Oral history and herstory / Oral history w sluzbie herstory. Miejsce kobiecych relacji i wywiadów w procesie tworzenia feministycznej wizji przeszlosci w Polsce

Report from CRUSEV Poland’s seminar on the role of women’s stories and interviews in the process of creating feminist narratives of the past in Poland, with Dr Dobrochna Kalwa, held at the University of Warsaw.

The third public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Friday, November 24 2017. Our guest was Dr Dobrochna Kalwa, a historian from the Institute of History at the University of Warsaw. Dr Kalwa gave a lecture about the history of development of women-oriented oral history research in Poland. She discussed a number of important feminist history projects conducted in recent years by Polish historians, providing a critical framework that was needed for the later introduction of the concept of “oral herstories.” The lecture also covered several issues concerning the methodological and ethical problems facing “oral historians” in their studies of women’s biographies, including the problematic nature of a “witness of history,” differences between memory and history, or the many rhetoric strategies that can be adopted by the interviewees. Further points about the application of this methodology to study “hidden” LGBTQ narratives were raised during the discussion, as well as the need to continue oral herstory research among non-normative witnesses of the recent past.

Hanging out in Derek Jarman’s warehouse

In this essay commissioned with LUX, Crusev’s Glyn Davis addresses Derek Jarman’s use of the warehouse as a film-making space.

Glyn Davis
6 Sep 2017

In 1994, an episode of the BBC television documentary strand Arena focused on the queer English filmmaker Derek Jarman. It served as the premiere of Glitterbug, a compilation of Jarman’s Super-8 films, created in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Glitterbug was preceded by a brief contextualising introduction that included an interview with Jarman, in which he discussed the experience of making and screening his films in warehouse spaces in London in the 1970s: “It was a really amusing thing to do”, he said, “because everyone came to watch them. So I used to hold these parties, wonderful parties. And everyone would come. Nobody paid any attention to the films whatsoever. They were all there, they all brought cushions and lay on the floor. We showed a proper film – 16mm, something, you know, a proper feature film, and then we would end up with the Super 8.”[1] This anecdote is often repeated, in slightly varied iterations, in histories of Jarman’s 1970s era – many of those repetitions admittedly authored by Jarman himself – recurring and sealing into lore a distinctive sense of a space and supportive queer group conducive to innovative creative practice.

Read the essay in full at LUX.

Glyn Davis is Reader in Screen Studies at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. He is the Project Leader of the three-year HERA-funded ‘Cruising the 1970s: Unearthing Pre-HIV/AIDS Queer Sexual Cultures’ project. Recent publications include the co-edited Warhol in Ten Takes (BFI, 2013) and the co-authored Film Studies: A Global Introduction (Routledge, 2015), as well as contributions to the journals AnikiCinema JournalMIRAJ, and Screen. Glyn is currently completing a book manuscript entitled The Exhausted Screen: Cinema, Boredom, Stasis.

Image: Derek Jarman at Bankside

Cruising as method and its limits

What does it mean to see the action of cruising as a method for something that is not sexual? CRUSEV’s Fiona Anderson explores in her essay produced in collaboration with LUX

Fiona Andersom
23 August 2017

sometimes I find myself wondering
if the castle is a castle at all
a place apart, or merely
the castle that every snail
must carry around till his death

Thom Gunn, ‘Jack Straw’s Castle’ (1975)

In Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Jack Straw’s Castle (2009), the performative staging crucial to the act of cruising in a public place is so central that it is the film’s primary subject. Indeed, there is little action beyond it. Bright daylight turns to dusk, birds sing, and leaves are rustled. People, mostly men, move in and out of the frame, some intentionally, others unwittingly. The film’s action moves from tracing the homoerotic labour of men looking for sex with other men in public to recording the manual labour required in the production of a film.

Men and women pass instructions between each other as they install a scaffold tower in the depths of the cruising ground of Hampstead Heath. There is a suggestive precarity to this work and to the scene that it sets up; as night falls, the crew replace the daylight with bright, yellow artificial lamps that face on to the scaffolding itself. They fake the glow that we, the viewers, know illuminated this wooded area at the beginning of the film and before the appearance of the crew. They resist the passage of time, from day to night, which seemed to be the film’s only obvious narrative action. We seem to be moving back in time as we move between staged fantasy and reality, looking for sex in this footage of a cruising site as much as we try and determine the narrative thrust of the film. We don’t find either.

Read the rest of the essay here.

Dr Fiona Anderson is Lecturer in Art History in the Fine Art department at Newcastle University. At the moment, she is completing a book on the art and gay cruising scenes on New York’s derelict waterfront in the years immediately preceding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, looking most closely at the work of David Wojnarowicz and Peter Hujar, and working on a new project on the culture and politics of the drug AZT. She’s the UK PI for CRUSEV Cruising the Seventies.

Image: Jack Straw’s Castle, Rosalind Nashashibi, 2009, Installation view at LUX, 2017.

Off the Streets, Into the Toilets!

Mark Siegal discusses artist’s memorialisations of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Klappensex in the second essay commissioned in partnership with Lux

Marc Siegel
15 Aug 2017
German writer Martin Arz recently initiated a project to memorialize Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Freddie Mercury with a decorated pissoir on Holzplatz in the Glockenbachviertel of Munich, a queer area of town. This is a historic pissoir that Fassbinder and Mercury apparently used – maybe even at the same time.[1] The idea of commemorating Fassbinder with a urinal of his own is not such a misguided or isolated gesture.

In 2008 the Swedish techno DJ and producer, Jesper Dahlbäck collaborated with Canadian DJ/producer, The Dove (aka Tiga Sontag) on the music project called Rainer Werner Bassfinder. Stills from Fassbinder’s Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox and His Friends, 1975) adorned the record covers. In an interview in 2007, actor and Fassbinder’s former wife, Ingrid Caven was asked to recount the time when the two of them decided to get married. “Oh, it was really moving. He always went to the tearoom and afterwards we walked around the neighborhood. Then one evening we slept together.” [2]

Klappensex, tearoom sex or cottaging – call it what you will – was obviously a part of Fassbinder’s life and, as I will suggest here, a continuous presence in his films as well. And why shouldn’t it have been? Men have been having sex in public comfort stations since the first pissoirs were installed in Paris in the mid-19th century. But the indisputable fact of men seeking sex with other men in public toilets has long been a thorn in the side of a gay political movement and gay and lesbian organizations seeking social acceptance and political rights. Aside from its questionable legality, the promiscuous pursuit of sexual pleasure with a variety of nameless men in the seedy spaces of public toilets hasn’t seemed to jell with the ideals of a movement that privileges a proud assertion of sexual identity and the restriction of sexual acts to the privatized – preferably state certified – form of the couple. The operative strategy of the lesbian and gay liberation movements, in Germany as elsewhere, was coming out , a belief in the positive psychological, social and political effects of assuming and proudly asserting a public, visible identity as gay or lesbian. Facilitating this act of coming out was a narrative of leaving behind the spaces and practices thought to be associated with shame and compulsion, the spaces, which collected together, form the so-called closet. If we take Rosa von Praunheim’s seminal film Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation in der er lebt (It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives, 1971) as a reference, it would appear that the key physical space associated with the metaphorical closet was the public toilet.

Read the rest at Lux.

Marc Siegel is currently Professor of Film Studies at the Freie Universität in Berlin and a Senior Researcher in the Research Training Program “Configurations of Film” at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. He is the author of numerous articles in the areas of queer studies and experimental film. His book A Gossip of Images is forthcoming from Duke University Press.

Image: Cover of Rainer Werner Bassfinder LP (2008); Image from Fox and His Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975).

Did it even happen? Cruising hidden desire through camera lens in Piotr Majdrowicz’s Misunderstanding (1978)

In the first of a series of essays commissioned in partnership with LUX, Aleksandra Gajowy discusses relations between the norms and homosexual desire in Misunderstanding, an unprecedented work from communist Poland

Aleksandra Gajowy
1 Aug 2017

Et maintenant par la grâce de l’imaginaire, bon voyage!
– Guy Hocquenghem, Le Gay Voyage

Picture a scene: young sportsmen at the end of a running competition. Their muscles flexed in the last effort to make it to the finishing line. Then, the race complete, they let their bodies soften, relax. They stroll slowly off the track, shaking hands, chatting lazily. This is where Piotr Majdrowicz’s 1978 film, Nieporozumienie (Misunderstanding), begins.

This first scene itself wouldn’t, perhaps, be worthy of a particular attention. To a Polish viewer especially, it resembles an all-too-familiar format of the Polish Film Chronicle, a series of short propaganda documentaries shown before cinema screenings between 1944 and 1995, and often replayed by the public television today for entertainment.[1] The videos, particularly pre-1989, portrayed prosperous daily life in communist Poland, as well as significant events, such as celebrations of national holidays or sporting events. The material was accompanied by a light-hearted commentary praising the quality of life under communism. At first glance, then, the scene described above could well be an outtake from a Chronicle, emphasising agility and commendable sporting spirit of Polish youth; and yet, a sense of confusion appears. The background music – a slow piano tune – seems ill-synchronised, disrupting the dynamism of the scene. Gradually, it transpires that the camera gaze fixates on one runner in particular, in a transition so subtle it only becomes evident on a close inspection. Then, we see a series of photographs of the same athlete, carefully handled by someone’s hands. A short shot of a melancholic young man’s face – presumably the photographer – is interrupted by the opening credits. What are we witnessing? What is the dynamic at play?

Read the essay in full at LUX.

Aleksandra Gajowy
is a PhD researcher in Art History at Newcastle University. Her doctoral project focuses on representations and ontology of queer body in performance and body art in Poland since the 1970s until present, with particular focus on censorship, Catholic Church, and HIV/AIDS narratives. Her research is funded by the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She has presented parts of this research at international annual conferences such as Association of Art Historians (Edinburgh, 2016; Loughborough, 2017) and College Art Association (New York, 2017). She will chair a session on queer spaces in visual arts at the Universities Art Association of Canada annual conference (Banff, 2017) and is currently working on a journal article which will be published in Art Margins later this year.

Image: Piotr Majdrowicz, Misunderstanding (1978). Film still.

Four Films by Jim Hubbard at the Cinema Museum, London

Shortly after World AIDS Day 2017, CRUSEV’s Fiona Anderson and EUROPACH hosted a screening and discussion with Hubbard about his life and work.

The American filmmaker Jim Hubbard has been making experimental films that explore lesbian and gay activism and community building since the mid-1970s. Today, Hubbard is perhaps best known for his work as an AIDS activist and historian of AIDS activism. In 2012, he directed and co-produced the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, a powerful account of the emergence of AIDS activism in New York in the mid-to-late 1980s from the perspective of members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, with the activist and writer Sarah Schulman. Hubbard and Schulman also coordinate the ACT UP Oral History Project, a collection of interviews with surviving members of the group.

On 9th December 2016 – shortly after World AIDS Day 2017 – CRUSEV’s Fiona Anderson and members of the fellow HERA-funded project EUROPACH (Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health) hosted a screening and discussion with Hubbard about his life and work at the Cinema Museum in London. For the screening, Hubbard selected four films which span the breadth of his practice, from poetic reflections on personal loss to documentary interviews, and dealt with themes of loss, memory, activism and empowerment.

In the late 1970s, Hubbard recorded protests against the filming of William Friedkin’s controversial movie Cruising in New York’s West Village on Super 8 film, using the material in a short work that he titled Stop the Movie Cruising (1980). Hubbard’s film switches between footage of street protests in the West Village, aiming to disrupt the filming of Cruising, and voyeuristic recordings of extras on the set, chatting, laughing, and dancing inside the leather bars by the waterfront like the Ramrod and the Eagle’s Nest in which Friedkin filmed. Filming the action from outside the bar, peering in, Hubbard utilised the vantage point of cruising in this work. Moving between the club and the street, between inside and outside, setting up clear parallels between the multiple queer bodies congregating, fictionally, in the bars and the crowds of queer activists rallying against the film in the streets of the Village.

Two Marches (1991), shot on 16mm film, juxtaposes scenes recorded at two national marches on Washington D.C.: the first and second National Marches on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 and 1987. Hubbard’s combination of footage, presented mostly in silence, makes clear the devastating and unanticipated changes that impacted queer communities in the US between the late 1970s and the late 1980s. Hubbard’s earlier film Elegy in the Streets (1989), also shot in 16mm, takes a similar approach, bringing together intimate footage of Hubbard’s former partner, the filmmaker Roger Jacoby, who died in 1985, and documentations of public demonstrations by ACT UP and the public unfurling of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987.

The event concluded with an excerpt from the documentary film Speak for Yourself (1990), in which the AIDS activists and ACT UP members Sarah Schulman and Maxine Wolfe shared their thoughts on the challenges facing activists as they seek to establish solidarity between the diverse communities affected by AIDS. This rarely screened footage provided a fascinating counterpoint to Hubbard and Schulman’s work with the ACT UP Oral History Project and the interviews which appear in Hubbard and Schulman’s film United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.

In a generous discussion with the audience after the screening, Hubbard shared his thoughts on new challenges facing LGBTQ activists in the present and the relationship between recent activism for marriage equality and the historic examples of AIDS activism documented in his film work. He also spoke about the distinctions between his recent work as a documentary filmmaker and his longstanding investment in experimental filmmaking and his desire to make non-narrative films which explore the emotional and visual experience of personal connection, loss, social exclusion, and activist world making in the time of AIDS and earlier. This collaborative event provided the CRUSEV and EUROPACH teams with an opportunity to cruise the queer visual cultures of the 1970s through Hubbard’s films, and trace the experience of activism, citizenship, and health from the 1970s to the present.

