‘Not sure if you’re a boy or a girl’: The androgynous self-portraits of Claude Cahun
03.31.2014
06:59 am

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:
photography
Claude Cahun


Self-portrait, 1927. Her shirt says, “I am in training, don’t kiss me.”
 
While David Bowie will always be my very first cultural touchstone of avant-garde androgyny, it’s Claude Cahun that’s my absolute favorite. And I’m sure Bowie would approve. He once said of Cahun, “You could call her transgressive or you could call her a cross dressing Man Ray with surrealist tendencies. I find this work really quite mad, in the nicest way.” You don’t really get much of a better recommendation than that, and looking as alien and draggy as anything Mr. Rebel Rebel ever dreamed of, her many photographic incarnations are just mesmerizing.

Born in 1894 as Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France, she was from a family of artistic Jewish intellectuals. Cahun chose her pseudonym for its unisex ambiguity—the surname was her paternal grandmother’s who raised her, as Cahun’s mother struggled with mental illness. Her life-long artistic collaborator, romantic partner, and step-sister, Suzanne Malherbe, went by Marcel Moore, and together they fostered a true avant-garde community, hosting salons in their Paris home. André Breton, author of Surrealist Manifesto, was a regular attendant. Though photography is her most famous medium, she was also a painter, collage artist, sculptor, novelist, playwright and essayist—many of her published essays pertained to the avant-garde artistic community.

Cahun and Moore eventually moved to Jersey, in the Channel Islands, which was occupied by Germany during World War Two. Cahun and Moore were active in the resistance, feverishly creating protest materials of collage and poetry fliers denouncing the Nazis. The two actually attended German military events to discreetly hide their propaganda fliers on cars, in windows, in the seats of the crowd, and even in the pockets of Nazi soldiers. They were eventually arrested and sentenced to death. They spent some time in prison before the liberation, and though their sentencing was never carried out, Cahun’s death in 1954 is largely believed to have been the premature direct result of health problems she developed in prison. She is buried next to Moore in a church in Jersey.
 

Le Mystère d’Adam (The Mystery of Adam) 1929
 

Self-portrait, 1939
 

Self-portrait, 1929
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
Inauguration of the ‘Pleasure Boat’: Divine rocks London’s 1985 Gay Pride event from the Thames
03.27.2014
08:55 am

Topics:
Music
Politics
Queer

Tags:
Divine

Divine
 
The summer of 1985 was an awfully interesting moment in the struggle to achieve gay rights. AIDS was in full swing but “the story” had not “broken” in the general media—Rock Hudson’s death of that terrible disease, which would do so much to “mainstream” AIDS, hadn’t happened yet. The gay community was obviously acutely aware that an epidemic was occurring, but clueless Ronald Reagan refused to countenance it. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, the gay community was intensely politicized, in a way that we have to some extent forgotten. A gay pride event was no ordinary thing, it was politicized by definition. (The Oscar-nominated 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague does an excellent job of documenting this period.)

Gay Pride Day in London that year was June 29, and as the blog Gay in the 80s well demonstrates, after lackluster turnout in the previous two years, there were many passionate protest events.

At this point in his career, Divine was spending a good deal of time in London and Europe generally, as Richard lovingly outlined in this post a couple of months ago; the same post includes several videos from Divine’s Hi-NRG/disco phase. He appeared on Top of the Pops, and some of his tracks made the charts. The beloved DJ John Peel lavished praise on him on the radio.

For the Gay Pride event in London, someone had the bright idea of showcasing Baltimore’s favorite drag queen on a boat on the Thames River. It’s difficult to reconstruct from the vantage point of today, but there just weren’t that many celebrities who were out in 1985. Being an out gay actor was tantamount to ensuring oneself marginalization, if not penury.

But as the star of several of John Waters’ scummy cinematic masterpieces, Divine was used to marginalization. His qualified successes on the pop scene surely felt like a measure of acceptance. It may also have been clear to him that his appeal cut across the regular lines of sexuality. Humor does that; if you’re funny and lighthearted (no matter how much pain you may be masking), people are going to respond to that.

Having insisted that his appearance not be “political,” Divine sang two songs as the “pleasure boat” floated past the Jubilee Gardens. But that appearance was as political as anything he ever did. The video below is enjoyable just to hear a portly 39-year-old former hair stylist from Baltimore belt out, with a voice as raspy as can be, his cover of the Four Seasons’ “Walk Like a Man” and then “Native Love (Step by Step),” the latter of which includes the defiant lyrics: “Hey GQ man, here I stand / For everyone to see / And if I’m not your type, well that’s alright / ‘Cuz that don’t matter to me.”

