I| Part one: Practice
I.1| Chapter one: Photographic work, past and present
I.2| Chapter two: Video work, past and present
II| Part two: Relation to a larger context: This will be in more general terms about gay representation, gay artists and the gay sensibility in general
II|2 Chapter 3: The photographic medium and Wolfgang Tillmans
II|3 Chapter 4: Gay cinema and gay representation in film (from the American Underground to New Queer Cinema to present, I will mostly focus on the artists that I feel inspired by; Kenneth Anger, Gregg Araki etc.)
II|4 Chapter 5: Henrik Olessen (and his Warburgian research in gay representation in art)
As a gay person I am interested in how my identity has shaped the way I look at the world. Therefore I am also interested in how same-sex-desire has manifested itself in visual culture and how other artists have dealt with this. Consequently I will look at a broader context of gay representation in film and art in the second part of this thesis. I will do this by generally speaking about LGBT representation in cinema and by examining the art of Wolfgang Tillmans and Henrik Olesen. Where the former…. The latter….
First I will reflect on my past work and lead the reader towards my current practice in the first part.
In the first year of Piet Zwart I have been looking at LGBTQI related topics. I mostly did so from a subjective perspective using photography, and by looking into queer cinema. In the presentation of the second term I made clear that I wanted to make a stronger statement with my work and be more political. Actually three lines of thought could be considered in my practice. Researching the photographic medium, but also the idea of 'seeing' in itself; developing a (gay) cinematic language of my own; and LGBTQI-related issues/identity. My graduation work will only include LGBT bodies. Employing the methodology of a working table I like to bring the several mentioned lines of thought together in an installation consisting of photographs and two flat tv screens (for now).
In the thesis I would like to further investigate on the above mentioned lines of thought and by doing so reflecting on my own practice. In the first part I will show my past work, how this has developed and lead the reader towards my present work. In the second part I will discuss my interest in photography, gay cinema, a selection of gay artists, and how their ideas/work overlap or differentiate with mine. The latter part will be mainly focussed on how homosexuals have been represented in the arts through a medium specific research in art photography and film. In the conclusion I will reflect and evaluate the process I made during the graduation year.
Part one, past and current work
My photographic work is about looking at the world, mostly from a gay person’s perspective. It can be specifically personal but also talk more generally about my surroundings. Desire plays an important role. have to rewrite this
Chapter 1: Photographic work, past and present:
Juxtapositions to trigger new ways of reading images
To understand my current methodology and work and the use of photographic imagery I have to look back at my previous graduation project. In 2012 I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Maastricht where I studied Visual Communication with photography as main focus.
For my graduation project I made an installation and photo book dummy with digital and analogue photo’s, incorporating self-portrait collages together with found footage from strangers’ family albums, microscopical images created in collaboration with a cancer research institute in Utrecht, pictures of the sun, the moon as well as abstracted images of taken in the surroundings of my own family’s home. =
Images from graduation project
The starting point for this project consisted out of the idea of de-baptization and photographing holy water under the microscope. I wanted to make a personal project about being raised religiously but being atheist and gay at the same time.
Following that I was studying authors like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. In their books, God is not Great and the God delusion, they deprive the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. Even though I agree on some of their views I decided to keep it personal. For this reason I went to my parents house to take photographs there. I started by taking pictures around my parents house in an abstracted form. This abstraction was necessary considering the fact that I did not want my work to become too sentimental. In order to still have an indicator of what these images actually represent, the following step comprised of looking for images in my collection of found family album photographs. I selected photographs where faces were obscured for any give reason. Simultaneously I created self-portraits visually inspired by photography from the 20s and 30s. These were digitally merged together with images taken from books concerning the universe, by doing so, obscuring my face to some extent. Again, to strengthen my argument, I created pictures of the sun and the moon, by juxtaposing these macro pictures with microscopic images, I literally zoomed in and out. In combining all these images together I tried to bring science, religion and my subjectivity together in a whole.
After Untitled 2012:
Before this I worked mostly in series but from this project onwards my photographic practice changed to mainly collecting different photographic images. From this point on, single images started to be less important to me than the overall combination of images. Through careful selection and combinations, I aim to create new analogies or connections between the different materials. When working with photographs, my methodology consists in arranging and rearranging my ‘collected’ images. Therefore my work should always be presented as a ‘table’ not as a ‘tableau’. The idea of the working table and the open possibility of changing the order of the images therefore also means that I do not work in fixed series or projects with my photographic images. This gives me a lot of freedom in what I photograph, which also means I have to be more selective in my curation.
