Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Warning from Socrates: Waltham Forest Borough of Culture 2019

Last year, after Edinburgh, I purposely took time out to revaluate my practice, specifically to consider the weight I had given within it to performance. I decided to take a hiatus from live work and until April's shows at Schaubühne, I had been away from the stage for six months. This is a considerably longer break than at any other point in the past ten years. Over the last decade I have on average been onstage 2/3 times a month, at points several times a week, at others several times a night. What I have found during this time out, is that writing and devising is every bit as important to me as the live performance. This represents an interesting sea change for me as an artist primarily working in time based media. What does it mean in the long term then? In short idk rn, but the realisation has opened some intriguing new lines of research for me, including my upcoming residency project as part of Waltham Forest's Borough of Culture year.

Entitled, "A Warning from Socrates", the project invites Waltham Forest knitters to participate in a new group artwork, looking at how we disseminate information, spread gossip, and share knowledge. The project will bring together knitters of differing ability, to provide skill-exchange and socialising, over tea and light refreshments. Across four sessions, the group will chat as they knit, play parlour games, and make some new connections. In this way the group will compare the knitting circle to other means of sharing information. The project will culminate in a visit from Socrates himself, who join to see what we’ve learned whilst knitting, and lead our final session. The conversations will generate a key idea, to be repurposed as a printed hoarding, to cover a building currently being regenerated by the Borough Council. Full deetz here:

I think this piece will represent a new way of working for me, which will hopefully allow me to continue to talk about the things which interest me, but without requiring me to centre my own body as the site on which all discussions take place. It's also nice to have the opportunity to make work which isn't focused on gender (for once!) Of course I haven't entirely given up the stage, in fact "A Generous Lover" will have a UK tour in September, details of which will be forthcoming over the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hacked Knits III: Sodomite Zionist

I'm showing another of my Hacked Knits as part of the group show Queer Art(ists) Now. A collaboration with Jack Randol, as part of an ongoing series, this scarf (the third) will be worn by the gallery invigilator.

Scarf mock up

This particular iteration is a reworking of a classic Norwich FC scarf design, the team was chosen after I inadvertently stumbled upon a cache of Nazi memorabilia on sale (and lovingly displayed) in a vintage store in the eponymous town. The store owner was irate when my (then) boyfriend asked him if he had ever considered that selling swastikas and autographed portraits of Hitler alongside boot cut jeans and old Prince vinyls, might be considered just a little tasteless. “Oh go and protest somewhere else!” the shop keeper said sharply, when my (then) bf told him that he came from a family of Jewish holocaust survivors.

So then, that’s the impetus for the team colours. But what am I thinking about when I put these two words together? Well simply put, I’m musing in two identities (Jewish and homosexual) which can be thought of as having been forged in the same fire. We think of heretics burnt at the stake, we scratch the surface with a little research and these blasphemous warlocks, and unnatural sorcerers are often found to be...ja Jews and queers. Follow the line then to the Communist scares of the mid-twentieth century, down to today’s right wing propaganda, and you see these two identities are repeatedly framed as being the “real” evil puppeteering society towards its doom.

Both communities have experienced near constant threat of expulsion and exile, as expressed in the recurring banishment from European nations of Jewish people throughout the past two thousand years, or the eviction of gay and trans people from family homes as a rite of coming out passage, or the “queer flight” from home towns. The outcome of this continual dislocation and duress manifests in the justifiable need for homelands, whether that’s Israel or Fire Island, neither of which are all that dissimilar from the far right fantasies of ghettoes for Jews, and abandoned islands for AIDS patients.

Of course these homelands quickly become weaponized (sometimes literally) when the outsiders who stake claim and raise a flag õn the virgin territory of the safe space become the authoritative insiders. We think of the bloody persecution of the Palestinians in the name of Israel’s nationhood, we think of vitriolic racism and transphobia of the socially mobile, new enfranchised, club-owning cis white gay me; are we dreaming the same dream of domination?

