***Image caption: Wednesday Lupypciw, UNDER RUGS, 2010-2011. Photo by: Artist***
Dirty deeds: PopSex!
Curated by Annette Timms and Michael Thomas Taylor
Illingworth Kerr Gallery, ACAD, Calgary, Alberta
6 January – 22 January, 2011
by Amy Fung
Inspired by Rainer Herrn’s 2008 group exhibition Sex brennt/Sex Burns at The Charité Hospital in Berlin, PopSex! showcases 12 artists from Berlin and Calgary. Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, David Folk, Jean-René Leblanc, Kurtis Lesick, Wednesday Lupypciw, Anthea Black and Mr. and Mrs. Keith Murray, Mireille Perron and Heather Stump, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay and RICHard SMOLinski were brought together by the curators to respond to the remnants of Magnus Hirshfield’s archive from the Institute for Sexual Science. The exhibition was an extension of a related conference that took place at ACAD, which focused on the role of media and sexuality in early 20th-century Germany, the subject of Hirshfield’s Institute.
Founded in Berlin in 1919, Hirshfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science was a place of research, political advocacy, counseling, and public education — decades ahead of what Alfred Kinsey would go on to accomplish in America in the 1940s and 50s. Inspired by the world’s first gay rights organizations, the institute was a close ally for several groups fighting for sexual reform and women’s rights. In 1933, during the infamous Nazi book burnings, the bulk of the Institute’s archives were destroyed. At the same time, Hirschfeld’s scientific research was co-opted and turned around by Nazi Germany to argue for racial and biological purity.
Today, perhaps 5 percent of the overall archive has been reconstructed from donations, some of which are included in this exhibition. Attempting to start an accessible dialogue between historical knowledge and the present day role of sex and media, PopSex! exists between the realms of a suggestive, and potentially provocative, art exhibition and a museum display of recovered scientific artifacts.
If the driving force behind PopSex! is communicating the history of sex and sexuality within the public sphere, the real question for viewers is whether this exhibition conveys sex beyond an intellectual or academic level. The answer, for the most part, is no, but there are a handful of works within PopSex! that suggest possibilities through performative gestures that reimagine a new history of sexuality.
Wednesday Lupypciw’s Under Rugs is a direct redress of the lack of visibility for prostitutes within Hirschfeld’s research. Creating a video narrative about two hustlers starring herself along with her mother, Valerie VanEe, the video follows the two women through a haze of plastic jewelry and personal tragedies, as they navigate beneath a gaudy acrylic hand-hooked rug. Giving body to the metaphor of being swept under the rug, the video and performance also suggests a solidarity in community and lineage, a subtheme in several of the performance works that becomes the ultimate message for PopSex!
As a gesture of community building, Mr. and Mrs. Keith Murray and Anthea Black’s performative collaboration as The Glitter Twins celebrates queerness through a cosmic interdimensional bike ride. Reincarnated as twin trannies, Murray and Black’s video and live performance take them through a mystical bike ride as glitter abounds, honouring the memory of ACAD alumnus and activist Jasmine Valentina Herron, who died tragically last fall in a bike accident in New York.
The most affective work falls to Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, whose latest video, Legacy, recontextualizes queerness, wisdom and spirituality through an enchanted quest by a masked young man as he cruises/gets cruised by a network of older and wiser gay men. Continuing Ramsay’s critical interpretation of popular and historical texts and music, Legacy features American performance artist William Wheeler, Haitian visual artist Jean-Ulrick Désert, Finnish choreographer Tomi Paasonen and French visual artist Rémi Groussin. Projected onto a floating portrait mirror, the work is a poignant reflection and mystical revelation about seeking out the history of queer wisdom, and more specifically, gay male spirituality.
The video draws on a range of sources, including quotes taken from The Second Radical Faerie Gathering to interviews from Mark Thompson’s Gay Soul, and the film An Englishman in New York. All texts were researched by Nemerofsky Ramsay to inform his concept of the contemporary spiritual queer man, an idea that is as radical and relevant as ever before, but whose momentum has been disconnected from past generations to today. As one of those rare artists who provokes new thoughts while touching your heart, Nemerofsky Ramsay does not shy away from complicating how we understand sex and love through an ever-shifting framework of popular culture.
In general, the works exhibited in PopSex! ruminate on the history of sexuality in pop culture. As a contemporary response to historical artifacts, the exhibition is an interesting exercise in how one can expand a lost archive. And as the field of pop culture continues to be redefined through an ever-accessible network of information, the task of archiving the ripples in our histories will become more relevant than ever.
Amy Fung will be completing an Arts Writing and Curating Fellowship in Scotland for most of 2011. For more information on her writings and projects, visit AmyFung.ca