Dissecting the table
Nevertheless what I have photographed has undergone slight changes throughout the following years. To give a better understanding how this has developed, I will dissect my tables below and divide my images in different categories.
Light and Sun Studies
The series Sun Studies (2012/2013) and Light Studies (2015/2016)
The first images of Sunstudies were actually created for my graduation exhibition, untitled (2012). In the time following I continued making these photographs. The images of Light studies were later created in my studio. My interest consisted in creating something that not necessarily would represent something but still would be a photographic image. Besides this experimental approach both series deal with the notion of registering something that we cannot see directly with our own eye, similar to microscopic images. In both series I used the camera as a tool to create images that are in a way still a direct fingerprint of our reality yet through certain technical choices, by for example using a pinhole camera and/or a long shutter time, become so abstracted that they only refer to abstraction and light itself.
Ting (2017), Steph (2016), Kalle (2017), Man with parrot (2015)
Even though I still sometimes make self-portraits my focus has shifted towards photographing people based on a certain desire to connect to them. What I never really considered, or necessarily intended, is that the people I photographed most of the time belonged to the LGBTQI community. First this manifested itself in making portraits of young men in the studio or on location, sometimes staged and partly undressed, sometimes spontaneously whenever I had a camera with me.
During the first year at the Piet Zwart Institute this developed consciously into photographing a bigger variety of people who belong to the same community. Even though my work is not intended as propaganda, it does entails a certain urgency to me for several reasons; first of all because I feel connected to this community, secondly to show a different way of living and expressing oneself in a still heteronormative, patriarchal, capitalist society. Thirdly because discrimination is still a big issue that I cannot comprehend.
Having this in mind I also went with a different mindset through my own archive. Pictures I never considered as work suddenly felt right to be included in one of my tables. Like the examples pictured below. The first two images are taken during a gay party where I used to photograph as a side job. The third picture is taken during an after party.
Safe space (2013), Party (2014), After party (2013)
Textures and surfaces
Scar (2017), Lavastones from Jeju (2016), Lines (2017), Blue hair (2015)
Another line throughout my photographic work are pictures of stones, skins, surfaces of shiny paper but also other subjects containing textures. These pictures are mostly taken from a close distance. Some are obviously constructed like such as the above pictures Lava Stones from Jeju and Lines, others are taken on a more spontaneous moment, like Scar and Blue Hair. needs to have more information
Altered images and the materiality of the photograph
Experimenting with the materiality of photography has always been part of my practice. I started with collages and subsequently developed with exploring a variety of different techniques or methods, as for instance Riso printing, ripping pictures apart, but also scanning while moving the image around.
There are three reasons for me to alter or intervene in my images. One is my interest in the photographic image itself, the second is creating desire through obscuring or distorting, the third is to give space to coincidences and give away some of my authorship over the image.
The photographic print here is important. In order to scan, rip, or make collages out of images one needs the actual start with a photographic object. Since images are nowadays mainly consumed online, one can sometimes forget about the tactility that images possess. This process is a reminder of the fact that the photograph can be and remains, in my opinion, an object in itself. For this reason I have made the personal decision to not print my works on materials such as dibond, since these hard shiny surfaces give photographs such a different feel and material quality.
Stitching it back together
First I print then I rearranging and select
How do these different types of images come together? I will answer this question with two examples. Recently I have had the opportunity to present my work in the context of two exhibitions. This resulted in two different site-specific installations.
