Queer Economies

Presented by Midsumma Festival in association with Abbotsford Convent, Bus Projects and The Centre for Contemporary Photography, Curated by Abbra Kotlarczyk and Madé Spencer-Castle, Melbourne, Victoria, 24 December 2018 – 9 February 2019.

Queer Economies is a multi-site exhibition and public program series that builds on the 2014 Perimeter Editions publication Gifts from David McDiarmid. Through this catalogue of gifts that artist and activist David McDiarmid (1952-1995) gave to his friends and family across his lifetime the possibility of a queered economy is explored. McDiarmid’s own works, displayed at the Abbotsford Convent, do more than just frame the curatorial premise. While they act (up!) as a kind of declaration of resistance that is echoed in the other selected works, they also provide an end point. They are gestures of the heart more than the hand; personal, kitsch, decorative, intimate and at times touching objects such as collaged postcards, framed drawings and 1980s prints that sit lightly in the space. Their value seems to lie in those gestures, as gifts, and in their inseparability from the relationships they stand for. In this way they can be read as a retaliation against capital. They are cultural products not swayed by market trends; they carry an air of disregard about them, of defiance. They are untroubled and not beholden to anything, an ‘I love you’ and a ‘fuck you, we’ll do it our own way’ declaration, depending on where you stand. McDiarmid’s work carries an intimacy that’s so familiar it’s easy to glimpse the pain and suffering that lies behind them. The torments endured by McDiarmid and the artists that followed him paved the way for my own lived queer experience today, and in the presence of these works it is impossible to escape that realisation.

Where you stand is not just an issue for the viewer. One thing that is highlighted is the distance that has opened up between queer art from the 1980s and work that is being made today. The trauma that sits just below the surface in McDiarmid’s work might be seen as indicative of queer art of the period, as if the work was a salve for wounds that didn’t even have names. Today, not only do we have names for those violences, but perhaps a flicker of hope for a future built upon the healing of these wrongs. This exhibition is both a celebration of moments of solidarity, and a recognition that much work is still to be done—particularly for those in our community who continue to be disproportionately marginalised.

If the works at Abbotsford Convent are historical in their output, those at Bus Projects give us a different viewpoint, one that is more current and complex. The development from personal mementos to works of art designed for public consumption is finely tuned. Debris Facility Pty Ltd’s work tackles the central economic questions of the exhibition head on, with tact and a healthy dose of satire. In STOCKTAKE: ASSET INVENTORY MANAGEMENT (2019), the Facility quantifies their own capital by itemising every one of their current assets. The 1665 objects in their inventory, such as Container of small beads, Teal polyester singlet, Ketamine 50g bag are meticulously documented in a spreadsheet, priced and offered for sale or hire, as if administrators were called in to deal with an insolvency. Through this act of quantifying a human life, the Facility pushes back against capitalist notions of conformity. From the columns and rows of spreadsheets, a portrait of a radically different (queer, perhaps) way of life arises.

Archie Barry’s work I found this on the street three years ago (2019) examines the commodification of trans bodies though their interactive performance series, sculptural work, and video work The World is Trans, (2017) on view at the Centre for Contemporary Photography night projection screen. Here, the notion of economy is explored not solely as an in-kind monetary system of exchange, but also a realm in which power and space are regulated, contested and up for bargaining. In Frances Barrett’s video piece Touching, (2016) on display at Bus Projects, the artist physically stalks the art market by moving through Mike Parr’s work as it is being installed in the National Gallery of Australia with an elbow length pink knitted glove (previously worn by Parr himself), a prophylactic against heteronormativity perhaps, touching, touching, touching but never feeling. Together these works highlight the importance of queerness as a recognisable political agency in a world that is very slowly shifting away from hetero-colonial regimes of social organisation. Inscribed in this agency is a call for social disruption in the same way that queerness itself was, and still is, a call for the creation of new modes of living and sharing.

Queer Economies reaches out for something that is not fully formed or recognised in the body politic, but at the same time the works are, for the main part, based in the here and now of lived experience. What is evident is that heteronormative values and structures have been contested and redefined by successive generations of artists, and we can see in these works the rich connections and resilience that the LGBTQIA+ community has forged under the adversity of cultural and economic exclusion. They also point to some of the challenges that we face moving forwards. The works in Queer Economies demand an overhaul of pre-existing frameworks. The use of queerness to disrupt capitalist ideas is not new; what these artists bring to the idea of a queer economy is continuation, of finding new forms of social and economic arrangement that break down traditional modes of exclusion.

The full list of participating artists includes: Tony Albert, Frances Barrett, Archie Barry, Nathan Beard, Miss Cairo, Debris Facility Pty Ltd, Briony Galligan, Claire Lambe, David McDiarmid, Rafaella McDonald, Callum McGrath, Claudia Nicholson, Jimmy Nuttall, Spiros Panigirakis, Nikos Pantazopoulos, Parallel Park (Holly Bates and Tayla Jay Haggarty), Francis E. Parker, Sam Petersen, Charlie Sofo, Amy Spiers, Athena Thebus, Peter Waples-Crowe and Behn Woods.

Queer Economies is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

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Left: Archie Barry, I found this on the street three years ago, 2019. Found hat and custom made satin curtain, interactive performance series, duration approx. 20 minutes.

 

Right: Claire Lambe, The Whoring Hair: What is Personal is Political and Erotic, 2018. Cast bronze basin, plastic bucket.

Christo Crocker, courtesy of Bus Projects

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Left: Debris Facility Pty Ltd, STOCKTAKE: ASSET INVENTORY MANAGEMENT, 2018. Coloured A4 paper and reflective tape.

 

Right: Francis Barrett, Touching, 2016. (Front side) 15:35 mins, single channel HD video.

Christo Crocker, courtesy of Bus Projects

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David McDiarmid, 'BEYOND BLOOD (verso)', gifted to Sally Gray, October 1993. Plastic lenticular substrate, felt pen on board, metal frame. 13cm x 18cm.

Warwick Baker, reproduced with permission of Sally Gray, the David McDiarmid Estate and Perimeter Books

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David McDiarmid, Images from Gifts from David McDiarmid, Perimeter editions publication, 2014. Digital prints on DiBond. Dimensions variable. Photographed by Warwick Baker, reproduced with permission of the David McDiarmid Estate and Perimeter Editions.

Christo Crocker (2018 Installation), courtesy of St Heliers Street Gallery

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David McDiarmid, Images from Gifts from David McDiarmid, Perimeter editions publication, 2014. Digital prints on DiBond. Dimensions variable. Photographed by Warwick Baker, reproduced with permission of the David McDiarmid Estate and Perimeter Editions.

Christo Crocker (2018 Installation), courtesy of St Heliers Street Gallery

Jesse Boyd-Reid is a visual artist from Mullumbimby, New South Wales. He is currently completing an Honours degree at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne. In 2018 Jesse was awarded the Lionel Gell scholarship for Artistic Excellence and was accepted into the Arctic Trust’s residency program in Svalbard, Norway in 2019.

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