And the award for the best use of space goes to A Tittle-Tattle Tell-A-Tale Heart at Humber Street Gallery. The warehouse space working as imaginatively as exhibiting artist Athena Papadopoulos. The two upper floors of the gallery have been rendered almost unrecognisable in order to house the wildly inventive mixed-media work by the Canadian artist’s first major institutional presentation in the UK for Absolutely Cultured. Continue reading
Category Archives: #projectqueer
OUTing The Past is an international event series celebrating LGBT+ history, presented by Schools Out UK. In February 2019 during LGBT History Month OUTing The Past held a one-day conference in its newest Hub city of Leeds. The speaker-led event held in the Thoresby Room of Leeds City Museum joined a wide programme of public events, conferences and creative interventions, spanning the U.K. the U.S. and Scandinavia throughout February and March. Continue reading
Two weeks on and time to reflect and collate some of the feedback on Fighting 4 Queerz the Back To Ours commission for Pride in Hull 2018. Continue reading
With just 12 hours before showtime the Fighting 4 Queerz project has continued to gather pace with all the sessions taking place at St Paul’s Boxing Club in Hull. The training sessions have been hard-going: there is no question as to whether the two Mikes have been easy on us: they have not. Continue reading
Queer is as queer does
‘Queer’ What is it? What defines it? Is it a subject matter or theme, a code of behaviour? In art does ‘queer’ refer to something inherent in the work or something inherent in the artist?
In recent years it has, within some more cosmopolitan LGBT communities, been used as a coverall term for those individuals and groups not covered by binary notions of male and female, straight or gay.
In the opening session of the Fighting 4 Queerz project I stated that the word ‘queer’ was about a different way of viewing the world, that it had multiple interpretations for people, and that the term was in constant revision and undergoing a process of reclamation.
I can say from experience that calling somebody queer or a queer was seen as an insult and used as such and is still used here in Hull. It was all I could do last year during LGBT50 to persuade the community cast to proclaim with me ‘We’re here we’re queer we’re showing no fear’ It proved very difficult for the group because of all the previous negative, injurious connotations the q word had for them.
In certain geographic places I might identify as a queer writer, when responding to certain criteria for applications and projects, I may self-identify as a queer artist. This shift came about after visiting the big smoke and meeting a wide variety of folk all unifying, under this one term regardless of their sexuality or gender expression. Relieved and enthused by not having to categorise myself in these terms, I embraced the word and proceeded to immerse myself in and write about all manner of queer performance and art. Interestingly Even though I wanted to escape the accepted views, the hetero and homo-normativity, break free of patriarchy – systems where men hold the power – I still felt the need to align myself to a group to feel part of a ‘family’.
Background to Fighting 4 Queerz
Fighting 4 Queerz commissioned by Back To Ours for Pride in Hull is a movement project incorporating boxing, led by Gareth Chambers a Bransholme-born artist whose practice occupies the space between dance and performance art.
‘Fighting 4 Queerz is about a taking over of public spaces, as well as a defiant show of Queer strength that challenges stereotypes of the LGBT community.
‘I’m particularly looking for queer, non binary and trans folks of all genders, who feel a connection with communities largely centred around experiences of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.’
It is my opinion that by asking participants to first self-identify as ‘queer’ in order to meet the criteria is a barrier to participation. I have met very few folk in this city who would self identify as queer especially within the LGBT community.
Some people view ‘queer’ solely as political, harking back to times when self expression and self-determinism was criminalised by the laws of the land. Every act of creativity from a person denied the right to be who they are becomes inherently political. The personal is seen as political.
In order to challenge traditional LGBT stereotypes as is the stated aim of the Fighting 4 Queerz, project you have to first be inclusive to attract people in whose ideas and perceptions, can be challenged through the process. Then that core message, mediated through the process can be broadcast via the performance, to the wider public in this case during the march at Pride.
Agression and strength
The first session began with a discussion around our own reasons for signing up; notions of visibility; defining queer; and exploring the role of aggression – it is about boxing after all – and how that might be channeled to affect a positive outcome.
Marginalised communities have every right to feel aggressive towards those individuals, groups and organisations who have wronged them. Fighting 4 Queerz looks to channel some of those aggrieved feelings into performance, that will allow the wider world and the individual to see them and their experiences in a different light.
Everyone has a hit list of transgressors to draw upon, to inspire the fight within them: I certainly do.
The second session took place inside St Paul’s Boxing Academy in the city centre, a place made famous by it being the gym of 2012 Olympic Boxing gold-medallist Luke Campbell. The space retains a masculine feel, the ring at one end, the punch bags and boxing ephemera lining the walls. It ought to be noted that St Paul’s does run training sessions for women.
I was more than a little apprehensive being in the space, I’m not a fighter. However I remind myself that fighting and strength can exist in different forms. The fight to live your life, to love who you love, to not be cowed by societies’ disapproving looks, takes a rare strength that few people possess. It is this strength that Fighting 4 Queerz is looking to build upon. By tapping into the sense of struggle both historical and present day, we may stake a place, stand up be counted, through the staging of a series of visually arresting interventions.
The participants gloved up and began learning from a professional boxing coach about defensive stances first, gloves protecting the chin and the side of the face, standing slightly to one side. You want to present the least amount of your torso to your opponent and keep your elbows tucked in.
We proceeded to go through a series of drills using both left and right to punch the pads held by the trainer. These drills became more complicated as combinations were added and footwork, stepping back and forward.
There’s a lot to take in and I found myself getting my left and my right mixed up an awful lot of the time. Despite the difficulty of getting to grips with the new skill, I found myself wanting to get it right, firstly to satisfy the trainer- he immediately took on a role of benevolence and authority – and much to my surprise, to please myself.
I don’t know whether it was the result of physical exertion, the satisfying impact of glove on pad, or just all that adrenaline buzzing around my system but, after completing each series of combinations I felt good. In fact I felt a sense of achievement buoyed by the praise and encouragement from Mike Bromby Jnr.
The line, ‘I’m not sure why but it feels good’ was echoed by some of the other participants at the end of the first session with the boxing coach.
There were other issues that came up surrounding the requirements and responsibilities of making the gym a ‘safe space’ . Also the question over whether we were just appropriating typical masculine behaviour, whether that could be seen as a legitimate way of challenging LGBT stereotypes, but I’ll look into these areas in later blog posts.
Fighting 4 Queerz takes place Saturday 21st July during the Pride in Hull Parade.
I wanted to write about taking part in Gender Moves an LGBT+ community dance project run by Yorkshire Dance, exploring issues around gender, identity, activism and dance. Gender Moves is part of Performing Gender an international enquiry into these media panic inducing, culturally charged issues, working with artists from Spain, Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy and the U.K.
After attending last night’s sharing of research with solo pieces by the five international artists and coming to the end of the ‘Explore’ strand of Gender Moves, which included working with the lead dancers, it feels like a good time to reflect.
In the taster session we moved, we built confidence, we improvised and we tried to express ourselves through movement. The group is mixed, all ages, genders, identities. It feels like a good group. The final exercise is freeing I find myself through a series of focussing techniques, allowing myself to move in the space to the ethereal sounds, without thinking about the movement.
As far as I can work out so much of dance is about feel, not thinking but just allowing your body to move where it wants, without fear of ridicule or getting it wrong. This last point the notion of right and wrong, has followed throughout the May/June sessions known as Explore. Someone said to me at the sharing there is no right and wrong, there is just how you feel and that applies to making work, as well as watching work.
Some of the questions explored in the sessions have been very difficult, very challenging: masculine and feminine movement and poses, proved particularly difficult for some of the group and found us reaching for something mediated from a pre-existing cultural reference, a stereotype, or just being unable to respond to the demand.
For someone whose gender identity has never been fixed, the idea of shifting from one to the other like flicking a switch is problematic at the least. Where do you begin? Another question: If you weren’t told as a child, how would you know what your gender was? Minefield. After you have spent so much time, energy, often pain and sacrifice in establishing your identity, to be then asked to unpick that which you have created, that which shields you from interrogation, is a daunting and scary prospect.
Performing Gender Dance Makes Differences
I can only speak for myself but this process has involved a certain amount of honesty, openness, letting go, in order to engage with the group and the wider aims of the project. I enjoyed the session with the pro artists, the chance to work with them on an equal footing is so enlightening. We are all people moving in a space, responding to prompts to connect with our own body and reflect what others are doing.
I liked the trio work, moving from one position to the next and inventing your own creating a ripple effect. Thinking about detail, hand position, head position and expression. I said earlier so much about dance was about feel, it is also about expression, conveying different emotions through your face, eyes especially, aids the storytelling.
Something we touched upon in the workshops was quality – the way a dancer moves, whereabouts the tension is in the body, whether the movement is fluid like water flowing one into the other, or whether it is jerky like a robot on repeat. There has been a lot of ground covered in a short period of time. and the experience continues to be rewarding.
And now to the Sharing…
Jija Sohn ( Netherlands) introduced Tamago: egg as playing about with some ideas for five minutes or so. She proceeded to throw herself round the room with childlike abandon and huge energy. The Japanese pop music reflected her own culture growing up, the cute doll like Japanese stereotypes, indeed the throwing herself around was very akin to being a rag doll. The selfie culture and hyper-sexualised landscape was expressed through parodying suggestive poses and catwalks, interspersed with violent moments where Jija looked completely out of control. After all the formality and detail of the preceding weeks, this work was really refreshing.
