Roman Photo


Boris Charmatz on Roman Photo:

“In Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years, all Cunningham is included: pictures from every piece, and Merce is portrayed from the age of five… when I read this book, it came to my mind that the collection of the pictures was not only about nearly all the projects that he did until now, but formed a choreography in itself close to Cunningham’s processes to create dance: dance happens in between the postures, between two positions, and I guess we could invent a piece from this score of pictures, performed from beginning to end. On the one hand it would be a purely “fake Cunningham” piece, but on the other hand, I think if we succeed that it could become a real one, a real Cunningham piece, a Meta-Cunningham event with a glimpse of his entire life and work…

I consider this experience as an integral part of our research, of our specific interest for the issue of archive, history and scores, which could meet here its tumultuous dimension: the entire history of a life’s work become book, transformed in its turn into a performance elaborated by a handful of dancers.”

More at tate.org.uk

…the queer world-making powers of gossip.

Further excerpts from Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948– 1963 by Gavin Butt, Duke University Press, 2005:

“Many articles appeared within the homophile press which analyzed the relationships between genius and homesexuality, and as such, they should be regarded as early examples of gay art and literary history. By considering the homosexulaity of such artistic types as Leonardo, Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Whitman, homophile discourse worked to confer a more positive status on the homosexual minority. As [The Homosexual in America (1951) author, Donald Webster] Cory puts it: “In identifying a great personality with a minority, the members of the [minority] group are actually identifying themselves to a large extent with their hero’s greatness”. Viewing themselves as possessing a superior artistic predisposition, and legitimating themselves in terms of a fine historical pedigree — that is, a history of great artists — it was possible for gay men to construe themselves as worthy and productive human beings. It was also through identifying themselves with these supposedly gay artists that homesexuals came to constitute theselves as members of a distinct minority group. As George Chauncey writes, “claiming certain historical figures was important to gay men not only because it validated their own homosexuality, but because it linked them to others. One of the ways groups of people constitute themselves as an ethnic, religious, or national community is by constructing a history that provides its members with a shared tradition and collective ancestors.”

     But this identification of a minority group through creative geniuses of the past was, according to Cory, a “particularly difficult task for homosexuals”. This was because of the general lack of biographical facts which might purport to prove an individual artist’s sexual orientation, as well as the willful falsification and distortion visited upon the lives of artists by homophobic biographers, critics, and art historians. As [William H.] Kupper notes in his article [Immortal Beethoven — a Repressed Homosexual? (One magazine, 1958)], “no evidence has ever turned up that [proves that] Beethoven had any homosexual experiences. This would not be surprising even if Beethoven were an overt homosexual , since his life is now cloaked by the mantel of time, conventions, and greatness.” And yet this does not stop him, nor others in the 1950s, in identifying homosexual geniuses in history, even if such an identification can never be established — as the logic of the archive might lead us to desire it — as “beyond doubt,” provable, and demonstrable with reference to documentary evidence.

Kupper, for instance, develops a Freudian line of inquiry by suggesting that Beethoven may have been a repressed homosexual … This Freudian line was particularly suitable to such early gay art historians because it allowed them to read homosexuality in the absence of of conventional evidence of overt homosexual behaviour and against the archive’s apparent desire to expunge homosexuality from history. As such Freudian and quasi-Freudian accounts were popularized through the homophile press, new forms od evidence of sexuality — biographical details or character traits which might be read as symptoms of some repressed or unspoken desire — came to be introduced into the everyday parlance of queer culture.

This lack of conventional hard evidence of the queerness of genius meant that many famous artists came to be queered through the circulation of rumour and suggestion, whether psychoanalytically inflected or otherwise.” –pp.59-60


“This identification of the world of high culture with homosexuality wasn’t limited to the United States either, and it finds comparable expression in the personal recollections of British film theorist Richard Dyer. For him, growing up gay and getting into high culture in 1950s Britain felt to him like much the same process, “namely the process of establishing an identity”:

“It is easy to see how easily I formed an equation between this [being queer] and being interested in culture … At a minimum, the world of culture just seemed like a place you could go if you were queer.”

