The recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States forebodingly heralds the mainstreaming of queerness. Are LGBT communities making a decisive turn toward futurity and longevity? With the institutionalization of gay marriage come neoliberal benefits and accumulations, but also the proliferation of nuclear families and predictable, teleological lifestyles. But assimilation does not sit particularly well with queer histories that are fraught with melancholia, trauma and urgency. Normalized gay prosperity clashes with risky, haphazard queerness.
Time was never on the side of queerness. From the genocidal evisceration of the HIV/AIDS era to what Lauren Berlant calls the “slow deaths” effected by structural violence, queer lives were not made to last. Berlin-based film duo Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz take on the task of memorializing the deathly disenfranchised bodies from queer pasts. Working mainly with 16mm film, itself an obsolescent material substrate, their films unearth specific historical materials and subjects that are Othered and unrepresented, the medium serving to index and bolster the realities of these ostracized embodiments. Coupled with contemporary performers and actors like Werner Hirsch and Ginger Brooks Takahashi, both frequent collaborators of Boudry and Lorenz, historical queer margins are brought firmly into the present.
Dissonant temporalities converge through the duo’s methodology.
Dissonant temporalities converge through the duo’s time-warping methodology. Queer scholar Elizabeth Freeman theorizes such cross-temporal alignments as “temporal drag,” hinting at a chaotic coexistence rather than a linear succession of time. Despite the perverse asynchronicity of the duo’s queer time, such unpredictability is often highly productive, bringing estranged histories and subjects together in space and time. For instance, in films like No Future / No Past (2011) and Salomania (2009), contemporary performers are joined by older, more experienced artists in their attempts to re-enact and revive lost figures from queer past. In the duo’s films, the present offers numerous opportunities for in-depth explorations of the past; between the performers and their interactions with archival materials, Boudry and Lorenz’s films hold the potential to connect multiple generations.
Strangely, within the rational reality of film’s material constitution emerges a surreal cinematic reality created by Boudry and Lorenz. Although the artists adopt traditional filmic materials and structures, their films are erratic, embodied and abjected. In the duo’s hands, film technologies are not immune to bodily and historical vicissitudes. Ironically, the intergenerational community simulated in the duo’s films depends precisely on the precariousness of their queer time. Disconcerting time travels actually facilitate the unified networks between queer contemporaneity and its histories. Thus, outside the safety of linear, heteronormative time, Boudry and Lorenz’s disorderly time warps can in fact be productive. In Toxic (2012), Takahashi and Hirsch perform amidst harmful waste and photographs of persecuted homosexual subjects from the 1870s; in Opaque (2014), they claim to be representatives of an underground organization and deliver a speech based on a text by Jean Genet. While the duo claim to expedite such sordid and “illegitimate collaborations,” they recover from these discourses of toxicity the possibility of forming connections between unlikely, forgotten subjects.
Pauline Boudry (Swiss, b. 1972) and Renate Lorenz (German, 1963) live and work in Berlin. They are represented by Ellen De Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam and Marcelle Alix, Paris.
Exhibitions of Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz are currently on view at Kunsthall Wien (through 4 October)and Kunsthalle Zurich (through 8 November). Later in the Fall, a solo show will open at Nottingham Contemporary.
Binghao Wong is a curator and writer interested in discovering new lexica for queer in contemporary art and media. Recent curatorial projects include “We Are Losing Inertia” (2014), and “Asymmetric Grief” (2015).
Image: Contagious, 2010, Courtesy of the artists and Marcelle Alix, Paris