Photograph of attendees sat around small tables at the Cinema Museum. The tables are adorned with flowers and chequered green and white table cloth. To the left of the image is the bar, where two men with hats and beards stand, facing opposite directions.

Text and Photographs by Fiona Anderson.

Felix Rexhausen’s Estate

CRUSEV’s postdoctoral researcher Benedikt Wolf (Berlin) has been spending time working with Felix Rexhausen’s archive. He wrote the following report about his research.

CRUSEV’s postdoctoral researcher Benedikt Wolf (Berlin) has been spending time working with Felix Rexhausen’s archive. He wrote the following report about his research.

The life and works of German gay satirist and journalist Felix Rexhausen (1932-1992) provide a fascinating perspective on the German gay 1970s. After becoming quite well-known to the German general public through a satiric polemic against the reactionary structures in the federal state of Bavaria (‘Living with Bavarians’, 1963) and the fierce and partly hateful reactions to it, Rexhausen published political and/or satirical articles in newspapers and journals and positioned himself in the field of pre-1968 leftist and liberal critique of postwar West Germany. His first novel with homosexual content, ‘Lavender Sword’, published in 1966, imagined a future homosexual revolution. His satiric depiction and critique of both the homophobic majority and the conservative mindset of gay men on the eve of Gay Liberation, pioneered crucial conceptions of the German Gay Liberation movement, namely the twofold critique of homophobic society and male homosexuals, as conducted by Rosa von Praunheim (‘It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives’, 1971) or Martin Dannecker and Reimut Reiche (‘The Ordinary Homosexual’, 1974). His pioneering stance became manifest once more with the publication of the first male homosexual pornographic novel in post-war Germany, ‘Touches’ (1969), published under the pseudonym of Stefan David.

While basic research on Rexhausen’s published gay themed novels has been done already, his other publications have not yet been analyzed for their treatment of homosexuality. These publications include both contributions for non-gay media like newspapers and radio broadcasts and contributions to the post-1969 gay magazines ‘Du & Ich’ (‘You & Me’) and ‘him’.

Next to this published material exists a huge corpus of non-published texts that has not been visible until recently. Rexhausen’s estate is, for the most part, held by the Gay Museum* Berlin, which received most of the materials from the publishing house Männerschwarm. When I asked Wolfgang Cortjaens, the head of the archive of the Gay Museum* Berlin, if I could access Rexhausen’s estate, he told me that no one had looked into it thoroughly and that it had not been sorted and indexed yet. When I expressed my desire to do this work, he was very happy that these important materials would be researched and made accessible for public use.

The materials provide opportunities to examine the complicated ways in which Rexhausen transformed from a closeted homosexual man and politically conscious critic of post-war West Germany to an openly gay intellectual and writer. While he had not yet come out when publishing ‘Lavender Sword’ in 1966 and he published his pornographic ‘Touches’ under a pseudonym, he went on to publish articles in the gay press both under various pseudonyms and under his real name. On the title page of an unpublished manuscript titled ‘Fences: Scenes from the Bushes’ (written in 1964), parts of which were eventually included in ‘Lavender Sword’ and ‘Touches’, he crossed out the typewritten pseudonym of Hans Rudolf Ahrengall and replaced it with his real name. This apparent gesture of pride cannot be dated exactly, but has to be located in the context of change both in the situation of homosexuals in the FRG and in Rexhausen’s private life. In Rexhausen’s literary oeuvre he continued his play with authentic vs. fake authorship throughout the 1970s, for example by presenting himself as the collector and translator of poems he had in fact written himself (‘Lavender Steps’, 1978). In his unpublished texts from the archive, this play with names and literary identities is ubiquitous. There are characters like the strange countess Eckböhnel, presenting her memoirs and poems, including a drawing of her portrait. Most erratic is the character of the mysterious Selma Ada Hotop, from whom even a nameplate has survived in the estate and to whom various texts and drawings are ascribed. The play with this kind of personae leads to Hamburg’s cabaret scene, where Rexhausen seems to have played quite a distinct role, but about which little is known until today.

From the perspective of his estate, Rexhausen’s path from a closeted homosexual to an openly gay writer and journalist can be traced by looking at his play with names, fictitious characters and the strategic use of published vs. private or performative and ephemeral materials. The fact that this did not stop with the emergence of Gay Liberation, but rather transformed from a necessity dictated by the structure of the closet to an ironic tool used to satirically reflect on gay sexuality, opens up a fresh perspective on the German gay 1970s.