Liking loss more than fulfillment

Possibilities development still 04b

Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing, a performance I’m currently developing for What remains… Anatomy of an Artist: a festival of 10 new works which takes place at Siobhan Davies Dance in May, is an attempt at making tangible a body of research  — both in terms of the strands and traces of biographical/archival information, and also the provocations arising from the process of research: the particularities of navigating a queer archive (that of dancer and choreographer Fred Herko), the responsibilities — or otherwise — of dealing in ephemera, gossip and rumour, as well as mistakes and misinformation.

Two excerpts from Fred Herko: A Course Packet, Part 2, edited by Joshua Lubin-Levy

Heather Love, Wanted: Failure

In the case of Fred Herko, the lure is almost irresistible. The image of the beautiful loser, the doomed but endlessly appealing outsider, emits what José Esteban Muñoz calls “burning queer incandescence.” Add to that the fact that we have so little evidence of Herko’s life, that he worked in an ephemeral medium, that it is so hard to touch him, and you will see why doing queer history might require liking loss more than fulfillment.

Ara Osterweil, Vanishing Acts: Meditations on Fred Herko, Andy Warhol, and What Disappears Beyond the Frame:

Writing queer history, or writing history queerly, asks us to ponder a series of vanishing acts, and the forensic traces they may or may not leave on the scene.

All along I’ve been pursuing failure as a possible strategy, and it remains — if this is not too much of a paradox — a vital tactic (how might the actual limitations of my physicality contribute to the work?). However as I spend more time in the performance space, an effort towards engaging (ie attempting to understand), and locating “body knowledge” must also come into play. This is not a separate route but a reworking and strengthening — a bolstering — of the one I’m already travelling down.


Terraforming is an erasure

This is a segment of a longer film that forms part of weird nails, a performance work that takes as points of departure the inherent utopian qualities of queerness posited by José Esteban Muñoz, Ursula K Le Guin’s science fiction novel The Dispossessed and Yelp reviews of Giant Rock, a location in the Mojave Desert with a reputation for UFO activity.

Terraforming is an erasure: in order for it to fulfil its function, it must eliminate the potentiality of a world. It is firstly destructive.

There is a type of extreme act that I equate with terraforming in the manner in which it wipes out, specifically, queer potentiality — acts that are not fully, or necessarily usefully, described by words such as “desperate” or “tragic”. They purge the individual (the terrain) of his or her queer potentiality, and are therefore violently anti-utopian: Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt, Fred Herko’s defenestration, Kenneth Halliwell murdering Joe Orton, Andrew Cunanan, (John Wojtowicz’s heist — possibly), etc, etc. The homicide and suicide committed by Joe Meek can be thought of as terraforming in this sense. Here we see it set against the utopian personal account of the world he has created about him in his studio. (Notice also, the reference to drawing pins, a quotidian material recurrent in my work. More about their role as time machines here.)

What then of the terraformed world — the terrain post terraforming process? Does a kindred queerness leave us with sites of redemption? Bright planets shining down on us? (“Sister planets” to reference an Ursula K Le Guin line from The Dispossessed, also used in the film.)

process was all

Two complementary passages that I came across during the early stages of researching weird nails, the performance piece I’ve been developing for the past six months or so. With less than a week before the work-so-far is shared with an audience, I find it reassuring to remind myself of them…

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, the Then and There of Queer Futurity:

An emphasis on means as opposed to ends is innately utopian insofar as utopia can never be prescriptive of futurity. Utopia is an idealist mode of critique that reminds us that there is something missing, that the present and presence (and its opposite number, absence) is not enough.

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed:

 …and the separation of means and ends was, to her, false. For her, as for him, there was no end. There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere, all commitments thus understood took on substance and duration.

The here and now is a prison house

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, the Then and There of Queer Futurity:

The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for the minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds.