Griffin in turn became the objects of the lectures in this very space. And the invited guests, art and queer theorists Catherine Lord, Elisabeth Lebovici, Kobena Mercer, and Robert McRuer, each dealt with two of these works. A workshop with input from other artists and art theorists extended these readings. On two evenings, Karin Michalski curated a film program with guests (Werner Hirsch, Zoe Leonard, and Line Skywalker Karlström) that provided further perspectives and additional artistic material for discussion (www. Both the conference and the workshop tied in with the observation that images are increasingly appearing in the field of queer art that undermine the established categories of racialized or gender categories, or that show no bodies at all. In order to get closer to this art practice, the adjective freaky, and a possibly artificial figure of the freak, were brought into discussion. The idea was that such a figure could be in the position to represent a wide variety of difference without producing a category or identity without defining a norm from which it deviates. It could be incompatible with social and economic demands. It could produce an event freaking and furthermore have capabilities that appear peculiar and that do not always contain recognition, but which nonetheless are ascribed with a certain value and that pay off in the end. It would be non-normal, freaky, and at the same time would point to the history of constraints, violence, and self-assertion that is already tied to the historical freak shows. 7 queer art This discussion about the figure of the freak inspired the methodological reflections for this book. In place of possibly personifying the freak, which always runs the risk of excluding or devaluing, the question came to the fore of what a freak theory of contemporary art might look like. Indeed, a freaky theory does not stand outside social power relations. It produces inventions and images that offer alternatives to social power relations that are more than and different from a critique or subversion of social norms. Instead of further working out the term freak in relation to social and fictional bodies, I use the term drag to designate various artistic practices of embodiment that additionally make it possible to draw relations to the history of queer subculture. First and foremost, I would like to thank all of those who actively participated in the Freaky conference, especially my colleagues Volker Woltersdorff, Jule Jakob Hesseler, and Paula Alamillo; the speakers; Antke Engel for moderating; the participating artists and filmmakers; Karin Michalski for the collaborative work in the film program and for organizing the film evenings; as well as the participants at the conference and the workshop who contributed greatly in their spirited discussions to honing my initial reflections. Since 2007, I have been working with Pauline Boudry producing film installations. Our collective research, collective discussions, events, and text production, but also the film installations themselves are the starting point of the reflections published here on a queer analysis of contemporary art. We also view the production of the films themselves, including the many aspects that result from working on the material and with the performers and the camerawoman, as a form of producing knowledge that intervenes in and pushes forward the formation of theory, academic, and cultural knowledge, and hopefully also social relations. For this reason, in the book as well, I work explicitly with three of these collective productions: N.O. Body (2008), Salomania (2009), and Contagious! (2010) ( I would especially like to thank Antke Engel for her support and for discussing every part of this book, as well as Daniel Hendrickson for his great work on the translation and Jess Dorrance for checking and refining the text. A number of colleagues and friends were very helpful too over the course of the book: Zoe Leonard and Ulrike Müller who presented and discussed their reflections and their own artistic works on the figure of the freak at a joint event at the Swiss Institute in New York, as well as Sharon Hayes who with Pauline Boudry took up the topic of tempo- 8 ral drag at the New York New Museum. And finally, Henrik Olesen, who proposed and presented extensively for me the first version of the work Some Faggy Gestures (analyzed in chapter 2 of this book) for my exhibition Normal Love (2007, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin) (www. I am also very grateful to Jack Smith as a friend from the past who might or might not be happy with the friendship, but whose work, which I discuss in chapters 1 and 2, contributed greatly to the reflections in this book. Furthermore, I draw inspiration for the title, Queer Art, from the title of Stefan Brecht s book Queer Theatre (published in 1978), which does not, for instance, provide an overview of the history of queer theater but instead denormalizes the genre of writing such a history in the first place. I would also like to formally thank the Collaborative Research Center Kulturen des Performativen at the Freie Universität Berlin for making this project possible and for having supported it not least financially throughout its entire course. 9 , Ah, freak out / Le freak, c est chic / Freak out / Ah, freak out / Le freak, c est chic / Freak out. All that pressure got you down / Has your head spinning all around., Ah, freak out / Le freak, c est chic / Freak out / Now freak / I said freak Now freak. (Chic, Le Freak, 1978) An Introduction N.O.Body, nobody The gaze follows the camera slowly from above, across rows of dark wooden benches up to a door at the end of a lecture hall, through which somebody is entering the room. Or is it nobody, as the title of the film N.O.Body 1 would suggest? N.O.Body is wearing a long, light blue dress with puffy sleeves and a tightly belted bodice, which emphasizes the breasts. S_he has a long black beard, you can see hair on her_his chest and arms, and long black hair reaching down to the knees. The performer in this film installation bears the name Werner Hirsch. Slowly, Werner Hirsch/N.O.Body strides down the stairs, where a little later after s_he has prepared the blackboard for the professorial presentation s_he gets up on the large wooden table of the 19th-century lecture hall, where usually the objects of study are presented to the interested or bored students. The slide lecture, which might serve as a certain kind of evidence for the presentation, begins with an image showing an obviously early photograph from the 19th century that seems to resemble her_him. It is, as we can read in a brochure, the photograph of the bearded lady Annie Jones, who appeared in freak shows at the end of the 19th century and who the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld cited in 1933 as an example of gender deviance (fig. 728, Hirschfeld 1933). With tender 15 queer art or desiring gestures, the performer gauges the outline of the figure in the photograph. The performance, generally theorized as unmediated and anchored in the here and now (Phelan 1993: 146; critical: Adorf 2007), in fact produces a series of temporal references (cf. Danbolt 2011: 1985). The lecture hall with its aged wooden benches is reminiscent of the time of its construction, but also invokes the succession of various formats of knowledge production, which since then have become common including Hirschfeld s slide show, a practice of legitimizing topics through visualization, which he introduced into sexology and which raises the question of how the lecture hall is used today. The performer s clothing plays off the Victorian dress of the historical photograph, but a series of other objects seem to come from the present or the recent past: a remote- control device, a black SM rubber mask, and a yellow plastic cube radio, which not only plays a laugh track, but also a contemporary pop song. Nonetheless, the performance is not necessarily an example of a contemporary usage. It appears in the dimly lit hall as an uncanny work, a work that perhaps takes place at night, and possibly for a long time already. Something is updated that otherwise merely adheres to the empty lecture room as a trace, as a memory, or as one possibility of usage against the grain. It is not any kind of practice that can be achieved with a single sequence. The film, a loop, shows this performance over and over again. In this setting, the possible positions of knowledge production are arranged spatially: the central position of the professor, the large, heavy table that exhibits the object of interest, and the blackboard, on which the findings can be recorded and on which s_he projects a whole series of other photographs. In Hirschfeld s books, these pictures are classified and identified: the woman in men s clothing, who ran a bar in Hamburg during the 1920s and was found dead one morning in front of her bar; the uniform fetishist blowing a hunting horn; the tutu fetishist in white tulle; the leader of the Chinese women s movement; the birds on which intersexual characteristics were discovered; the patrons of a lesbian bar in the 1920s; the inhabitants of a Japanese province with tattooed moustaches; the giant; the intersex butterflies. The audience, facing this scene on rising seats, is obviously missing from the film. They are replaced by an empty auditorium (in which only the shining eye of a slide projector can be seen in the reverse shot) and by those of us who are watching the film, who are thus intended as a part of the film but who are not visualized in it. The object of knowledge is appropriated by the position of the producer of knowledge. But this produ- 16 an introduction cer, while watching the slide, begins not to speak or to lecture, but instead to laugh softly. Soon Werner Hirsch/N.O.Body is laughing more and more. There are pauses, but the laughing goes on. The laughing seems to be designed. It is following a score that remains invisible. contagion What occurs between the performer and the historical photograph, as well as between the film and the film s viewer relations of desire or contagion, rather than the imitation of a historical figure will be the topic of this book. Unlike representation and reception, the mode of contagion seeks to entangle the viewer as a participant in denormalizing practices. But how exactly does this occur, and what elements or practices allow for an artistic work to carry out or initiate denorma l- izing practices that is, to be able to trace a queer politics? This book will seek to examine this question with thorough, descriptive readings of artistic practice, not so much interpreting in the classical sense as possibly infecting. How can queer art be taken up in a way that does not classify, level, and understand, but continues, by other means, the denormalization that it incites, the desire for being-other, being-elsewhere, and change? Current political discourses do not, as Rosi Braidotti has noted (2006: 1), necessarily exclude change, but they do tend to overemphasize the risk that could be associated with it. In this way, conservative politics and hierarchical economies are privileged. In contrast, a radical queer politics requires us not only to propose images and living strategies for alternative sexualities and genders, but also to promote all kinds of economic, political, epistemological, and cultural experiments that seek to produce difference and equality at the same time. At the very least, according to Claire Colebrook (2009: 20), this means going back into the past and bringing up problem spots again that might seem to have already been resolved. Is then the decisive element of the film N.O.Body looking into the past and reposing the question