And there’s nothing quite so “Baltimore” as Divine’s between-songs patter: “Well fuck you all very much! … Let’s hear it for London, yeah! … Okay, It’s real good to be here, I fucking love you, yeah!” Pithy and to the point.

Divine’s manager Bernard Jay, in his book Not Simply Divine, reveals some of the background of the event:
 

Although he was always loyal to and appreciative of his gay audience, he was also very well aware that it wasn’t every one of them who approved. “I am trying to say to people, ‘Learn to laugh at yourself,’” he said. “Gay or straight, it helps if you can look at yourself for what you are and either accept it or do something about it.” For those gays who believed he demolished their public relations efforts, he added, “I cannot believe anyone can be so prissy and humorless. I am sure they are closet numbers who go home from the office, slip off their three-piece suits, and cook dinner wearing a silk slip and high heels.”

When he finally decided to stop avoiding the issue and answer the probing journalists directly, his astute comment was more amusing than revealing. “Don’t tell me about minority groups,” he told them. “I am a gay actor trying to make his living wearing a dress. Now that really is a minority group.”

Our good friends at Heaven in London [one of the largest gay discos in Europe] had approached Divi about being this year’s guest performer on Gay Pride Day. Divi and I agreed that he owed it to the club that started it all for him in Europe. And this particular community who had always supported him so loyally and enthusiastically. However, we were still insistent that his participation—without fee, of course—be as an entertainer and not interpreted as a political statement. He would make no speeches from the stage.

Heaven’s man in charge came up with the novel idea of Divi performing two songs, standing on the roof of a hired pleasure boat as it sailed slowly along the Thames and passed the Jubilee Gardens, where the celebrations would be taking place.

It was a huge success. The sight of Divine, in a body-hugging silver-blue gown, precariously balanced in heels on the sloping roof of the small craft, gently rocking on the tide of the Thames, while the makeshift speakers screamed “You Think You’re a Man,” was definitely one for sore eyes. As he performed, gyrating to the beat in his usual outrageous manner, another pleasure boat—this one full of innocent tourists—passed by. I noticed their tour guide busy trying to explain this extraordinary additional London attraction of a huge bum, swaying and rocking on top of a boat, to music that they couldn’t hear in their position on the Thames.

 
As Gay in the 80s noted, “All-in-all, it was an extraordinary – and empowering – day. It was the day that our community came together to ensure the future of Lesbian and Gay Pride. The rest, as they say, is history.”
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Back to her roots: See RuPaul’s New Wave band, Wee Wee Pole, 1983

RuPaul
RuPaul and Robert Warren, circa 1983, via Robert Warren
 
As RuPaul’s Drag Race enters its sixth season, hundreds of thousands of viewers are girding their loins, praying their favorite girl will be declared “America’s next drag superstar.” Yes, I am glad to live in a time when drag competitions are a televised sport, and prouder still that RuPaul has earned the mantle of America’s Sweetheart—even we NYC Lady Bunny loyalists can’t resist Ru’s gracious charisma, unflappable good humor, and glamorous demeanor. But RuPaul wasn’t always the ultimate glamazon!

Even before he had given himself much of a makeover, RuPaul was quite the event in the queer New Wave/Punk scene of Atlanta. Below you can see Wee Wee Pole featuring RuPaul and The U-Hauls making their Atlanta debut in 1983. The interviewer, James Bond, is from The American Music Show, a LOOONG running, legendary super-weird program that’s just too brilliant for anything other than cable access (ask anyone halfway cool from Atlanta about it, they will know about The American Music Show, trust me). But then, RuPaul has always held in the weird and novel in very high esteem:

While channel surfing one night, I came across a local “public access” TV show called “The American Music Show.” Obviously videotaped in someone’s living room once a week, it had a talk show/sketch comedy type format that had no format at all. Hosted by Dick Richards and James Bond and featuring a weird cast of social misfits. It was very politically irreverent, funny, sick, wrong and I loved it. In my gut I knew, I had found my tribe. I immediately wrote a letter to the show explaining how much I loved what they did and that I would love to be a part of it. Two weeks later, I got a call from Paul Burke, saying they got my letter and would love for me to be on the show after the holidays.

