Queerology is a Leeds-based, artist-led project that was first instigated in 2017 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England. What Have You Done For Me Lately? is the third exhibition of collective DIY activity that showcases queer artists and provides a platform for conversation on issues of shared concern.
‘What is Your Definition of Queer?’ asks participating artist Nicole Murmann. This is the title and subject of her audio work, played on headphones that are hung on a small cardboard holder next to a sign detailing the titles and durations of the playlist. A large cardboard sign, on which Murmann’s question is written, is leant against the wall on the floor below and it is apparent that this was the sign she took onto the streets to initiate the recorded conversations we hear. The background noise of the streets on the audio tracks, combined with the everyday aesthetics of the cardboard, signifies the quotidian aspects of framing this pivotal question.
In a similar mode of everyday contextualisation, Kit Day’s subtitled video ‘Tete-a-Trans’ presents a two-person dialogue in a domestic setting on a sofa. These conversations appear as candid disclosures in a safe environment, a concurrent theme in the show.
In the centre of the gallery space is ‘Do You See Me?’ by Polly Spanner – a black lace dress adorned with labels that appear to be other people’s passing commentary. ‘When will you start being a women then?’; ‘You’re not very girly’; ‘But gender doesn’t really matter anyway’. Individual and collective experience is another narrative that is interlaced in the exhibition but, in contrast to Murmann’s work, it seems these comments were unsolicited.
JJ William’s ‘Elephant/Names of Rapists’ is a glass demijohn on a pedestal that invites visitors to use the pen and paper provided to add the names of rapists to the jar, confidentially, for the contents are to be burned at the end of the show. The jar has layers upon layers of names already.
On the adjacent wall is Ryan Morgana’s ‘Ally Cookies’. ‘R u a good ally? Then take a fuckin cookie babe’ is handwritten on the wall and two jars of cookies stand underneath on the floor.
Naomi Anuska Gilby’s ‘Get Off My Back’ is a large wall-mounted print with a pile of postcard size prints that visitors are invited to take. They depict the artist’s T-shirt covered back adorned with emotive text. Above, on a gallery beam, a scrolling LED reveals slowly, repeated like a mantra, ‘GET OFF MY BACK’.
William, Morgana and Gilby’s works are notably generous in that the visitors can either let go of a burden to be ceremonially destroyed, reward themselves with a treat or take away a piece of work; but in this participatory gift exchange the visitor must also be prepared to contribute. For a name to be burnt, you must first bear the memory of that perpetrator. For your cookie reward you must be deemed a good ally. To take away a postcard, you take away a piece emotional labour.
The exhibition has a quiet quality, but the works are not understated or subdued. The space is quiet, ready for reflection, dialogue and exchange. The works invite you to engage with them both physically (take a cookie, add a name, take a postcard) and they also deftly invite you to contemplate your position: Are you a good ally? What is your own definition of queer? What have you done for me lately?
Queerology: What Have You Done For Me Lately? Serf, Leeds, 10 March – 31 March 2018.
A private view for the trans and non-binary community will be held on 27 March and a closing event on 31 March to celebrate Trans Pride Leeds 2018.
Alice Bradshaw is an artist, curator, researcher and writer based in Halifax.