of how knowledge about bodies is produced? Or is it the dignifying presentation of a body that so far has been considered non-intelligible (Schaffer 2009)? Why should viewers feel addressed by such an updating, and why should they want to join in with it? Could it possibly be a quick gaze into the camera or an inconspicuous gesture (one that does not belong to the repertoire of gender stereotypes) that engages us for the performance, the body presented, and the event? Is it perhaps the laughter s joy or uncontrollability that takes the place 17 queer art of speech? Is it the material of the mask black rubber cut into thin stripes, simultaneously veiling and presenting? Or is it the view onto an old lecture hall, which seems old and serious but also shabby and worn out, perhaps ripe for a new use, a kind of squatting? Elements such as these transform, as Elspeth Probyn suggests (1996: 9), specificities (knowledge, a lecture hall, a bearded lady) into singularities. They allow or prohibit intensity and transport desire that brings objects, people, practices, and ideas into contact with one another. According to Probyn, it makes no sense to read these singularities in a relation of signifier and signified (ibid: 59) or to assign them an inherent (queer) meaning. They shift meaning or postpone it; they undermine, as Nicole Brossard writes, the solid matter of our ideas without our knowledge (quoted in Probyn 1996: 59). Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari illustrate this in A Thousand Plateaus (1987: 9) using the example of the pianist Glenn Gould: When Glen Gould speeds up the performance of a piece, he is not just displaying virtuosity, he is transforming the musical points into lines, he is making the whole piece proliferate. As Probyn claims (1996: 59), the lines of flight are also responsible for initiating changed and different relations within a matrix of class, race, and ethnicity, as well as sexuality. But how does this happen? a deferral and a gap Considering the processes of subjectification and the possibility of understanding them not as determined but as open to change, I have argued that photographs (or other cultural products) can also work as interpellations, thus interfering in processes of subjectification (Lorenz 2009a: 113ff.). If I now characterize the queer-artistic practice that interests me here, I would like to take up a contrary perspective, even if both viewpoints possibly complement each other. My thesis is that these artistic works are precisely in the position to break off interpellations, producing a temporal and spatial distance a deferral and a gap between an experience and any possible effect on the process of subjectification. These works thematize embodied categories such as gender, tracing their history and making them non-self-evident, but they do not offer them up to identification. Instead, they make material beyond gender available for reflection and experimentation. In this book, I would like to consider how exactly the deferrals and gaps come into being in queer-artistic works. Rosi Braidotti describes the subject as a spatio-temporal compound which frames the boundaries of processes of becoming (2006: 2). She 18 an introduction proposes an ethics that is concerned with the capacity of being affected and of affecting, with the capacity for a desire to become (ibid), but also with the boundaries of this capacity. For the desire for change has boundaries or thresholds (which Michel Foucault would most likely have analyzed as power relations). These boundaries, which constitute the subjects, simultaneously restrict their possibilities and determine how intensely they run [...] how far they can go [...] how much bo dies are capable of (ibid: 4). Braidotti thus examines what exactly these boundaries look like and how they are fixed. I would like to argue that the queer-artistic practices that I will be considering here break off or shift these boundaries. That they organize a distance to the subject and its compounds, a distance to heteronormativity, to being-white, to being-able, and moreover, that they facilitate the possibility of abandoning the confinements of subjectivity (the boundaries that set the norms that engender us). Queer politics is often concerned with the body the individual or the social body since this is where regulations or exclusions have been applied. The materiality of the body seems to restrict the possibilities of experimentation in a particular way. Foucault wrote very impressively about how the body functions as a pitiless place that prohibits movement, if only because one cannot move without it (2006: 229): I can go to the other end of the world; I can hide in the morning under the covers, make myself as small as possible. I can even let myself melt under the sun at the beach it will always be there. Where I am. For Foucault, the prison of the body is so depressing that it immediately seems to suggest the unreachable utopia of a bodiless body : Still, every morning: same presence, same wounds. In front of my eyes the same unavoidable images are drawn, imposed by the mirror: thin face, slouching shoulders, myopic gaze, no more hair not handsome at all. And it is in this ugly shell of my head, in this cage I do not like, that I will have to reveal myself and walk around; through this grill I must speak, look and be looked at; under this skin I will have to rot. (ibid) If artistic practice does indeed thematize the body in its inevitability, at the same time facilitating a deferral and a gap in relation to the body as a restriction for fantasy and experiment, then it would produce what Foucault, in the course of his text, sees as a utopian body : a body that is always elsewhere, that small utopian kernel from which I dream, I speak, I proceed, I imagine, I perceive things in their pla
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