The first show was the XXX-pride group exhibition at X-bank from the 30th of June 2017 till the 5th of September 2017 in Amsterdam. As the name suggests, the exhibition coincided with Amsterdam Pride. On view were a golden phallic needle suggesting penetration of skin (scar, 2017), body (back, 2018 and untitled, 2017) and surface (Lines ,2017). In addition images depicting body parts were displayed through images of a torso (Torso, 2016), an eye transplantation (Eye, 2015), and a liver (Liver of pancenzia, 2017). Lastly two abstract images were shown, namely Lightstudy #3 (2015) and Composition (2013).
sketch for the group exhibition at x-bank
In the context of the exhibition Intimacy op de Schans curated by Zippora Elders. I was commissioned to make an online exhibition page examining intimacy. The exhibition itself consisted in 4 solo shows of artists Aura Rosenberg, Hannah Perry, Cynthia Talmadge and Sam Contis. My contribution to the website resulted in a simple white online page which included a curated selection of my work and two hyperlinks (referring to the main website and my own portfolio page). While faces were hidden at the XXX-pride exhibition, this installations contained several portraits of LGBT people. They are accompanied by other images that try to strengthen a feeling of intimacy.
[Here comes the development of the graduation year]
Chapter two: Video, past and present work
Below you can find two video's of one of my first attempts exploring the cinematic language. Through the use of slowmotion, colorful lights, black and white, sounds of outerspace, and by not having any dialogues I try to conceive a mystical/uncanny atmosphere. You see a young man, partly undressed looking and laughing in front of the camera, while a glass of water is being poured in slowmotion and in reverse. The poring of the glass is partly based on a never finished film by Henri-George Clouzot, L’enfer. The story was about a man who is overly jealous. He imagines in terror that his wife Romy Schneider is a sort of nymphomaniac, cheating on him with men and women. The scene were she is poring the glass, is part of a hallucination the man experiences. Instead of a female leading role, there is a young man playing the part, the gender roles are swapped. Other influences came from Kenneth Anger’s films, the use of light, and the overlapping of images but also the homoerotic content.
The second video is a continuation and also has no narrative. In the short film you see a friend of mine, dressed up in his usual attire. While I lie on his lap, staring into the camera, he shaves of my hair. As I am performing in it myself, there is a more performative element to it. Unlike, Untitled 2017, this video not filmed in a professional studio. For this film I transformed my friend’s own apartment with the help of redhead lights and colorgels.
The Love That Whirls
The Love that Whirls uses as a starting point the fact that in the 1950’s Eastman Kodak censored 16mm film stock which contained nudity or sexual content by destroying the film (or by taking it home). Because of this one of Kenneth Angers films, The Love That Whirls (1949) got lost. The Love That Whirls was based on a passage found in the book The Golden Bough: A study in Magic and religion (1890), which is a comparative study of mythology and religion. In the chapter Killing the God in Mexico Frazer describes the customs in Aztec society of sacrificing the human representative of a god. The rituals have all been well described by the Spaniards who conquered Mexico in the sixteenth century. Anger in all likelihood got inspired by a ritual sacrifice which was conducted during the festival called Toxcatl. The annual festival revolved around the sacrifice of a young man who would embody the character (god) of Tezcatlipoca. For a whole year he would be worshipped and treated as that great deity itself. After the year was passed, he would be taken to the temple of the sun, the priests would carve open his chest, then take out his heart, and finally offer it to the sun. The person selected was carefully chosen on the ground of his personal beauty. "He had to be of unblemished body, slim as a reed and straight as a pillar, neither too tall nor too short. If through high living he grew too fat, he was obliged to reduce himself by drinking salt water."(Frazer, p. 517a).
The movie was shot in Mexico and in an interview Anger describes that “The film was to present a ritual of sacrifice. Many different cultures have had ritual sacrifices, but I was thinking specifically of Aztec rituals.” (MacDonald, p. 33). Taking into consideration that one of the first movies Anger saw was, Que Viva Mexico, another unfinished film, by Sergej Eisenstein and the fact that Anger re-cut the same raw footage later, one could assume that this film has influenced the way The Love That whirls was filmed.
I started by writing an e-mail to Kenneth Anger, asking if he could provide me with some more information: how he looks back at this film, where it was filmed in Mexico, and if he had a script or something similar available in his archive. I did not get an answer (yet).
Following, I decided to go to Mexico-City for two weeks. Anger mentioned that “The film involved Lacy climbing to the top of a mountain and sacrificing himself to the sun.” (MacDonald, p. 33). I wanted to take it a step closer to the original sacrifice and film on the Pyramids of Teotihucan. To film there you need a permit. During the first week the government officials emailed me that they would not give me a permit. Anticipating on a no, the second option entailed filming with an iPhone and a stabilizer. Another bump in the road was the contact I had in Mexico. He organizes a gay party called ‘pervert’ so I assumed he was well connected with LGBT people in Mexico-city. Unfortunately he was not very responsive to my messages, therefore I had to find another solution because my time was running out. Not quit desperate yet, I started looking on Grindr (a gay dating app) to find the right person. Most people were looking for sexual encounters but then Sigfrido appeared. Shaved head, full of tattoos and piercings, strong face, he was perfect.