Nataša Živković (Slovenia) looked to the experiences of previous generations to tell explore an f to m trans-narrative that was brought about by the strict patriarchal rules of land ownership. The women would ‘transform’ themselves into men in order to be able to own land. In a spoken narration which served as testament, a witness to their experiences, a line, that conveyed women’s status in Montenegro society historically, as being on a par with that of animals. By dressing in father’s clothes and picking up the rifle Nataša plays the part of man of the house, simply in order to survive.
There are a world of freedoms to be found as a man, these are expressed through traditional dance forms native to Montenegro, then contrasted with contemporary pop music celebrating rebellious female agency. It is this contrast or ambiguity that Nataša explains to me afterwards, that she wants to explore further. That despite the gender role shift being due to reasons of survival – quite frankly who would want to be treated as property, like an animal – if the only way to gain power is to be a man, what is that doing to the cause of women?
Roberta Racis (Italy) the sharing was inside the theatre space rather than the dance studio, so it immediately felt more like an event, like a performance. It felt the most complete work with three different sections – dance-works often come in three definable parts, I don’t know why but they do. Roberta is moving inside a chalk circle as we enter the space, she is topless painted in gold a living moving statue, elevating herself to something other, something to be revered maybe. The work was highly physical with the artist flexing and seemingly growing out of her body, contortions revealing every sinewy the gold paint accentuating the ribs, the muscles. The music was transcendental the movement euphoric, intoxicating, mesmeric. Repeated turns on the spot, head leading body, leg and arms outstretched, whilst moving in a circle. I said during the post-show talk I felt she wanted us to join her, there was something magnetic about the work that called to the audience to be involved.
Sophie Unwin (UK) ‘Doncaster actually’ a qualification raised at every opportunity. Sophie’s piece was about bodies but involved a great deal of spoken word and what was some version of stand up. Creeping, striding, stepping, across the front she bids us a tentative welcome to her space, using carefully selected words that compliment us, show a certain vulnerability, make us amenable to whatever is to come.
Using a loop-pedal she creates beats to perform a song about gender, about the pervasive nature of gender and class, gender is everywhere, it is a fun song that sends itself up but could be seen as viewing gender conceptually as a burden.
The extended moments of vibratory shaking in half light with the body like jelly, becoming a blur, seemed to be expressing the bodies own desire for agency, a body that is out of our control. I didn’t understand this piece as much as the previous ones but I felt like laughing, lightheaded: the atmosphere had completely changed.
Koldo Arostegui González (Spain specifically the Basque region) For what seemed like an age Koldo sat in a chair unmoving but then almost imperceptibly, his face changed shape to convey emotions anger, fear, doubt. He took-on the audience’s role in the piece and made it part of the work, stepping out of the performance – actors call it breaking the fourth wall – and asking us, ‘Is it enough?’ Then he proceeded to play with the audience and their reactions calling us out on whether we could do better.
The threads of history were present in the second part of Koldo’s piece where he sang beautifully, a number made famous by the cantantes from his youth. The dance I think, was like partner dancing, with the partner removed, perhaps a comment on a struggle to come out, to find oneself and then the final number Koldo transforms gloriously to diva.
Five very different artists, five very different responses, A very responsive audience, happy to engage in post-show discussion about the pieces and the subsequent party. It was like a window into how we might present dance to the uninitiated in this city.
I shall follow with interest how the pieces develop and how their responses begin to signpost the next phase of Gender Moves: Create.
There is a constant drive to make dance more accessible – we made some strides last year in Hull with Gary Clarke’s #IntoTheLight and Yorkshire Dance, now with Gender Moves there is an opportunity to take the exploration further, use dance to affect social change, and further personal growth.
Transgender is everywhere: trans stories in popular drama, trans politics debated in news stories, trans in the workplace sending HR departments into a spin, questions surrounding health outcomes accompanying campaigns for visibility, equality and awareness, all of which feed into an evolving view of gender and gender identity in society. Continue reading
Short film fans watched 5 very different films at the Austrian Short Film Festival at Hull University last week. Organised by Theresa Guczogi the films were screened in German with English subtitles and all were nominees at the 2018 Austrian Short Film Awards. Continue reading
The Electric Fence Needs You: This isn’t just a snappy title, it really does need you, it doesn’t come to life until it has been touched by a human. The Electric Fence an installation work by Annabel McCourt, is to be found inside Hull Minister (formerly Trinity Church) confounding visitors with its monstrous presence. Continue reading