A knitted sample

I can no more understand a queer person identifying as a Zionist than I can understand them voting Tory or Republican, how is it possible that the victim is so ready to victimize, and even use their own victimhood as justification? This ultra conservative agenda has been made possible, I suppose by ridiculous sleights-of-hand like the Gays for Trump movement, by pink washing right wing policies so as to make them seem more liberal. Again, Israel’s reputation as “the only democracy in the middle east” has been built in no small part on the fact that homosexuality is legal there, which for some people is enough to justify just about anything. The question I have to ask though, is “When did you start giving a shit about gay people?” When did we become the last sexy orangutang in the rainforest, the primates you are do desperate to defend after decades of decimation?

Ultimately I’m not trying to assign any values to either the word “Sodomite” or “Zionist”, both are worn as badges of honour by certain people, and used as pejoratives by others, as is the want of language. As with all of these scarves, I’m interested in ideas of identity, class, social power, and a sense of belonging. I’m wondering is it possible for their to be a gay homeland, a Jewish homeland, a homeland for any marginalized community really, that doesn’t come at the cost of the destruction of some other oppressed people’s basic humanity?

This series of Hacked Knits has been for me, a way of unpicking identity, belonging, tribalism, and the notions (of class, sexuality, gender) that purport to offer us a sense of fellowship. As such it's messy and contradictory (as is identity), but I'm using it as a process to feel something out rather than to declare a definite position.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"A Generous Lover" comes to London

Having earned ten ****/* reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we're bringing "A Generous Lover" to Camden People's Theatre for TWO SHOWS ONLY on Oct 2&3. Singled out by the Scotsman as part of their Best of the Fest selection, the show is a very queer, very true tale of one troubled soul's journey into the underworld of mental illness to bring rescue their lost love.

This is a small show so advance booking is advised. Tickets are on sale here

Monday, May 28, 2018

Hacked Knits II, Is That A Man?

Artist Statment:

Hacked Knits is a series of scarves based on on football club merch (which I have reworked/compromised) bearing text from the sites of friction between my gender presentation and the inevitable daily pushback. They are of course, a nod to the sport's field/gym changing room, a site which figures as a central site of formative anxiety for many queer, GNC, trans* people.

Last Summer I was at a bus stop a few streets away from VFD, making out with my boyfriend, when a bunch of kids started to give us a hard time. "Is that a man?" was one of their (highly unoriginal) attempts at harassment. As my bf is trans and non- binary, neither of us knew if these kids were questioning his gender or mine, which collapsed things in an interesting way. As hurtful and intimidating as it was, it also revealed so much in the linguistic-power play, as to become absurd.

“Is that a man?” is an invective used to undermine a person’s femininity/femme identity, by alluding to the masculine/male identity “beneath”. Concurrently it functions to ridicule or emasculate male identities by questioning their authenticity. It raises our awareness of how gender is policed informally, on the streets, and simultaneously poses the questions, “Who then is a woman?” and more so, “Who gets to decide?”

In our moment of TERF crusades to defend the Holy Land of Womanhood this sinister line of interrogation also opens up a timely reflection on the 100th anniversary of suffrage (which granted the vote to only certain women), as well as referencing the abolitionist Sojourner Truth's canonical line of thought, (recorded as) "Ain't I a woman?"

Hacked Knits II, Is That A Man? was featured in FEMME an exhibition curated by Kat Hudson as part of the FEMMETOPIA festival at VFD. Pic borrowed form Hatty Carman's IG.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Hacked Knits

Last year I showed this piece (Hacked Knits 1, All Art is Gay) in a group show called G0dbottom, (curated by Stevie Hanley at Condo Association, Chicago). I wrote this text to accompany it, and as I'm going to show the second scarf in the series (Is that a man?) in London next month I thought I should share my thinkings.

Last Winter my Mother taught me how to knit, or she at least tried to. I sat on the end of her bed and she regaled me with all the tales that came to her mind when she started to knit, real working class stories of the women on Liverpool’s council estates knitting for children, grandchildren, godchildren, and beyond. Coming as I do from a sizeable Irish Catholic family, these hand-knitted garments, cardigans, scarves, sweaters, and even booties, were passed between siblings and cousins. They were so well made, and knitted with such tender conviction, that their usage spanned seemingly impossible lengths of time. They often lasted in excess of a decade, worn by numberless different children, still in pristine condition, somehow as indestructible as any holy relic on occasional view in Rome.

