In his welcome note Ian Giles explained he assembled this touring programme to accompany his new film Trojan Horse / Rainbow Flag (2019), which centres on a queer pub in East London and the impact the space and its subsequent closure had on the community. Giles brought together these particular films to ‘expand the idea of what queer space is, could be, and was.’ These films and artists are ones I’ve wanted to seek out, to spend time with. And here we had the pleasure of spending that time in the comfy art installation that is the Star and Shadow cinema space.
Giles toured the work around the UK to ‘tap into what’s happening in these other scenes’, and although Star and Shadow is not explicitly a queer space it works: it’s open to all, and host to a wealth of radical, community-programmed events. The night before, the tour was in Manchester where they took over the dance floor of a club in the gay village. It also visited a Brighton pub, and Bethnal Green working men’s club, reminding us how diverse queer spaces should and can be. The line-up morphed slightly from venue to venue ‘queering the restrictions of a fixed programme’. In Newcastle we were gifted with work by Rob Crosse, Charlotte Prodger, Patrick Staff, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings; the event felt generous, with free entry, a brief, insightful write-up of each film, and a shiny free publication.
Pink Room (2017) by Quinlan and Hastings began the night with a short meditation on the spaces where we try to lose (or find) ourselves through dance, drink, drugs or music. Static shots of empty dance floors are lit with rhythmic sequenced lights, as intimately-anthemic songs swirl in and out of earshot.
Giles’ Trojan Horse/Rainbow Flag is itself part-documentary and part-play, telling the story of the Joiners Arms pub through a seated group of players. Some read from scripts and some seemingly respond in real time, in real emotion. The mixture of reported speech, flat speech and personal speech intertwine; in other hands they might feel disjointed, but the edit, the compelling narrative, the pace and closeness of the camerawork, and the apparent ease of the group draws us in.
Crosse’s Prime Time (2017) goes closer again to its subjects – a group of gay men travelling together on a luxury cruise. A quiet window into these lives, framing their bodies, and their small gestures of love, without ever feeling intrusive. These tender moments are presented against the singular environment of the ship, accessible only to the wealthy, and perhaps not commonly associated with queer passengers.
Staff’s Weed Killer (2017) feels like a freeform memoir, spoken calmly, directly, matter-of-factly, viscerally by Catherine Lord. Thermal images punctuate the monologue and walk the line towards gross-out, we are asked to think about bodies, sickness, meds, and in the context of the other films, I feel aware of capital’s slow-crushing impact on those things too. ‘The film brings together questions of queer identity, societal attitudes to illness, and the blurry boundary between poison and cure.’ The movements performed to thermal camera pivot into a final lip synched performance in a bar, an emotive proclamation made transcendental by the commitment of the performer, and completely ordinary by the placid acceptance of the surrounding customers.
Lastly, we see LHB (2017), a monotone diary entry accompanies footage shot during Prodger’s residency in Berwick upon Tweed – pushing through fluorescent yellow oilseed, paths cut through landscapes, rushing shots of the coast from a train. She intones her fixation on walkers blogging from the Pacific Crest Trail, sharing details of their bodies and excretions from the hike. She follows two lesbian women completing the trail alone, several hundred km apart, they ask separately: where are the queers? Prodger claims rural space by pissing on it, in a collection of shots in fields, rock pools, sand dunes. But the act feels too calm to be territorial, it simply is, she’s simply there.
The post-show Q&A dug deeper into gentrification, socioeconomic gulfs, the LGBTQI+ ‘community’ (and the inadequacy of that term), politics and organising in queer spaces, and how these forces and facets have changed since the 80s. Inviting local speakers Fiona Anderson, James Bell and Julie Ballands allowed the event to speak to the region, and brought experience of Scottish queer scenes too. Several audience members spoke up to shed light on the queer happenings and groups in the North East, including Curious, DGA Collective and POKE: all people still carving out and maintaining these crucial, shifting spaces.
Trojan Horse / Rainbow Flag was screened at the Star and Shadow Cinema on 16 May 2019.
For information on future screenings visit Ian Giles’ website.
Grace Denton is an artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne.