a queer tour guide

The exhibition begins with the photographs and texts of the "maid of all work" Hannah Cullwick, which were created in London in the second half of the nineteenth century. Starting from this historical material, the contributing artists have turned their attention to the connections between sexuality and labor and the question of the function of power in sexuality.



hannah cullwick and:
laura aguilar, oreet ashery, pauline boudry, alexandra croitoru, ines doujak,
henrik olesen, kai kaljo, deborah kelly/tina fiveash, stefan hayn,
klub zwei (simone bader, jo schmeiser),
ins a. kromminga, zoe leonard, marth,
karin michalski/sabina baumann, tracey moffatt, christian philipp müller,
adrian piper, carole roussopoulos/delphine seyrig, runa islam,
del lagrace volcano,
gillian wearing.


Hannah Cullwick, 25 photographs,
excerpts from her diaries and letters, 1855–1902

Hannah Cullwick not only cleaned from early in the morning to late in the evening in various households, where she earned her tiny wages, lodging, and "beer money" in the mid nineteenth century, she also produced a series of remarkable staged photographs, numerous diaries, and letters. These materials present her strength, her muscles, and her big, dirty, red hands– embodiments of her gender that were obviously directly connected with her working practices and which she was very proud of.

Hannah Cullwick's portraits and self-portraits, which show her not only as a domestic servant, but also in "class drag" or "ethnic drag," were part of a sadomasochistic relationship that she had with Arthur Munby, a man from the bourgeois class.

Interestingly, it was the elements of her hard work in the households that provided the material for their shared SM scenes. The work that Cullwick carried out as a domestic servant was later restaged together with Munby in their meetings in his home: she cleaned for him, washed his feet, brushed his shoes or licked them clean.

Cullwick described herself as Munby's slave; she wore a "slave band" on her wrist which she never removed and a chain around her neck, for which Munby had the key. She called him "massa,"an indication that, like "slave," referred to the reality of England as a colonial power. In the photographs, a black band is often clearly visible on her right wrist, obviously the "slave band."It is centrally located, almost in the center of the image, but it is not capable of disturbing the thoroughly convincing representations of a "maid of all work" or of a bourgeois woman.

The crossings of social positions that she staged in the photographs– which show her not only as a domestic servant, but also as a bourgeois woman, as a young bourgeois man, or as a "slave" in blackface – partly also play a role in Cullwick's everyday life, for instance when she traveled with Arthur Munby in "bourgeois drag." The photographs can be understood as a technology to control these crossings, or to reflect on the great efforts and constant deliberation that were connected to them.

The exhibition "normal love" asks whether the crossings of social hierarchies of class, gender, and "race" that Hannah Cullwick staged and that she so obviously desired have today become generalized into a paradoxical requirement in the field of labor.

Pauline Boudry/ Renate Lorenz, "normal work"
16mm/DVD, 13 min., 2007

The film "normal work" formulates the curatorial thesis of the exhibition. It restages four of Hannah Cullwick's historical photographs in which she takes on poses, crossing various social positions of class, "race," and gender. In the film we watch the performer Werner Hirsch attempt to imitate Hannah Cullwick's poses as precisely as possible. Werner Hirsch/Hannah Cullwick orients him/herself to his/her memory, to a mirror, or to a "model"that is not in the image, or to instructions that are called out to him/her, also from outside the space of the frame. Since two different historical moments (Victorian times and the present day) and two places of expression meet each other in the film, contradictory references arise. The historical photographs are placed in the context of contemporary drag performances and reworkings through gender binarity. Taken in the other direction, contemporary drag performances are placed next to a historical predecessor, in which the relations between sexuality and labor were negotiated. This doubled contextualization is supported by two different "decors," used as a background like in a photo studio: one recalls a nineteenth century painting, the other is a contemporary photograph by Del LaGrace Volcano ("Daddy Boy Dykes"), which is also included in this exhibition.

What is staged is the gaze that directs the domestic servant's classification into social positions - the lady, the gentleman, or the slave - or rather, that allows for a productive reworking of these positions. This process that makes individuals into subjects is shown by repeatedly copying culturally available images, accompanied by the gaze, either approving or threatening, of an authority. If the performer/Hannah Cullwick reports on various works that he/she has done or would like to do, it becomes clear that crossing social positions is not only an empowering fantasy, but - especially in contemporary discussions on labor - entails an expense that is inseparable from the threat of not being able (any longer) to afford this crossing. The controlling gaze is here at any rate multiplied; the performer/Hannah Cullwick gazes back into the camera, signifying an equal position with that of the camerawoman/spectator; he/she indicates that he/she also "sees".

Tracey Moffatt, "Useless 1974", "Job Hunt 1976", "The Wizard of Oz 1956",
"Charme alone 1965"
from the series "Scarred for Life", Offset prints, 1994

Tracey Moffatt's prints each show a color photograph in which a child or youth is captured in a moment of his or her everyday life. Together with the image, a small, seemingly explanatory text in the lower half of the image produces a narrative. The demand to find a job, to look good, to be useful, and to show a singular gender in their activities is something the protagonists here obviously cannot comply with, at least not well enough. What we see is an act of shaming, debasement, and rejection, and this despite the fact that in all the photographs, we can recognize the attempt to find one's place in the socially sanctioned places. The young man who is not "good enough" for a job is dressed in business wear with a white shirt and tie, even if it doesn't hang quite right. The young woman who is called "useless" is not simply sitting around on the sofa, she is seen washing a car, possibly even her father's; the one addressing her so demeaningly. The young man whose appearance is judged as not at all helpful for his future life puts himself at the mercy of the critical gaze into the mirror, and the child who is criticized for not fulfilling his gender role because he put girls' clothes on too early, nonetheless plays the main role in The Wizard of Oz. The brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers who here speak the demeaning words, cite societal norms and stand for all the speech acts, laws, and images that (forcibly) classify individuals into society. They demand a strenuous process of learning and adaptation as a prerequisite for recognition, and they pronounce the threat that whoever does not come to terms with these demands doesn't belong. As such, Moffatt's four narratives can perhaps be understood as a queering practice, since they each capture an enforcement of normality and make it approachable, which is not usually something that can be illustrated by a snapshot. It is made clear here how social conditions (such as unemployment or the constrained gender binarity) confront individuals with demands that cannot be solved individually. Even if it is not explicitly thematized, the images can also be viewed in the light of Tracey Moffatt's developed concerns with the construction of whiteness and nation in Australia, for instance through the abduction and forced adoption of Aboriginal children by whites. Even "whiteness" can then be understood as a societal norm, whose non-fulfillment here is figured as individual failure.

Ins A Kromminga "Abject Careers"
drawings/installation, 2007

Ins A Kromminga also takes up the shift of social problems, constraints, and inequalities into requirements made of individuals in this installation. How do categorizations, used when looking for a job or at the work place, force individual solutions for social contradictions? How can the required "truth about oneself" be spoken while simultaneously fulfilling the everyday madness of classification into one of precisely two genders: check the "right" box, choose one form of address, look for the right toilet, be "open" to colleagues and bosses? Through the combination of image and text in the drawings, the required categorization and the seemingly irrefutable power of vision are carried on ad absurdum. The sober and simple text– such as "Dies ist sicherlich ein Ausschlusskriterium" ("This must be a criterion for rejection") suggest that the situation created can be taken at face value, that and why it veers from the norm, and the consequences it calls for. The seemingly naturalistic image, however, troubles the self-evident coupling of seeing and knowledge. The spectator is moved to the point of asking: What is this actually? – at least when s/he admits that the "position of knowledge" derived from the text will not help them anymore.

Karin Michalski/ Sabina Baumann "queering work"
video, 13 min., 2007

The video "queering work" is part of the wider film project "casual" (working title). Here, fiveteen people are interviewed on questions of sexual and gender practices in the field of labor. It becomes clear that some have to do a great deal of work to conform to the interweaving demands and attributes pertaining to gender, sexuality and "whiteness," to carry them out on their own bodies, and constantly to negotiate or even refuse. How working skills are directly connected with the successful presentation of masculinity/femininity and heterosexuality is thematized. Or, put another way, what does it mean to produce a "habitable" place in the field of labor if one does not match the criteria of the division of genders, normative heterosexuality, and whiteness?

The video refuses to categorize those interviewed. It is neither obviously about a "group," nor does the self-identification of each speaker stand in the foreground. They are related by the fact that they invest a certain amount of work in gender and the sexual requirements they're confronted with,not because of shared identification or missing differences.

Laura Aguilar "Latina Lesbian #2"
from the series „Latina Lesbian", photograph, 1987

The person presented is quite obviously exposed to various interpellations. Her clothes, a leather jacket, and her short haircut show her as a masculine "butch" and classify her within a community of lesbians; the accompanying text addresses her as both the daughter of immigrants who formulate demands on their daughter (to become a court clerk) and as an academic, namely a lawyer (which she became instead, surpassing her mother's expectations). The leather jacket however, which successfully qualifies her as part of the lesbian scene, in no way corresponds to the socially acceptable image of a lawyer. While the photograph and the accompanying text were created in the late eighties as part of a series (which, according to the artist Laura Aguilar was following the political strategy of producing positive images of Latina lesbians), in the context of "normal love" the expenses of the constant crossing of positions from "lesbian," "lawyer," (=accredited academic), and "immigrant"/"non-white" are brought to the fore.