Part two, relation to a larger context
Chapter 3: The photographic medium and Wolfgang Tillmans
[excerpt: more to come later!]
The manner in which I think about the photograph as a fragment and how I present my photographs as a table relates directly to the work of Wolfgang Tillmans. As Shimizu writes in the book ‘the Truth Study Center’:"his part=whole relationship is characteristic of Tillmans. A sheet of photographic paper can act as a white wall and page, the relationship between the image and the margin can correspond to the balance of installation and layout, and equivalent qualities within a single work are projected as a constellation of several photographs onto pages and walls. […] They are not to be considered as compositions of separate units but as temporal and spacial developments of a single photograph.” (Shimizu, 2005, book has no page numbering?)
Wolfgang Tillmans work is built on the concept of “sameness” opposed to the concept of “identity”. This egalitarian way of thinking probably has it's background in his Lutheran upbringing. This concept of sameness translates itself in thinking in analogies: one thing is like another. An analogy. doesn't mean the same as a metaphor but as Kaja Silverman describes, “I am talking about the authorless and untranscendable similarities that structure Being, or what I will be calling “the world,” and that give everything the same ontological weight.” (Silverman, page 14).
Chapter 4: Gay cinema and gay representation in film
In the text, Homosexuality in films: Trends of Portrayal in Hollywood and Asia, the authors aim “to offer a systematic presentation of the portrayal of homosexuality in Hollywood and across different countries in Asia –– Japan, China and Hong Kong, India and the Phillipines –– to observe the converging and diverging trends over the years.” (Gayosa, p. 38)
In his text From the Bedroom to the Bijou: A secret history of American Gay Sex Cinema, Jack Stevenson talks about the history of gay sex cinema and equates this to the history of gay liberation itself. He looks at the journey that moved gay erotic cinema from the private to the public space.
In the book New Queer Cinema, B. Ruby Rich her writings on New Queer Cinema are brought together in one bundle. She has been writing about New Queer Cinema since it’s beginning, and this book gives an insightful look in queer film history.
Chapter 5: Henrik Olesen
In this chapter I would like look at some of Henrik Olesen work and relate this to a broader context of the social constructivists idea of sexuality being cultural production.
Henrik Olesen (1967) is a Danish artist living in Berlin. His work consists out of text, appropriated and manipulated images, sculptures but also minimal interventions in spaces. I am especially interested in how he researches the history of same sex relationships in art but also lays out criminalization of homosexuality.
(A4 Flyers to Provide a Better Public Information About Gays and Lesbians in Primary Schools)
His work is not only confined to the gallery space. The work A4 Flyers to Provide a Better Public Information About Gays and Lesbians in Primary Schools for example was handed out in the Copenhagen subway. Denmark was one of the first countries to legislate same-sex relationships in 1989, this same-sex partnership act later served as a guiding line for other Western countries. Even though legally on the forefront of LGBT emancipation, Olesen here poses important questions in how the contemporary institution of the family and the disciplinary institutions as for example schools deal with ‘abnormal’ sexualities. "For Danes, suggesting latent homophobia is like showing a red rag to a bull." writes Frederikke Hansen in Olesen's artist book, What is Authority?. Olesen here hits a sore spot for many people in Denmark, proud of their liberal-mindedness, "...Olesen used the feeling of solicitousness and parental concern as leverage to get the Copenhagen commuters and their families to reflect on the close connections among sexuality, politics and discourse." she continues. Olesen’s work in general deals with this connection of sexuality, politics, history and discourse. Let’s look at some other examples.
Some Gay Lesbian Artists and/or Artists Relevant to Homo-social Culture Born Between c. 1300–1870 (2007) and the artist book Faggy Gestures.
