I’m honoured to have been asked to lead a workshop at De Montfort University this month. Over the course of the evening we’ll be looking at ways in which we might make portraits from the material found in queer archives. The title, A remote and foreign cosmos, is taken from Miwon Kwon’s essay on Felix Gonzalez-Torres, The Becoming of a Work of Art: FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce, which addresses both the archive and Gonzalez-Torres’ radical approach to portraiture.
Workshop participants are asked to choose in advance a queer figure from history and to gather fragments of text that relate — no matter how tangentially — to their life. Working from this motley crew of queer subjects, the evening will comprise discussion, group readings and short film screenings, culminating in a collaborative project of assembling and performing a text-based compound portrait.
The project’s site — www.aremoteandforeigncosmos.xyz — includes a divergent assemblage of texts and other material relevant to the topic. The workshop is open to all.
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.)
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.