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Performance Space presents: Day for Night 2015

February 18, 2015

Image: Emma Maye Gibson aka Betty Grumble Photo by James Brown

Summer steams in Sydney and the season of queer parties has cycled round again. Mardi Gras, our birthplace of gay civil rights has become a large cultural festival and it’s new arts highlight, Performance Space’s “Day for Night” is poised to open with a party, this Friday night at Carriageworks.

It was my honour to be selected to create a work for the first incarnation of this event last year, by
Jeff Khan, artistic director of Performance Space, and artist Emma Price of The Kingpins. And when I say honour, I mean my absolute terror. As I sat in an explosion of glue, crystals and latex, building my costume in the sweatshop of my apartment, the gravity of the invitation daunted me. Here was I, a queer performer with a body of work that while conceptually structured, saw its main transmission in spaces of entertainment and diversion. I was an old hand at spectacle and showbiz, invited to make a work here in a contemporary art space. As I read the roll-call of artists, I began to understand. There is a place for us.

Performance Space was one of the main hubs for experimental, boundary-pushing performance in the 1990s, hosting cLUB bENT the original Cleveland Street Venue. I missed out on these times, myself, but have heard awed recollections of performances that included live glory-holes, spraying enemas and animal participation. I was spurred into performance via the explosion of Gurlesque: The Lesbian Strip Club, where gender and bodies were toyed with and teased in front of an all-female audience. Comedy stripping with a political bent. And warehouse and club party events such as Club Kooky, where performances punctuate the dancing with bizarre and disturbing pastiches of glamour and abjection.

Queer performance art has a home in the dark, throbbing club and the twisted vaudeville of non-normative bodies, authoring and assuming their marginal identities. Day for Night has shown how queer performance from outside the academy can survive outside the nocturnal gestation of the club and self-represent within galleries and institutional spaces, in quiet, well-lit halls in conversation with other mediums.

From the vantage point of my performance at Day for Night last year, I was able to observe the party filling up, with Stereogamous immersing Bay 17 with their deep, transcendent rhythms. It occurred to me that while this party looked slick — incredible lighting design and scenic provided by the artistic works in situ, it was an ethos that was familiar to the queer community. We take for granted this rich attention to detail in our parties. Each surface considered, little mysteries to discover throughout the night. I saw from above people arrive and greet one another, enveloped in a growing host of idiosyncratically dressed humans. Uninhibited, connected, expressive. The barriers and hierarchies between audience and performer seemed to dismantle as the dance floor offered a performativity in its own gathering of queerness. The partygoers riffing off the live works of performance art and back again. And it occurred to me in a gulp: This is our language. We are authoring our inheritance.

In these last few days before the party and exhibition, I am thinking of the artists. Stretching, fretting, painting, mumbling, bingeing. I hope they stay healthy and ready for their durational performances. I am so excited to see all of their works — it is an incredible lineup.

Image: #betablockers, Lillian Starr. Part of Day for Night (2014). Photo by Lucy Parakhina

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