In this work conceived during two years of research, Henrik Olessen uses Warburgian form and methods to produce a homocentric genealogy of Western Art. On 7 panels (and in the artist book Faggy Gestures) various reproductions of paintings, drawings and photographs, originally produced over several centuries, are organized in categories and re-contextualized through a queer perspective. To name a few of these categories; Some Faggy gestures, Mannerfreundschaft, Lesbian Visibility, Women’s Portraits by Female Artists, and The appearance of Sodomites in visual culture etc. The panels analyse these historical images on grounds of potential same sex relationships but also look at the criminalization and moral justifications against sodomy.
While same-sex desire has of course always existed and was often forbidden, the notion of homo- and/or heterosexuality is something quit recent. Before 1868 these words simply did not exist. This perhaps explains why Olesen particularly makes use of images from artists born in this time period (1300–1870).
Vicki L. Eaklor writes the following in Queer America, A People’s GLBT History of the United States: “To suggest that heterosexuality was invented places it in a context and denies it a privilege place as a “given”: as a product of human history rather than something “natural” it becomes historical.” (Eaklor, p. 8)
This idea of sexuality as a social construct was discussed at length in the 70's and 80's. Haperin for example questions whether there is such a thing as a history of sexuality as “sex has no history” (Haperin, p. 257), in the text Is there a History of Sexuality? He claims, informed by Foucault that, “Unlike sex, sexuality is a cultural production: it represents the appropriation of the human body and of its physiological capacities by an ideological discourse.” (Haperin p. 257). He concludes, that it does actually have a history but only a very short one.
Harperin later asks: “What, in particular, do we understand by our concept of “sexuality” As it is difficult to determine what it actually is and continues with “I think we understand “sexuality” to refer to a positive distinct, and constitutive feature of the human personality, to the characterological seat within the individual of sexual acts, desires, and pleasures – the determinate source from which all sexual expression proceeds. “Sexuality” in this sense is not a purely descriptive term, a neutral representation of some objective state of affairs or a simple recognition of some familiar facts about us; rather, it is a distinctive way of constructing, organizing and interpreting those “facts,” and it performs quite a lot of conceptual work.” (Harperin, p. 259)
Chua, L.; Araki, G., (Fall, 1992), Profiles & positions: Gregg Araki (interview), BOMB, No. 41, pp. 26-28
Hart, K-P. R., (Spring 2003), Auteur/Bricoleur/Provocateur: Gregg Araki and Postpunk Style in The Doom Generation, Journal of Film and Video, Vol. 55, No.1, pp. 30-38
Moran, J.M., (1996), Gregg Araki: Guerilla Film-Maker for a Queer Generation, Film Quarterly , vol. 50, No. 1 (Autumn 1996), pp. 18–26, University of California Press
Doyle White, E. (2016), Lucifer Over Luxor: Archeology, Egyptology, and Occultism in Kenneth Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle, Presents pasts, 7(1), 2, p. 1-10
Gayoso, M. G. T.;Tan, J.;Mazumdar, S.;Liu, Q. (2009), Homosexuality in Films: Trends of Portrayal in Hollywood and Asia, Media Asia;36, 1; Business Premium Collection
Ruby Rich, B. (2013), New Queer Cinema, Duke University Press
Stevenson, J. (1997) From the Bedroom to the Bijou, A secret History of American Gay Sex Cinema, Film Quarterly, Vol.51, University of California Press
Bronski, M. (2012), Queer History of the United States, Beacon Press
Eaklor, V.L., (2011), Queer America: A GLBT History of the 20th Century, The New Press
Halperin, D. M. (1989), Is There a History of Sexuality?, History and Theory, Vol. 28. No. 3 (Oct., 1989), pp. 257–274, Published by Wiley for Wesleyan University
Silverman, K. (2015), The miracle of analogy, Stanford University press
Discussion @ MoMa about exhibition "Ocean of Images" about the major changes in image culture in the past 30 years:
Dercon, C, Sainsbury, H, & Tillmans, H. (2017), Wolfgang Tillmans 2017, Tate publishing (catalogue of the tate exhibition)
Le Feuvre, L. (2007), Searching for Doubt, Foam magazine #13 searching, winter 2007
Shimizu, M. (2005), Wolfgang Tillmans: The Art of Equivalence (from the book, Wolfgang Tillmans truth study center), Taschen
Tillmans, W. (2012), Neue Welt, Taschen
Olly Alexander, growing up gay: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p057nfy7