… I cite Dyer here because he provides a useful formulation of the worlding of queerness within the context of an artistic life… Tellingly, this “world” — this place — was signaled to him, Dyer writes, by an “idea” of high culture suggested by “gossip includ[ing] the usual dirt on Shakespeare, Wilde, Tchaikovsky, Gielgud and the rest”.

This brings me to what I want to call, borrowing from the work of performance scholar José Esteban Muñoz, the queer world-making powers of gossip.” –pp.64-5

… the ghost of the present.

FGT portrait wongs
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Portrait of The Wongs), 1991

In this third section from Miwon Kwon’s essay, The Becoming of a Work of Art: FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce, she talks about Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ portraits and their spatial relationships with the rooms they occupy.

“It is striking that the artist viewed the ultimate act of taking control, of becoming empowered as an author, to be found in a masochistic negation, a paradoxical assertion of identity and power through the “death” of his artwork, and by extension self-negation as author. The radical implications of such an outlook are the starkest when we consider his “portrait” series originating in 1989, which is structured like his “datelines,” that is, as a sequence of words and dates evenly spaced as a running line of text and numbers, but painted directly on ideally contiguous walls of a given room, just below where the ceiling meets the walls, as a frieze along the room’s entire perimeter. As is well known, these unorthodox portraits do not offer visual likeness of their subjects, nor do they narrate their life stories in any conventional sense. Like the discontinuous events and dates cited in the Sheridan Square billboard, FGT’s portraits offer a non-chronological, “incoherent,” or open set of events and dates that frame a void, in this case the space of the room in which the work is installed, whether this be someone’s home or in a museum. The specific events and dates constituting the content if these portraits are a mix of personally significant moments chosen by the portrait’s subjects and historically and culturally significant moments chosen by the artist. Their juxtapositions produce a tension in which the “sitter’s” private moments become contrapuntally charged by the public ones and vice versa. Simultaneously, the spare inventory of past event, literally framing a given space, “captions” the activities taking place within it, underscoring the constancy of the past as the grounds or the ghost of the present.” –pp.303-4


…hanging in the air like a rumor.

Paisid Aramphongphan has kindly suggested the following very relevant passages from a book I find myself returning to regularly in my work, José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia:

“Queerness has an especially vexed relationship to evidence. Historically, evidence of queerness has been used to penalize and discipline queer desires, connections, and acts. When the historian of queer experience attempts to document a queer past, there is often a gatekeeper, representing a straight present, who will labor to invalidate the historical fact of queer lives—present, past, and future. Queerness is rarely complemented by evidence, or at least by traditional understandings of the term. The key to queering evidence, and by that I mean the ways in which we prove queerness and read queerness, is by suturing it to the concept of ephemera. Think of ephemera as trace, the remains, the things that are left, hanging in the air like a rumor.

Jacques Derrida’s idea of the trace is relevant here. Ephemeral evidence is rarely obvious because it is needed to stand against the harsh lights of mainstream visibility and the potential tyranny of the fact. (Not that all facts are harmful, but the discourse of the fact has often cast antinormative desire as the bad object.) Ephemera are the remains that are often embedded in queer acts, in both stories we tell one another and communicative physical gestures such as the cool look of a street cruise, a lingering handshake between recent acquaintances, or the mannish strut of a particularly confident woman.” p.65

“Queer dance is hard to catch, and it is meant to be hard to catch—it is supposed to slip through the fingers and comprehension of those who would use knowledge against us. But it matters and takes on a vast material weight for those of us who perform or draw important sustenance from performance. Rather than dematerialize, dance rematerializes. Dance, like energy, never disappears; it is simply transformed. Queer dance, after the live act, does not just expire. The ephemeral does not equal unmateriality. It is more nearly about another understanding of what matters. It matters to get lost in dance or to use dance to get lost: lost from the evidentiary logic of heterosexuality.

For queers, the gesture and its aftermath, the ephemeral trace, matter more than many traditional modes of evidencing lives and politics. The hermeneutics of residue on which I have called are calibrated to read [Kevin] Aviance’s gestures and know these moves as vast storehouses of queer history and futurity. We also must understand that after the gesture expires, its materiality has transformed into ephemera that are utterly necessary.” p.81

Both quotes from José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009)

Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing, part two

Photograph: Stephen Wright, theguardian.com

The second part of the text component of a performance portrait of dancer and choreographer Fred Herko. Part one — complete with footnotes and more information about the project — is available here.