By the time of the Atlanta show, Ru had already played New York CIty, but was still anxious to perform for the home crowd. The band is high-energy, dancey, and a little bit nasty (in the good way). Ru himself is (obviously) warm, bubbly, and genuinely excited—a legend in the making.
 

 
Below, RuPaul and The U-Hauls introduced onstage by “perpetual write-in candidate for the Lt. Governor of Georgia,” Col. Lonnie Fain:
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
Controversial male political figures reimagined as fabulous drag queens
02.28.2014
09:45 am

Topics:
Fashion
Politics
Queer

Tags:
politicians
drag queens

Baricka O'Bisha
Baricka O’Bisha
 
“Behind every ‘great’ man, there’s a queen.” That’s the insight that “Saint Hoax” hit upon after seeing a drag show for the first time and contemplating the similarly “constructed” nature of drag queens and incredibly powerful political figures:
 

The recipe for an iconic queen:

1. Flamboyant name
2. Fierce persona
3. Defining outfits
4. Personalized hairdo
5. A trademark feature
6. One hell of a PR team

I then realized that it takes that same exact effort to make a leader.

 

The text continues: “Like drag queens, political/religious leaders are expected to entertain, perform and occasionally lip-sync a public speech. ... But unlike drag queens, the fame hungry leaders don’t know when to take their costumes off.” 

At the Saint Hoax website you can see the full transformations.
 
Vladdy Pushin'
Vladdy Pushin’
 
Madame O' Sane
Madame O’ Sane
 
Georgia Buchette
Georgia Buchette
 
Ossie B'
Ossie B’
 
Hitleria Hysteria
Hitleria Hysteria
 
Kimmy Jungle
Kimmy Jungle
 
Queen Abby
Queen Abby
 
via Lost at E Minor

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Fabulous covers from the ‘Golden Age’ of Lesbian pulp fiction 1935-65
02.26.2014
09:02 am

Topics:
Books
Queer

Tags:
Pulp Fiction
lesbian

nomalacvr.jpg
 
These fabulous pulp covers come from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library‘s collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer materials representing “the fields of history, literature, cultural studies, popular culture, the arts, and design.”

This selection come from the “Golden Age” of lesbian pulp fiction between 1950 and 1965, when several hundred lesbian pulp novels were published and sold in their millions. The covers often mixed lurid and sensationalist images with suggestive tag-lines. Authors were said to have “frequently complained that the illustrations rarely matched plots.”

You can read more about the “Golden Age” of lesbian pulp fiction here.
 
iawocover.jpg
 
anthcvr.jpg
 
H/T Retronaut, via Beinecke Library
 
More lesbian pulp covers, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Derek Jarman plays Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1988 student film ‘Ostia’


 
Twenty years ago yesterday, Derek Jarman succumbed to AIDS. Around the time that he was first diagnosed of the illness, in 1986, Jarman starred in a student film by Julian Cole about the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Pasolini, was one of the few homosexual cinema icons Jarman could look to for inspiration, his grotesque murder in Rome in 1975 was a blow for film lovers all over the world.

In 1985 Jarman published a movie treatment, never realized, with the title P.P.P. in the Garden of Earthly Delights that spanned Pasolini’s life from the shooting of the final scene of Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom through to his death. (Reminiscent of Jarman’s Caravaggio, the treatment apparently drew in the works of Hieronymus Bosch too.) The extent to which that treatment influenced the development of Ostia, Julian Cole’s 25-minute homage to Pasolini (named after the site of his death), is not entirely clear, but the fact is that Jarman agreed to appear in the movie as Pasolini. (According to John Houghton, Cole found Jarman’s acting to be at times so atrocious that it was a considerable challenge to edit around it. Oh, well.)
 
Ostia
 
In the final volume of the director’s journals, Kicking the Pricks, Jarman relates the following reminiscence:
 

Last year Julian Cole asked me to play Pasolini in his graduate film Ostia. Getting murdered and buried in freezing mud at 4 am as an uncertain sun came up was gruelling, but there was compensation in a trip to Camber Sands where we filmed a desert sequence in the dunes. I took my Super 8 with me and one shot from that day, my shadow racing across the sand, ended up in The Last Of England.

 
London and the coastal stretch of Camber Sands were never going to pass comfortably for Rome, but to my eye Cole did a pretty good job pulling off the switcheroo. (The spiffy Alfa Romeo helps.) Ostia is purest experimental moviemaking of the mid-1980s, which means it ain’t the easiest thing to follow, but the final chunk depicting Pasolini’s death can’t help but be profoundly affecting.

Jim Ellis comments in Derek Jarman’s Angelic Conversations:
 

As Jarman’s words [meaning the P.P.P. treatment] indicate, there are profound sympathies between the directors that go beyond the biographical similarities, and indeed, it’s difficult to name a film by Jarman that does not contain some echo of Pasolini, from Sebastiane, where Jarman comes closest to emulating Pasolini, to Blue, which calls to mind the all-blue painting made by the son in Teorema, after a homosexual affair has stripped away his bourgeois pretensions.

 
If you’ve seen any of Jarman’s movies, you won’t be surprised to learn that Ostia is also strictly NSFW.
 

 
via {feuillton}

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Young, Gifted, Poor & Gay: Escaping from a shantytown closet
02.03.2014
05:42 pm

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:
Ioshua
Juan Delgado

ioshuacumbia.jpg
 
Even when he was starving, Ioshua was driven by his need to make art. Drawing comics and writing poetry about his life as a young gay man living in the slums of Argentina.

“...I still don’t know how I managed to find the will to write despite my circumstances. How could I write? How crazy was I? Undernourished and dying of hunger. Alone and living in a shack made from sheet metal and plastic, and I still wanted to write..?”

But Ioshua continued to produce stories about his life. He was inspired by the music of Cumbia Villera that pulsed through the shantytowns in the 1990s and early noughties.

“I discovered cumbia at home. My house was very shoddy, so the walls were very thin. So all of the cumbia music would seep through the corner boys, the street style, and I saw an aesthetic in all this.”

Ioshua went to Buenos Aires to the cafes and art galleries. He hoped to meet people who liked art and culture. He hoped they would talk to him, share their thoughts, their experiences, see he was just like them. Instead they ignored him.

One day, Ioshua took his sketchbooks up to a gallery. They curators liked what they saw, and displayed his drawings of young gay street boys in the window. The pictures sold, and soon Ioshua was having his art and poetry published.

“I don’t believe in originality, I think it’s a vain pursuit. Posing.

“If you go down the path of trying to be original, you’re trying to change the world.

“It’s been done before and better.”

Film-maker and photographer Juan Delgado’s short film Ioshua: Escaping from a Shantytown Closet tells the story of the young queer multi-media artist, poet and performer‘s break from poverty and desperation to success.
 

 
Ioshua’s comic art:

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
‘In England sex is not popular’: Wit and wisdom from Quentin Crisp
01.21.2014
09:35 am

Topics:
Amusing
Heroes
Queer

Tags:
Quentin Crisp

psircnitneuqnaked.jpg
 
Ah, Quentin Crisp, what a wonderful man. Witty, intelligent, and very brave. He was out as gay in 1930s England, when such an admission was punishable by imprisonment.

Mr. Crisp described himself as “effeminate by nature,” dyed his hair, wore make-up, painted his nails, and sashayed through London’s busy streets in his open-toed sandals. This is how he described himself in the opening of The Naked Civil Servant:

“I wore make-up at a time when even on women eye shadow was sinful. From that moment on, my friends were anyone who could put up with the disgrace; my occupation, any job from which I was not given the sack; my playground, any cafe or restaurant from which I was not barred, or any street corner from which the police did not move me.”

Mr. Crisp never had a problem with who he was. No, it was only other foolish people who had a problem. Quentin presented himself as how he wanted to be seen, or as he said in this interview on CBC in 1977:

”I laid it out so everyone would know what they were getting.

“[The public] were extremely hostile. And I think it’s because they saw my difference from the rest of the world was sexual. And in England, sex is not popular. Not of any kind. No display of sex, no talk about sex was popular until the permissive society began.

When asked why he had not thought of moving to a more expressive and liberal city like Paris, Mr. Crisp replied:

“There’s no good doing it in Paris. If it causes no stir, then it covers no ground.

“I wanted to survive the stir. The idea was not to create it but to outlive it. To show that people like me had to go on living. That they had to take their laundry to the laundry, they had to eat their meals in restaurants, they had to had to go to work, they had to come back.

“This is what people had to learn.”

All these decades later, it would appear there are many people who could still learn a thing or two from Quentin Crisp.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Talking sex with Andy and Bill: William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol discuss ‘the first time’
01.21.2014
05:53 am

Topics:
Art
Literature
Queer
Sex

Tags:
Andy Warhol
William S. Burroughs


 
Two cultural icons of the twentieth century, William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol, enjoying dinner and amiably discussing the first time they had sex with another man—whatever could be more salubrious? Horses are part of the conversation, too. Read on in the excerpt from Victor Bockris’ classic book, With William Burroughs, A Report from the Bunker
 

Burroughs: Cocteau had this party trick that he would pull. He would lie down, take off his clothes, and come spontaneously. Could do that even in his fifties. He’d lie down there and his cock would start throbbing and he’d go off. It was some film trick that he had.

Bockris: How’d he pull that off? Have you ever been able to come through total mental—

Burroughs: Oh, I have indeed. I’ve done it many times. It’s just a matter of getting the sexual image so vivid that you come.

Warhol: How old were you when you first had sex?

Burroughs: Sixteen. Just boarding school at Los Alamos Ranch School where they later made the atom bomb.

Warhol: With who?

Burroughs: With this boy in the next bunk.

Warhol: What did he do?

Burroughs: Mutual masturbation. But during the war this school, which was up on the mesa there thirty-seven miles north of Santa Fe, was taken over by the army. That’s where they made the atom bomb. Oppenheimer [the scientist who invented the bomb] had gone out there for his health and he was staying at a dude ranch near this place and said, “Well, this is the ideal place.” It seems so right and appropriate somehow that I should have gone to school there. Los Alamos Ranch School was one of those boarding schools where everyone rode a horse. Fucking horses, I hate ‘em. I had sinus trouble and I’d been going to New Mexico for my health during the summer vacations and then my family contacted the director, A. J. Connell, who was a Unitarian and believed very much in positive thinking, and I went there for two years. This took place on a sleeping porch, 1929.

Warhol: How great! Was the sex really like an explosion?

Burroughs: No no … I don’t remember it was so long ago.

Warhol: I think I was twenty-five when I first had sex, but the first time I knew about sex was under the stairs in Northside, Pittsburgh, and they made this funny kid suck this boy off. I never understood what it meant…

Burroughs: Made him do what?

Warhol: Suck this boy off, but I didn’t know what it meant, I was just sitting there watching when I was five years old. How did you get this kid to do it, or did he do it to you?

Burroughs: Oh I don’t know, sort of a lot of talking back and forth…

Here’s a remarkable clip of the pair, this time chatting about, er, chicken fried steak—in the very room in which Arthur Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey! Phew, so much history! The footage is from an episode of the BBC documentary program Arena about the Hotel Chelsea and there are a couple of odd narrative elements to it, but the clip mercifully ends with Nico singing a haunting rendition of “Chelsea Girls”—in the Chelsea Hotel itself, one wonders if it was in Room 506…..
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Nijinsky with a mohawk: The edgy collaborations of punk ballet dancer Michael Clark and The Fall


 
Although he and his dance troupe have performed choreography set to the music of Wire, Glenn Branca, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Igor Stravinsky and others, it is his work with The Fall that the work of Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark will always be the most closely associated with.

The classically-trained Clark has said that hearing the manic, rubbery, jagged-edged relentlessly repetitious music of Manchester’s post-punk bard Mark E. Smith was a sort of clarion call for him as a young man to start doing his own work—if punk bands could do their thing, then that same ethos and attitude (and shock value) could go into creating a new form of modern ballet. Clark’s vision of ballet happened to incorporate Leigh Bowery wielding a chainsaw, syringes strapped to his dancers and sets festooned with fried egg trees . Clark seemed touched by the gods. His angular, asymmetrical, yet bizarrely graceful form of movement caused a sensation in the dance world. He was Nijinksy with a mohawk.
 

Michael Clark as Caliban in Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books

The Fall and Clark’s company appeared together on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1984 in a provocative performance of “Lay of the Land” that saw Clark prancing around in a Bodymap leotard that exposed his ass cheeks to the nation as the group made a mighty roar behind him.
 

 
They collaborated more formally in 1988 when The Fall provided the live soundtrack for Clark’s ballet “I Am Curious, Orange” at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London (The Fall’s LP was called I Am Kurious Oranj). Some tantalizing looks at what that production was like come from Cerith Wyn Evans videos for “Wrong Place, Right Time” and “New Big Prinz,” which were apparently shot at a rehearsal.
 

 
Below, “New Big Prinz”

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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