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.
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.