(Exhibition View, Group Show „Plasticitée“ at „Espace d’Art V5“ Ruelle Vaucher 5, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 2.-5.7.2020)
I was hesitating to write about this.
I was hesitating, not because I was not sure what I wanted to say.
I was hesitating because I was afraid that I already knew what reactions expected me.
I felt too weak to stand this discussion alone and I was too hurt to show it in front of everyone.
For me it is obvious. For me it is so obvious that I sometimes forget that for most people it is not. On the other hand, it is obvious for everyone, but in their own way. The process of making these pictures, was a journey through countless interviews, discussions and personal comments about gender and gender identity. Of course, I just shot the pictures on the film, developed, edited and printed them out as a large scale photography. It could be seen as a simply technical photographical work. But it is not. And this showed already at the beginning of the production.
The idea started out of a conversation in a class. We had to make a little exhibition until the end of the week, where the class took place. We were reading queer literature and watching movies about Stonewall and so on. The class split up in two smaller groups and each group did a close reading of a book or publication. The group in which I was not in, read the book „UK GAY BAR DIRECTORY“ from Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan. The book is a side product of the video work Rosie and Hannah did together. It contains pictures from the video and some essays about it. What caught the attention of the group were some graffitis from the book. One of them said „put i in my ass“. A pretty plain graffiti, just slobbishly sprayed with black spray paint on a white wall – as far as my memory goes.
Here’s a recreation of the original graffiti Rosie and Hannah did.
Rosie Hastings Hannah Quinlan Pink Rooms
This particular graffiti lead to an interesting discussion. Or maybe not so interesting. But interesting enough, that it would become a starting point for this project.
So, as I remember, at the beginning everyone pretty much liked the idea of recreating the graffiti from the book on one of the walls. As the exhibition day came closer and we had to further develop our ideas, the group suddenly changed minds. The graffiti is „too male oriented“. The argument was, that there weren’t just gay guys in the class, so we should make something less focused on the „gay point of view“. I understood this, because I knew a little bit more about the book, the group was reading. It focuses on the portrayal of gay bars in the UK and also how dominated it is by mostly white gay guys and that there were just a few places where women were welcome. The writers of the book were both either identifying or perceived as female and were often restricted the entry of those bars and clubs. I didn’t really contribute to the discussion about this but I found it odd to hear, someone would think an ass is something that belongs strictly to a gay guys spectrum of desire. I sort of understood the decision to not recreate the graffiti in the end. But what I didn’t understand was, how is an ass the most gay thing but not the most queer thing on earth?
The phrase „put i in my ass“ could’ve been written by a gay guy. Probably also was, because it’s in a book that focuses on the portrayal of gay bars. But how can someone that didn’t see the person spraying the graffiti be sure that it was made by a gay guy? This is where assumptions start to be made and where I began to think about this a bit deeper. There is a possibility that it was made by someone that doesn’t identify as gay or/and as a cis-male. What bothers me is, that putting something in an ass is primarily seen as gay. If two guys practice sex with penetration, then yes, most probably they are doing it by putting one dick into the other one’s ass. But, this is only one of the countless options for how to have sex.
Anal penetration is one of the oldest and most popular sexual practices in the world. So, putting something in someone’s ass is just not „just gay“ in my perception. I would go even further and say the ass is the most universal body part, that is also often connected to sexual desire. I don’t believe it is wrong to assume that a big part of the population is sexually attracted by a pretty bum. So, everyone has one and most of us like it. So as someone that doesn’t identify as a gay cis-male, I am refusing to leave the bum to the gay guys. The bum is (for) everyone’s. That’s one part of the story.
The other part of the story comes through as I further work on the bum photographs. I had the opportunity to edit and print the pictures as large scale photographs on fine art paper in a class. My intention was to work on the editing of the pictures and really just focus on the technical side of the project. Also I wanted to avoid discussion in that particular group, because I didn’t feel very well talking about the non technical part of it. Discussion at this point of the process also wasn’t necessary, because I wanted to finally get somewhere with the production. Although I explicitly stated that I didn’t want to talk about anything else than the technical aspects of the work, there were some harsh assumptions made about the content.
Assuming is human, we are assuming on a daily base. We go to work and assume the public transportation will arrive at the same time like yesterday. As we are looking at our surroundings we are assuming. We assume basically everything we are not 100% sure about. So if I see something I look for signs that assure me of my assumption of that particular thing. With most of the things in life this is nothing that one should be concerned about. Assuming (about) something is just something we do. But, assumptions can hurt. Especially if the assumption is made about a particular person, and a specific trait of that person. Assumptions can hurt especially if they are made solely from viewing a picture of someones’ bum. If someone dares to assume someones’ gender and/or gender identity based on a photograph of their bum, it can hurt. It hurts me. It hurts me to witness someone being so sure about their assumption about someones’ gender based on what they just observed on a photograph.
Assumptions are not illegal and also shouldn’t be. Assuming helps us sort things in our minds. But simple assumptions without any further thoughts can hurt, especially if they are stated in public. What I am trying to do is: assume, but never being too sure about what I am assuming about and thinking whether my assumption is necessary, what do I get from it and could I be possibly hurting someone by making my assumption public. Sometimes assuming is not necessary. There are things that are okay to not know.
To not know whether the person to which the bum in the photograph belongs, is identifying as male, female or outside of the binary is just not necessary. Assuming someones gender based on a photograph and speaking about it publicly is also not necessary. Because gender identity is not the same as the at birth assigned gender. But both – gender and gender identity – of someone else is not our business. Because bodies that are perceived a way can be identifying just another.
Trans people are either trans women or trans men, genderqueer or identifying as non-binary. A trans woman is a woman and a trans man is a man and a lot of the times they like to be referred to as such. Mostly, there is no necessity to point out separately that the person is trans, unless the person is in need of specific health care. In the german language a * is often used as an attempt to make the term women or men (Frauen*/Männer*) more inclusive. Which fails for me because of various reasons. The * always comes in addition after the word, so it’s not inclusionary of people that don’t identify within the binary after all and marking trans people with a * is not necessary. I believe language is fluid and can be changed and one should be open to it. But I also believe, that it is important to stay critical to these attempts as they often fail to achieve what they are aiming for.
Attempts to make language more inclusive have been made since there is an awareness of a critical thinking about gender and gender identities. That more and more terms on describing gender identity are made these days is often a target for bullying. But I understand those new terms on gender identities to be a necessary tool to de-hierarchize the terms woman and man. Not to take away any value from those terms, but to show that gender identity is not everything what defines a human being. Being defined simply by the gender that we are assigned at birth is something that already caused a lot of trouble. Defining oneself as non-binary causes confusion especially in the german language, it challenges people to think another way. But there are no other defined terms other than woman and man to describe ones gender identity in the german language. So what do we do? Make them up? That would maybe be a first step. But if we really want to break the binary and belay that there really is more than being a woman or a man, we have to stop building from those terms. At the beginning there is the non binary human being, not the woman or the man. At one point all these terms will seem obsolete. At one point gender and gender identity will be a private thing. Maybe.
The series BUT will be exhibited either as a single inkjet print on fine art paper and accompanied with a reading of this text or as the whole series of 5 large scale inkjet prints. The measurements are 1.50 m x 1.80 m frameless.