Session 3.2.1: PANEL: Queer Materialities

PANEL: Queer Materialities
11:30, Saturday 8 May 2021 (1 hour 30 minutes)
Break    01:00 PM to 01:30 PM (30 minutes)
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Organizer: John Potvin, Art History, Concordia University, Canada

This panel explores the much-neglected intersections between queer practices and expressions through material culture and the senses. In part, we will seek to answer the following series of questions: How might queer material practices provide a way to explore the senses? What unique dimensions might queer identities provide in the study of the senses? How do these identities facilitate an enriched understanding of the intersections between design (broadly understood) and sensory embodiment?

Sensitive Design: The Stigmatisation of Robert de Montesquiou’s Sensorial Interiors

Benoit Beaulieu, Concordia University, Canada

‘So sensitive is his soul that a pale green melody will make him swoon with emotion; the touch of a velvet-leafed flower will send him into ecstasies. He must be attuned with vague perfumes, with harmonies of colors.’ It is in these words that the French count Robert de Montesquiou (1855–1921) was described in North American Philadelphia. Influential in the artistic scene of fin-de-siècle Paris, the Count became famous precisely because of the sensorial installations of his first apartment that inspired Joris-Karl Huysmans and his novel Against Nature (1884). Despite the variety of research on the sensorial aspect of the novel, the specific topic of de Montesquiou’s peculiar use of the senses has never been the focus of scholars. This presentation will centre upon the ways de Montesquiou transformed his interiors into a work of art through the solicitation of the senses and how this specificity came to be used against him by his detractors. A variety of caricatures and pictures of de Montesquiou’s interiors will illustrate the presentation and will be combined with citations from newspapers and medical treatises. The presentation sheds light on an alternative form of modernism, one that is sensual, ornamental, queer. It also enables a better understanding of the role the senses played in the condemnation of queer lifestyles and a recognition of the queer agency and strategies of affirmation.

Home Rooms: Imagination, Interiors, and the Circulation of Queer Photography

Alice Friedman, 1928-34, Wellesley College, USA

My presentation will examine queer materiality and the sensorium through a discussion of the production, collecting, and sharing of images among a group of gay photographers -- including Carl Van Vechten, George Platt Lynes, and Max Ewing – who lived and worked in New York City in the 1920s and ‘30s. All three produced and displayed photographic portraits and staged scenarios, largely focused on fashion, celebrity, and the male nude, in their private homes and home-studios. Their work thus offers new evidence of a distinctive queer visual culture highlighting three areas of investigation: 1) the inter-connected, inter-racial, and largely clandestine social and artistic networks these men created; 2) the culture of embodied looking, “camp” irony, and physical companionship they shared, particularly relating to performance and the visual arts; and 3) the interior spaces such as living rooms, libraries, studios, and walk-in closets where photos were informally displayed on the walls, and where albums, scrapbooks and portfolios were passed around, viewed, and discussed. Because the images discussed here were often inspired and circulated at private parties and in social spaces where alcohol and food were consumed and where dancing and staged performances regularly took place, the pleasure of looking was enhanced not only by conversation, story-telling and tactile experience, but also by the pleasures of taste and smell.

Let It Burn: Sensing, Sensuality and Solidarity in Travis Alabanza’s Burgerz

Emma Welton,Stockholm University, Sweden

Burgerz is a one-person show by British performance artist Travis Alabanza. The performance re-enacts an incident of transphobic violence Alabanza faced in 2016, during which an assailant threw a burger and yelled a transphobic slur at them. I argue that Alabanza troubles mainstream theatre audiences’ ingestion of traumatic, autobiographical stories from artists who are marginalised in the public sphere. I analyse the dramaturgy and aesthetics of Alabanza cooking a burger onstage with an audience participant, proposing that this functions as a performative approach which activates the audience’s personal and collective sensorial profiles. I suggest that Alabanza creates a space of politically engaged sensing; the smell of the burger linking with Alabanza’s narrative of transphobic violence, chemically twining the two in the audience’s memories, to usher spectators into remembering, caring and acts of solidarity beyond the time and space of performance. Following an interdisciplinary methodology which combines performance, sensory and queer studies, I ask: how does the combination of the audience participant strategy and cooking onstage create political provocation through the senses? What is distinct about such performative strategies in mainstream theatrical settings? How does Alabanza’s creation of an ‘intersensorial’ (Howes) sensory collective in the audience encourage spectators to act in solidarity with marginalised individuals in the afterlife of the performance?

concordia university
concordia university
Wellesley College
Stockholm University

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