queer transgressions

Brisbane Powerhouse: Centre for Live Arts, Brisbane

Comprised of an exhibition, a forum, a website ('www.pridebrisbane.org.au/qt'), and a giant opening party, Queer Transgressions (QT) offered a glimpse at the state of queer Brisbane arts and thought. Curated by Edwina Bartleme, and staged as a group show that had each artist defining his or her own 'transgressive site', the thirteen physical works alongside the website (designed by Ken Lyons), evoked a huge conceptual lexicon. QT fell under the larger rubric of the Brisbane Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride festival, and within this, was positioned as 'queer'. This implies an agitation around points of identity, and an acknowledgement that sexuality necessitates transgression, through defying what 'it' attempts to describe: as Foucault articulated, sexuality is a set of limits which is continually 'made and unmade by that excess which transgresses it'.1

Taking into account the events and the website alongside the physical exhibition, the scope of QT almost seemed without boundary. In the autumn/winter 2000 edition of Eyeline, Andrew McNamara drew attention to the challenge of curating huge shows 'against the drift of diversity into distraction and a lack of relatedness, one must strive to build possibilities of relatedness and coextensiveness'. 2 Although he was referring to exhibitions on the scale of the Asian-Pacific Triennial, conundrums like this are often raised where the organising principle is queer, and it is desirable to resist a homogenising perspective, while not losing total perspective.

Numbers through the exhibition on opening night were estimated at 4000 by Powerhouse staff, and whilst a proportion of those were there ostensibly for other events, most took the time to really examine what was on show. A couple of weeks later, Virgin Blue airline had a company launch at the Powerhouse, and there were apparently at least a few white-collared red-necks there, who forcibly damaged the art including prying well-attached framed prints from the walls. Nothing rips a queer perspective (or organising principle}, back to politics and identity, away from the 'drift of diversity into distraction and a lack of relatedness' than a bit of old-school, uncomfortable, base homophobia.

Which brings me back to what was actually the exhibition, a state of the now 'queer' show, which pitted the nature of exhibiting against the conceptual and physical boundaries of the pieces themselves. Discourses of sexuality, gender, race, and presentation were all under examination. Installations predominated, alongside photos, sculptures, multi-media installations, and CD ROMS (with Apple Macs set up for display), with almost all the works being mixed media. Bartleme, and the artists involved capitalized on the opportunity of exhibiting at the Powerhouse space by installing works around structures and shapes such as disused engines, deep-set crevices, and stairwell voids, with Ray Cook's pieces perhaps taking best advantage of the surrounds.

Cook's computer enhanced photographs of moments in lushly excessive scenes, were printed on acetate, and mounted on perspex, enabling the stone wall to lend its skin-like grain to the tones of the photos. The 'other worldliness' of these images was further enhanced as they were projected two centimetres back onto the walls, creating an almost animated depth of perspective. Written up in the

catalogue as Cook's 'own fantasies about ancient Roman history and being Alexander's principle piece of tail ', works such as Hephestian and the King of Persia, 2000 and Survivors of the Niker Riots, 2000, embody both humour, with their queer historical revisionism , and a macabre eerie beauty, through their use of skulls, tattoos, VB tallies, and saturated, rich colours.

Michaela Costigan and Victoria Hunt's work was literally installed around and through an engine. In a room of its own, their piece oSTEO-TATIOUS Exhibit A, 2000 , depicts a stalled moment in a private 'laboratory' that sits somewhere between engine room and dressing room . Infested with medical iconography and explanations, xrays, and personal effects such as silver eyelashes and burning candles-The physical means by which we've made a baby' (Costigan}-the work creates a psychological minefield of pathologised bodies and trans-genders.

Taken from her Girl Gang series, C. Moore Hardy's photographs (black and white silver gelatin prints with hand coloured tints) present lesbian desires, aesthetics and role playing . Prints such as The Couples (butch/femmes), 1988 invert the traditional nuclear family staged portrait, by instead recording and bolstering the reality of the existence of butch/femme couples. A double take quickly confirms what unsettles the first glance at the three couples. Sexy and humorous, bringing out individual character in her models, these prints both operate on the level of a functioning traditional portrait, as well as destabilizing the usual function of such portraits.

Other artworks from Rea, Freya Pinney, and Jose da Silva (to mention a few) were also on display in the Powerhouse's exhibition spaces on the Riverside and Turbine levels, where the 'flow through and around' effect reinforced a sense of indeterminacy. The other sites of the website and forum contained still more takes on the theme of representing around, and as, transgressively queer. Produced by Wayne Stamp, Lloyd Sharp and Panos Couros, Basilisk, a CD ROM in the exhibition, melds cocks and philosophy, procreation and transference, whereby a hybridised reptile/bird basilisk 'becomes' a representation of queered, gay masculinity. Shane Rowlands' essay 'Queer Dimensions of the Interpersonal', which ruminates over Stacey Callaghan's solo theatre piece When I was a Boy (also staged during Pride 2000, and dealing directly with themes of personal transgression and transference), is just one example of a thoroughly interesting and developed tangent which can be found on the website.

Judging from this show it would seem that local artistic product directly concerned with agitating around queer identity, is heading towards self-proclamation, articulating difference through the development of ideas, rather than binary oppositions between 'straight' and 'gay', or 'gay' and 'queer'. There is no party line, and the principles that make the show cohesive are the same ones that undermine a community spirit and which are suggested by the title of Queer Transgressions- multiplicity, possibility, and subjective desires.

The lack of boundaries and shape to QT is perhaps the point; in a technological age discourses do not come to an end too easily, and in relation to transgression and queer practices of identifying, closure is also a rare occurrence. Tenuous identity is a rich ground for arts workers, and QT is an icebreaker of an exhibition for Brisbane arts and queer communities, in its scope, its seriousness, and its accessibility through the Powerhouse and the Internet.

notes: 

1. Foucault, Michel. 'A Preface to Transgression', Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald Bouchard. T rans. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Comell UP, lthaca, 1977, p. 32.

2. McNamara, Andrew. 'To The Point of Distraction! Entertaining Diversity', Eyeline 42, Eyeline Publishing, 2000, pp. 30-33.