Knitting makes me think of all the knowledge (often domestic) passed down on the maternal line (and all of the knowledge which is sidelined/ignored), but also makes me ponder on what else apparently comes to us directly from our female forbearers. Several prominent theories of homosexuality/queerness look to the Mother as the source of inherited non-normative sexual identities, just as canonical thinking says Jewishness comes from her too. (Catholics however don’t much mind how you find your way to church, they’re the original evangelicals always looking to expand the fanbase).

I can remember my Nan (my Mother’s Mother) knitting me a Thomas the Tank sweater, which was later passed to my cousin (and so on). Thomas’ big beaming blue face smiled out on all who beheld him until long after his fashionable heyday. My Nan was canny, knowing that as a child I wouldn’t really know if the Thomas the Tank sweater was handmade or store bought, she in effect produced counterfeit merchandise, using Thomas’ licensed image in her own production. (Coincidentally I recently bought an contraband East German “fake” Mickey Mouse scarf in Berlin). Hacked Knits I is likewise “counterfeit”, it explicitly (and illegally) incorporates the Liver bird logo in its design.

Whenever I tell someone that I’m from Liverpool, inevitably they will either say, “Oh like the Beatles?” or (if they’re a straight man), “Like the football team?” The Liver bird is the city of Liverpool’s emblem, originally a badly drawn eagle which has become synonymous with the town, and sits (in sculptural form) atop the city’s famous Liver Buildings (built 1908). However, Liverpool FC, one of the world’s most prominent soccer teams (currently valued at $1.5 BN), have preposterously owned the copyright on the Liver Bird since 2010. Liverpudlians have made appeals but the trademark remains.

I have always abhorred soccer, to me it has always stood as shorthand for homophobic harassment, and ritualised acts of bullying as milestones in attaining masculinity. As the UK is still bewilderingly obsessed with class stratification, football retains its working class aura (unlike bourgeois games of rugby or cricket) and with it the irksome fetishisation of working class masculinity (and the ridiculous projection that all woking class men are sexually virile and indomitably heterosexual).

This scarf was knitted by Jack Randall, I remain a lousy knitter.

You could map the popularity of football, and the presence of soccer teams around the globe, and use your doodle as an at-a-glance map to see how far the British expanded their colonial rule. As the Empire swelled it exported cultural products (such as football), alongside the Protestant moral values, codes of behaviour, and laws which almost completely eradicated previously existing expressions and understandings of gender and sexual identity. Liverpool itself was a major hub or the Britain’s slave trade, becoming enormously wealthy earlier in its history from the infamous trade of bodies. Liverpool’s culture, architecture and (now depleted) grandeur was built on this. Contemporary culture cannot be excavated from the bloody history which birthed it.

As a way of dealing with one small part of its exceptionally ugly history, in 2017 the UK commemorated the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, with a national series of exhibitions, commissioned performances, and discussions. With the exception maybe of “Coming Out” at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, these were almost all sentimental, majority white, cis focused, and male-centred; they sought to obfuscate the inescapable responsibility of the same institutions which hosted them in the anti-queer status quo, through blame off-loading and it-gets-better-isms. As if it’s possible for galleries to wipe their hands in January 2018 and say, “Well that’s gay art done with for a while - who’s next for a fix ‘er up?”

This scarf is my reaction to 2017's endless year of gay art shows.

What the much celebrated anniversary represents is a partial decriminalisation, the change which came in 1967 didn’t bring an equal age of consent, it didn’t allow any kind of public sex, nor did it allow more than two men to have sex with each other (women having sex has always been unimaginable in British legal codes). This was not queer liberation, that particular revolution was not handed to dykes and fags by the government, it was pretty much forced into being by them. The blithe statement, All Art Is Gay, is a directly descended from this propagandistic panoply of these shows, mocking the opportunistic and insincere marketeering behind many of them, whilst simultaneously giving a genuine nod of admiration to Gay Lib slogans such as, “Gay is Good”.

