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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Poster Comes to Life

Beyond Personae artwork by Kat Hudson

Beyond Personae backstage pic by Alexander Geist

If you've missed out on the BEYOND! salon series, then I am very sorry for your loss. This month we went BEYOND! Personae with Fancy Chance, GFOTY and ShayShay, my identical twin brother hosted. It was a very funny, very provocative evening, I'm really enjoying presenting these salons ESPECIALLY as we have a fully female/trans* line-up for the series. They have been a incredibly useful research tool, to think about how performance builds, to consider its limitations, and to reconsider the triangulation between artist - performance - audience. All of the material gathered in the salon series is going into the creation of a brand new piece for the And What? Festival in October, full details of which are coming soon...In the meantime there will be one more salon BEYOND! Noise to come =)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Beyond (1) Gender

I'm BEYOND excited to announce that my new salon series BEYOND is coming to Hackney Showroom for three extremely glamorous episodes. The first is May 26 and will go BEYOND Gender with Victoria Sin, Travis Alabanza and Rhyannon Styles. Join us for a show...that's also a's BEYOND!

Artwork by Kat Hudson

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Most Perfect Story Ever Written

My Mother told me this story earlier this week. I've written it down verbatim, I think it's storytelling perfection. (For context, she was 19 when she had me, she was unmarried and living in social housing with my Catholic grand parents, in Liverpool).

"My Mother hadn't knitted for years until I told her I was pregnant with you. She said,

'Go over to number 27 and ask Margey McQueen for some patterns and some knitting needles.'

So I did. I went over to number 27 and I said,

'Margey, me mum said, can I have some patterns and some needles?'

She said, 'What do you want with them then girl?'

I said, 'I just found out that I'm pregnant Margey.'

Margey said, 'Friggin' 'ell! What did your Mother say like?'

I said, 'She said "'Go over to number 27 and ask Margey McQueen for some patterns and some knitting needles."'


Margey McQueen is a familiar spectre from my infancy. Though I don't remember her at all, she stalks through nostalgic remembrances like this one; council estate queen, kind-hearted, generous, tough as old boots. She was a cleaning lady and used to ride on the back of her husband's moped to work each day. Seems fitting for a McQueen to ride a motorbike, no?

I swear, on Spring days I can SEE her on that moped, whizzing by in her navy crimplene slacks, flat sandals, oversized cardigan with pockets stuffed full of fags and lose change, a pink round neck t-shirt over a bulging bra, hands full of sovereign rings, glinting like a magpie, decked out, necklaces upon necklaces spelling out MUM and MARGEY. Half Roman Holiday half Greaty market, partial to half a stout, a martyr to her back pains, handy with her fists when she needs to be, shoulder pads saturated with all the tears that had been sobbed on her shoulder over the years. I think about her saving up for Christmas, putting money in the toni, teary-eyed at her grand daughter's first holy communion, threatening to throw her husband out if he made a show of her one more time.

She couldn't have known that she'd be remembered decades down the line by someone who's first pieces of clothing came from knitting patterns she'd kept in plastic sleeves in the magazine rack at the side of the couch, for just such a situation to arise, could she? These every day acts of kindness, support without judgement, keep the world on its axis, and make me proud and grateful to have been raised by working class women. God bless you Margey McQueen! <3