By that time it is all over but the plangent memory of a rainy evening in lower Manhattan. The people file into their smoke-filled slickers and Doris Hering says Doris Hering was here. We go to Edwin Denby’s and quietly talk all night.(2)

Dear Floating Bear, Fred Herko’s review of Paul Taylor says: “Love is ultimately beautiful. Love is interesting. Love is exciting… Mr. Taylor is not exciting. Mr. Taylor is not interesting. Mr. Taylor is not ultimately beautiful.” Herko is judging Taylor by an idea. This idea – the idea of love and art and The Unsoiled Life – is shit. If Taylor fails by that, he’s doing fine. Herko had better watch his language.(3)

Lad if I love you better than I should, think how thru wasted tides I watched you grow.(4)

The San Remo Coffee Shop on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker streets in the Village was where I met Billy Name and Freddy Herko, a very intense, handsome guy in his twenties who conceived of everything in terms of dance.(5)

Freddy looked good at what he was doing … Recitals around town, Broadway, off Broadway and TV, were all there for taking. Freddy took the high wide road with a vengeance … He sent home press releases to the little paper in Ossining. Network TV. That was something parents could understand. He went all the way from Siberia to Prime Time.(6)

I first met Freddie in 1954, sitting on a bench in the rain, Washington Square Park, not far from the chess players. And crying because autumn always made him sad. Or so he said. I invited him for coffee. We walked to Rienzi’s and sat talking, looking out on the rainy street.(7)

Where even fools don’t tread you walked, and no scars told the tale.(8)

He was a pianist, he looked a little bit spoiled. Still lived at home with his family, was studying at Juilliard on a scholarship.(9)

In my own chill I knew your restless beds, and nightlong told you tales to kill bad dreams.(10)

When I was seventeen and my friend Judy was eighteen, one evening I left my parents’ Morningside Gardens apartment to visit a coffee shop around on Amsterdam Avenue and settle into the phone booth, so Judy and I could have an uninterrupted hour-and-a-half conversation. Judy had been a child actor and was now a dancer. She knew lots of gay men, some of whom — Freddy Herko, Vincent Warren, James Waring — she’d introduced me to.(11)

Conventionally reared between Sing Sing and the Catholic mission, he cut a swath among his contemporaries. A scholarship for music, a prize for painting, best dancer in the graduation yearbook, part of the school combo, Freddy was action. Unable to suffer fools gladly because of his exceptional quickness and concentration, he studied little but well, and had lots of free time. A local girl’s father thought he would be good at banking. In the small pond he was an observable big fish.(12)

One night he showed up at Diane di Prima’s to borrow a record and invited everyone there to a performance; he said he was going to leap off the top of his building downtown.(13)

Helpless I bring your saddest happy birthday these empty-handed spells for sandstorm days.(14)

(1) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959
Edwin Denby, letter published in The Floating Bear, issue 19, 1962
(4) Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974
(5) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980
Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(7) Diane di Prima, Memoirs of my Life as a Woman, 2001
(8) Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974
Diane di Prima, Memoirs of my Life as a Woman, 2001
Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974
Samuel R. Delany, ‘Coming/Out’, Shorter Views, 2000
Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(13) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980
Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974



Another segment of the essay on Felix Gonzalez-Torres by Miwon Kwon from which the title for the workshop is taken. Here Kwon looks at Gonzalez-Torres’ work in relation to the structures of historical narrative:

“The most sophisticated interpreters of [“Untitled” (billboard), 1989], however, have recognized that the work’s most significant politics lie not in the assertion of gay content but in formal attributes that radicalize conventional structures of historical narrative. For David Deitcher, the work “testifies to the artist’s mistrust of institutionalized, linear methods of historical inscription, such as those that commonly render lesbians and gays invisible while claiming to tell the whole truth.” Similarly, Simon Watney has written of the work: “History is thus specifically not presented as a seamless, progressive narrative, expressing some supposedly unified historical force or will.” Instead, as Watney continues, “events and institutions coexist, as in memory, in no particular order or sequence beyond that of our own active interpretive making. The ‘private’ defiantly invades ‘public’ space.” –p.289

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, (Untitled, Billboard Poster), 1989