This scarf disrupts the gift shop.

All Art Is Gay, underlines the presumed effeminacy of creativity in contrast to the masculinity of production, highlighting its lesser/lower status. Hacked Knits I was made with a hand operated knitting machine, a piece of kit which sits ambiguously between handmade and machine-made. It’s standard, even rows mimic a mass produced garment and talk to how significant moments in cultural history are blindly celebrated in mass market souvenirs. The scarf’s finish (following as it does LFC product design) also allows it to mimic its template (an official team scarf) more closely. When I wear it, witnesses familiar with soccer merchandise read it as a gesture of fandom (or sartorial subversion) without observing the actual text. I like to imagine that an unsuspecting straight dude might confuse his scarf with mine and leave the pub wrapped in my counterfeit. (This reverie puts me in mind of one of Twentieth-century’s pop culture’s most brilliant coups, in which Freddie Mercury lured his unwitting rock bro fans into wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word QUEEN).

Football teams have been the cause of much social violence, and even as this proportionally abates, dedication to teams can be almost tribal. (I am using “tribal” here as defined by Merriam-Webster; “solidarity that transcends all other loyalties or bonds”). This loyalty can dictate what a fan wears, or even where they can go when they are dressed in team colours. The songs, catchphrases, and heroes of the fans of particular clubs, seems to me to line up somewhat with the queer obsession to define community members. Being an Arsenal fan or a Juventus fan is almost the heterosexual equivalent of being framed as a bear, a twink, a butch, or a femme. Almost.

This scarf is a moment of camp minimalism.

I have tried to hack contemporary culture with this piece, as a way to carve a place for myself and my own impossible identity as a trans* underclass class queer. My obvious contempt for soccer, and my simultaneous inability to hand knit, flags up my own failure (and celebration of that failure) to be successful as either a man or a woman. I’m fabricating my own identity as I go on fabricating these scarves. (The others have texts such as, Is That A Man? and Sodomite Zionist, which refer more explicitly to the harassment queer people and I apparently provoke by walking the streets).

Returning from Documenta in Kassel, I was with a friend, when we unfortunately came into proximity with a group of football fans who obviously took it as their right and duty to harass us as we changed trains. Five metres away from the mob stood four armed police officers who viewed the scene with disinterest. My friend and I acknowledged that the authorities had made their position clear enough, and we not likely to help us out if we were to fight back. This compliance between criminals and the authorities allegedly responsible for protecting the populace from them, is as for queer people (and for POC), as expected and unremarked upon as the identikit scarves the soccer fans wore over their shoulders.

This scarf can be wrapped around your face for protection against tear gas and surveillance cameras.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Far Worse: Alexander Geist x Ben Jackson

In November of 2016 I started going through some old loops which my pal and frequent collaborator Ben Jackson had sent me. There was one that really struck my mood, and over the past 14 months we have laboured over it to bring you "Far Worse". It's a doom-laden gabber track inspired by heartbreak, low-class rave culture, and Dante's "The Divine Comedy". I'm obsessed with this track, I performed it as part of "Any Instant Whatsoever" back in October, and it felt electric.

The video was shot in Berlin at Folsom (the fetish fayre) with styling by Tim Heyduck and Make-up/Hair by Sarah Hartgens. Fritz Schiffers directed it, and Ben himself edited it. All I really had to do was give me heart and soul and lyrics. Continuing our investigation into the role of a recording artist in the digital age, the "Far Worse" single is released as a telephone call via

Filming was quite a trip as I gave myself over to the creative team, and sort of said, "Do with me what you will." Normally I'm such a huge control freak, but with this video I wanted to see what it was like to be the pop star moulded by the image makers around him. I'm really pleased with the result, it's moody, it's erotic, it's enigmatic. I hope you get a kick out of it too.

The video was premiered at AQNB and you can read their featurette on it, if you fancy.