Kai Kaljo, "Loser"
video, 1 min. 24 sec., 1997

A different political strategy is followed in Kai Kaljo's video, "A Loser". Instead of identifying with a recognized and successfully embodied social position, it suggests identifying with the figure of the loser. Here as well, different positions are crossed: the main character in the video, shot simply in front of a white screen and portrayed by the artist herself, is a "professor" at an art academy, but she earns too little money to be able to afford her own apartment and lives instead with her parents. Despite her professional position, she is still evaluated by her professional success (measured in money/income) as well as her successful embodiment of femininity (measured in kilograms). With an admitted 90 kilograms and a professed 150 Euro of monthly income, she is a "loser" in her profession as well as in femininity. Her statements are constantly interrupted by a profane sitcom laugh track, which underscores her position as loser. The laughing, however, does much more: it puts the documentary character of the self-description and her "honesty" into doubt, and marks the position from which she is (dis)qualified. It is western media, represented not by culturally highbrow art journals, but by cheap, industrially produced TV series. The protagonist's self-ironic looks draw attention to the fact that it was she herself who installed this laugh – which can, like in Tracey Moffatt's images, produce a kind of shaming. As such, she conforms in a certain way to both the evaluation and the gaze, throwing them back from the individual level to the level of social relations (sexism, unemployment, and differences between East and West).

Gillian Wearing, "I'm desperate"
from the series „Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say", photograph, 1992/3

For this series, Gillian Wearing spoke to passersby on the street and asked them to write messages on a big sheet of paper. The photograph shown in the exhibition presents a man in a suit and tie, standing on the street. He is holding a sheet on which is written, "I'm desperate." While the suit signifies sobriety and efficiency, the statement seems to be very intimate, something very personal to have made public. It corresponds therefore in a certain way to the demand of neoliberal discourse on individuals to reflect upon themselves, to search for the truth about themselves, and to make their psychic life a criterion for establishing meaning. The image of white, heterosexual masculinity that– also following neoliberal work demands – is here perfectly and successfully embodied, contradicts the intimacy of the statement and the admission of being desperate (=letting success get misplaced somewhere) and indicates the contradictory quality of neoliberal requirements. While the written statement on the one hand calls into question the knowledge that we believe to be connected with the image of such a businessman (he is successful and happy) and alters this culturally effective image, on the other hand it also causes us to wonder: Why is he desperate? Is he unemployed? Suspected of corruption? Lonely? Is he successful at work, but not in love? The image raises the question of how skills demanded at work are connected to other parameters– emotionality, sexuality, organization of daily life, friendship, etc.

Deborah Kelly/ Tina Fiveash, Untitled
from the series: „Hey, Hetero!", 2001–2005.

This work addresses heterosexuals with the call "Hey Hetero!" and reminds those spoken to of the privileges of heterosexuality. On the one hand the image takes up the shrill and pompous camp aesthetics of gay subculture, and in doing so it positions itself in a queer and obviously attractive scene, on the other hand the iron and the serially presented toaster point to the "promises" of the heterosexual division of labor and small family consumerism. The fact that the hetero drag performance presented here is in no way "good enough" for the performing subjects to pass as "hetero" can be taken two different ways: not only for the cultural production of a queer subculture, but also for the shift in viewpoint that queer theory and practices have introduced: What is marked here is not the homosexual "deviation" from the norm, but the norm itself with its compulsions, rejections, and the violence that it produces. The image recalls the form of a poster or a billboard– it is part of a series that was presented in the urban area of Sydney – that is, within the powerful production of socially effective advertising and media images, and it takes as its theme the unquestioned „self-evident-ness" of heterosexual norms.

What role does (hetero)sexuality play in the skill of doing a job "well,"or in "voluntarily"taking on longer workdays and hierarchically organized "places"?

Ines Doujak/ Marth
from the series „Lick Before You Look", poster, 2000

The image by Ines Doujak and Marth comes from the poster series "Lick before you look,"which was mailed to acquaintances and other interested parties. It shows a photograph in which a person can be seen standing next to a stove, naked from the waist up. The poster takes up earlier feminist reworkings of images of housework, for instance Martha Rosler's video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), or Chantal Akerman's film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1976). As in Rosler's performance, it is not clear here what exactly this person is doing (or for whom?), the position of her hand looks more like she's holding a weapon (or maybe a dildo?) than any typical image of cooking. Her face with moustache and long hair and her naked breasts, however, also produce gender ambiguity. This person cannot be clearly taken as either a lesbian or as a housewife, neither as a man nor as a woman. The image then avoids positioning someone "as a woman" in a kitchen, connecting the idea of the housewife unquestionably with heterosexuality, but it also avoids producing a unambiguous lesbian in the image, which then would limit what form of desire is here intended to be addressed. The poster thematizes the fact that sexuality and gender play a role in the division of labor and labor skills, without letting itself be drawn into making a singular statement of what should be thought about this connection or how it should be rethought.

