Queer: May 2008 Archives

we were never alone*

CORRECTION: I've corrected the text for screening location

ACT UP veteran Deb Levine is viewing the entire ACT UP Oral History Project videos from start to finish in a performance project she calls "ENDURING ACT UP". She is inviting us to join her.

Levine has been working on her PhD. in Performance Studies at NYU and is writing about ACT UP for her dissertation. She says she's focusing on one aspect in particular:

. . . how collectively people took care of each other during meetings, demonstrations, in committees and affinity groups, and especially as members became ill. I am most interested in the ways in which those relationships became an ethical and political practice - a topic that is not often foregrounded in other histories of the organization.

While she has been watching the interviews recorded by the Oral History Project, which was undertaken by Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard, and I assume she's been through them all, she says that what she is missing is the opportunity to turn around and discuss what appears on the screen with others who witnessed and were a part of the phenomenon of this remarkable band of AIDS activists in the 80's and 90's.

The screenings began this morning at 10 at 721 Broadway on the 6th floor, room 613. They will continue through June 15. For a complete schedule and more information, go to the project's web site.

the image is from the ACT UP protest at the National Institutes of Health [NIH] in May, 1990, when we “stormed the NIH” to protest the slow pace of research; things picked up a bit later (the troublemaker seen in the foreground is Brian Keith Jackson)

[Donna Binder image from NIH library - yes, the NIH!, and the site has much more about medical activism]

only part of the story

Berlin's memorial to the thousands of homosexuals who were variously persecuted, tortured or murdered by the Nazi regime was dedicated yesterday. The official name of this German parliament commission, Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen [National Memorial for the Homosexual Victims of the Nazi Regime], may be formidable, but the structure itself is incredibly simple and ineffably moving in its sylvan setting within the Tiergarten, Berlin's central park.

Positioned close to the iconic Reichstag Building, not far from the buried ruins of Adolf Hitler's concrete bunker and across the street from the German capital's very different but equally-astonishing Holocaust Memorial, the new memorial was designed by Elmgreen & Dragset, Danish-born Michael Elmgreen and Norwegian-born Ingar Dragset. The artists, who are based in Berlin, used the block shape, gray color and slight tilt of the individual steles of Peter Eisenman's masterpiece for part of its inspiration, but a small video screen embedded in a recess on one side of this somewhat larger slab will portray a one and a half minute film loop by director Thomas Vinterberg of either two men or two women kissing. In the background of the figures in the videos, which were created before construction began, can be seen the same trees which surround the memorial as built.

Near the end of a very short article in the NYTimes today: "On hand for the unveiling was Berlin's openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, but no survivors." The short article goes on to explain that Pierre Seel, who was the last known survivor of the camps, died in 2005.

As a queer man who first heard about this project in the mid-nineties when it was being proposed, and having now seen images of the powerful monument that these two wonderful artists have created, I'm unable to think of this work as a memorial only to the German and European victims of 1933-1945. Many homos who were not murdered but were imprisoned by the Nazis remained incarcerated in the new Germany long after the war. Homosexuality remained illegal in the Bonn Republic until 1969 and was only formally decriminalized in 1994.

Of course queers have been persecuted everywhere on the planet for thousands of years, but especially during the last few decades some societies have managed to grow up. They now recognize and protect the rights of all their members, while nowhere in the Western world do queer men, women and children remain more abused today, both by law and society, than they do in the U.S.

Berlin's newest monument can be a memorial to all homos hunted in the past. Let it also be a foil for those who would hunt us still.

the protective glass in front of the video screen reflects viewers and surroundings

Note, and more: As the ambient landscaping is still immature, I haven't included an image here of the structure or "pavilion" in its environment. This link to the memorial's own site [currently in German only, but with a pretty exhaustive list of links in many languages]; and there's an AP video below, recorded on the grounds of the memorial during grounds cleanup, with a short statement from the artists:

[image at the top from andrejkoymasky; image of memorial's screen by Johannes Eisele from Reuters via Yahoo!]

Robert Rauschenberg Bed 1955 mixed mediums 75" x 32" x 8"

Yes, the great man was queer. I had thought I made it pretty clear in my own post on March 14, but today I note that Tyler Green's Modern Art Notes has gone and shoved it down the prissy throats of both members of the "regular" media and the art world's own sophisticated pundits. Almost all of them seem not to have ever noticed, or, much more likely, were convinced it was too shameful a condition with which they could risk frightening the horses - or asses.

Green's post, "Hetero-normalizing Robert Rauschenberg", is totally on target, and bursting with links to his references and sources (there's even a link to his links on the subject).

Bravo, Tyler!

[image from MoMA]


two stills from "Wild Combination"

I saw the New York premier of Matt Wolf's first feature-length film, "Wild Combination", at the Kitchen last night. It's an amazing documentary on the life and music of Arthur Russell, the innovative downtown musical composer/performer who just couldn't stand still and wouldn't be pinned down, even for his own visions of his art.