Here's the full video:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Any Instant Whatsoever at And What? Festival

Gina in action

***If you click on these sexy pics you will get an enlarged pop up verzionne ***

Oh the highs and lows of performance art. I don’t remember the last time I had such a joyous experience making a piece. Maybe I never have had such a joyous experience; certainly not since the very early BoyfriendRobotique days (when we were basically just covering ourselves in jam and dollar store knick-knacks as a way to take the edge of a comedown). From the first day of rehearsal there was a shared electricity, and a feeling that something magical had settled somewhere in the room with us.

I’d spent a year researching and writing, forming lighting ideas, costume ideas, working on the text that accompanies the show, and undertaking all of the arduous labour (booking rehearsal space, overseeing design, arranging contracts) which attends the making of a new work. To be frank I went into the first day of rehearsal with something like dread creeping over me, I didn’t really believe that I had the skills to direct a show, let alone a contemporary dance piece, having zero experience in either department. I felt as though I was on the bullet train to disaster, and that I was going to take all of my smiling faced collaborators out with me. That was not the case.

My one true loves

In large part because of the relentless commitment, dedication, and generosity of my co-performers Robert Hesp and Jonathon Luke Baker, and in no small way owing to the never ending efforts of our sound designer Philip Cornett, the process was an absolute delight. We laughed ourselves stupid, some days we’d be on the floor multiple times in hysterics. They were incredibly long, demanding sessions but I never once left without feeling elated. I learnt so much, about my capabilities, about my resourcefulness, about what it is I was aiming for, and all against a background of working with people who were pushing themselves every day to be better and bring it harder. Still now, a week after the show I’m almost tingling when I think about what a blazing time we had working together.

I can’t forget to mention the ineluctable Jack Cullen who handled PR and marketing, forever popping up in rehearsal and in our timelines, with audacious new publicity angles. Our Facebook Live video generated such a spike of interest that we were almost immediately assured the show would sell out. Jack’s constant flow of showbiz gossip enlivened many a lunch time, regaling us as he does, with the ins and outs of scene politics over coleslaw sandwiches.

Owen Parry’s dramaturgical advice was prophetic and enlivening, his conceptual read blends so nicely with his unhinged sense of humour, and lead to such strokes of brilliance as the purchase of Gina, our beloved oversize yellow teddy bear, and team mascot. A very wise witch (well Aaron Wright) once told me that what I was indeed of was a dramaturge more than any other specific collaborator, and well, shucks, I guess he was right. I really feel like this is the right method for me, though an assistant would also be graciously appreciated. The closest I have is Mickey, who played our roadie, and whom I wouldn’t change for the world; firstly because he’s an undeniably crucial member of the team, and secondly because he really goes for it when he leans in for a kiss.

And who could forget Dr Sharon Husbands as the voice of Joan Quigley, the voice in the darkness somehow underscoring our rock’n’roll desperation? Or the glorious suits from Beau Homme? Or Max Allen’s incredible shoulder pads? Or Felix at Open Barbers' really terrific haircutting skills? So many people gave so much of their angel dust - like Taylor Mac says, there is no such thing as solo performance.

Marty makes magic with visible light

Special mention of course to Marty Langthorne, for his stellar lighting design. It’s an incomparable experience to perform in one of his plots, the atmosphere he creates is thrilling, somehow he turns black box spaces into Madison Square Gardens. When I look back at the footage, it is all I can do to watch the performance rather than the lighting states.

Of course none of this would have been possible without the support of Jen Smethhurst who produced it, and their stunt double Hannah Maxwell who took over on show day. (And what a challenge that was! Did Hannah know there would be obsolete computers and delayed set designs to deal with right up until curtain time? With fire alarms to come after….) I remain forever indebted to Andrew Ellerby for all of his support in getting the show up at Rich Mix, and on such a fortuitous date as Friday 13th too!

Just your everyday local neighbourhood icon

So yes, now what? Well there’s the new Alexander Geist video for “Far Worse” to look forward to, and of course the potential 2018 tour. Also, the accompanying text from the show is available NOW, published by And What? festival, if you want to delve deeper into AIDS, stardom, and the multiverse. Until next time, take care of yourself, and each other.

Pics by A.M. Hanson