Unable to be really understood by most of his contemporaries, perhaps partly because of his own inadequacy with conventional communication, Russel's cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary music never had a large audience, before his early death from AIDS complications in 1992. But twenty years later his music sounds as modern as today - or tomorrow. It now appears to be moving from an honored place in the memory of his fans and collaborators (and on thousands of reels on dusty storage locker shelves) into something like cult status among a new generation of listeners and artists which, like Russell, routinely ignores the false separation of genres and thrives on the offspring of musical cross-fertilization.

Wolf, an artist and filmmaker barely in his mid-twenties now, began his career in 2002 with "Golden Gums". It was the first in a series of three relatively short experimental films, the others being "Smalltown Boys" in 2003 and "I Feel Love" in 2004. Their subjects were, in order, the young auteur's own plaster dental cast offered to boyfriend as love token, a young teenage girl who seems to be the daughter of David Wojnarowicz, and the strange story of Andrew Cunanan's hotel maid's sudden celebrity. Only after "Wild Combination" could I imagine that each of these might be its own unique and perverse twist of the traditional documentary form. I'm not sure however if I might be able to read this into the filmmaker's history only because his latest creation is clearly a documentary. But it's certainly much more; it's an imposing accomplishment and an exceptionally beautiful film in which one artist's demonstrated imagination and fancy is directed toward showing the compelling musical beauty created by another.

But it doesn't really matter, since all of these works do very well standing on their own. I only know for sure that I'll be looking forward to wherever Wolf decides to go next.

"Wild Combination" will be screened elsewhere in New York later this year.

The Kitchen has organized a tribute to the music of Arthur Russell this weekend with performances tonight and tomorrow. The blurb on Time Out New York's site includes this on the performances:

On records such as 1986’s World of Echo and the posthumous Another Thought, Russell married joyous pop to muted, inward reflection. But this “Buddhist bubblegum” (much of which has been reissued this decade by Audika) will make up just a fraction of this three-day program, which also offers a rare chance to hear his large ensemble instrumental pieces played live. On Friday, Russell colleague Bill Ruyle conducts “Tower of Meaning,” a minimalist work for brass and strings. Saturday will find Ruyle, trombonist Peter Zummo and bassist Ernie Brooks participating in “The Singing Tractors,” an ensemble trance work that incorporates improvisation.

Here's an Amazon widget which will let you sample some of his music:


John Schaefer's WNYC Soundcheck program interview with Matt Wolf

Sascha Frere-Jones writing about Russell in The New Yorker in 2004

Andy Beta's piece on Wolf's film in the current The Village Voice

Audika Records Arthur Russell catalog

Amazon's Arthur Russell listings

Schedule of festival screenings

[images, the first from "Terrace of Unintelligibility" by Phil Niblock, courtesy of Audika Records, are both stills from the film and courtesy of Matt Wolf]

Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg (1954)


I couldn't think of anything I might be able to add to the encomiums which have followed Monday's announcement of the death of Robert Rauschenberg. Then this morning I saw and read the NYTimes obituary in the print edition. While growing up, and even for many years later, I remember seeing pictures of a beautiful young man whose work was more than capable of shaking up a post-war art world already conditioned to, maybe even bored by change. the Times, like too many other media sources in the last few days, showed us only pictures of an older artist, and many photographs I've been seeing portrayed a Rauschenberg weakened and partially paralyzed by a stroke.

Although he remained handsome and productive all his life, it was in the early years of his career that he produced most of the innovations for which he is now known and revered. I thought that we should all be able to see now what the strong, vital artist who changed so much of the world we inhabit today looked like while the revolution was underway. He was once very young and almost painfully beautiful, but he was never old.

The photograph here is of the artist relaxing in a studio with Jasper Johns. It was taken probably in the late 50s, the period in which they lived together downtown in various lofts around Coenties Slip and Pearl Street (the neighborhood of my own first New York home 25 years later). It's interesting, although not surprising, that in his long obituary for Rauschenberg published in today's Times print edition Michael Kimmelman describes their personal ties in "genteel" terms more familiar to readers of fifty years ago than to us today:

The intimacy of their relationship over the next years, a consuming subject for later biographers and historians, coincided with the production by the two of them of some of the most groundbreaking works of postwar art.
For a little more candor, see Jonathan Katz.



"bobrauschenbergamerica" in tears

Paul Lee at Audiello

Lawrence Weiner at Pocket Utopia

UPDATE: Shortly after I did this post I found this wonderful early image on Newsday's site:

Robert Rauschenberg in his New York studio in 1958

[top image, a photograph by Rachel Rosenthal, from mettaartlove; added image from Newsday]

This page is an archive of entries in the Queer category from May 2008.

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