Runa Islam, "Room Service"
video installation, 2 DVDs, 9 and 11 min., 2001

Runa Islam's video installation shows two "cleaning ladies," obviously at work in a hotel. The scene recalls Hannah Cullwick's workplace, the clothes with apron and bonnet, the housework, the commonality with other female domestic servants. Class difference in relation to the maids is always present through the authority of the bourgeois architecture of the hotel as well as through piano music (Eric Satie). Both protagonists meet conspiratorially in a hotel room and assume the position of the guests; they consume their meals, occupy their room, and lie in bed. In doing so, they not only refuse to do their work, they also cross the clearly differentiated classes– that of the guests and that of the employees, who produce and insure the bourgeois position of the guests in the first place. The video takes up the "figure ensemble" of the maids and mistresses, which is a recurrent topic in images of sexuality (as of labor). Desire arises in this constellation not despite but precisely because of the clearly marked differences. The fact that one of the maids is reading a book of Luis Buñuel's film Diary of a Chambermaid (Le Journal d'une femme de chambre, 1964) calls up cinematic and literary reworkings, including Jean Genet's famous play The Maids (Les Bonnes, 1947), in which two maids act out power differences with each other in the absence of their bourgeois employer and plot revenge on their "mistress."

Carole Roussopoulos/ Delphine Seyrig "Scum Manifesto"
video, 28 min., 1976

This video work also takes up the figure of the maid and mistress in its own way: one of the protagonists, the actress Delphine Seyrig, who just the year before had appeared as the housewife and sex worker Jeanne Dielman in Chantal Akerman's film of the same name, here assumes the position of the boss, giving dictation and therefore determining what will be written. The other, Carole Roussopoulos, types the text on a typewriter almost incessantly and very quickly, and perfectly occupies the place of the secretary. The boss-secretary relationship, which especially in the seventies was the unquestioned model of the division of labor and the basis of innumerable jokes, caricatures, and stories about the connection between work and (hetero)sexuality, is in this video embodied by two women (though the masculine boss here is not "lacking"). The text that is read and typed is Valerie Solanas's "S.C.U.M. Manifesto," the manifesto of the Society for Cutting Up Men. It begins by establishing the inferiority and superfluousness of men and masculinity. Reproduction, sexuality, and other social areas can be perfectly well organized without men. In 1976, when the video was made, the manifesto was no longer available in a French translation and the publisher refused to bring out another edition.

Seyrig's voice is underscored with the industrial sound of the typewriter, and the process of multiplication and publication of the text is therefore exhibited. Roussopoulos continually interrupts her work and turns up the television, which is broadcasting reports with images of wars and demonstrations, cultural images of men who lead wars and women taking part in peace demonstrations.

Arthur Munby
photographs and excerpts from his diaries and letters, 1860–1904

When Hannah Cullwick was twenty-one, she met Arthur M. Munby, a then twenty-six year old lawyer who was at odds with his education and with wage labor. Munby approached women workers who did hard, dirty, and badly paid work on the street or at their place of work, asking them to let him photograph them or to be interviewed by him. They were domestic servants, but also women who carried milk jugs and other heavy loads, women who picked up the trash. He undertook journeys to women who worked in the mines or to fisherwomen. Or he conducted interviews with a person who was born a woman but who now lived and worked as a man. It is to Munby's credit that he discusses stories like these both in the context of labor and the division of labor (it was not possible for this person to earn his/her living "as a woman") and in the context of his/her desire (s/he preferred men's clothing).

Arthur Munby was carrying out a kind of sociological study. He thoroughly documented these women and their work in his diaries, he prepared descriptions and sketches. In the ninety volumes of his diaries, Arthur Munby particularly concentrated on the attributes of masculinity. He obsessively described and depicted the women workers' muscles, their rough, red hands, or their powerful frames.

His admiring descriptions not only documented, they produced the masculinity, which, without his gaze, without the naming, categorizing, and contextualization of which, what he "saw" would not have existed in the same way. His documentation remains ambivalent: While on the one hand he attempted to establish appreciation for the masculinity and hard work of women, he did not turn against the division of labor that burdened them with this work in the first place. And he made use of the methods of photography and of the categorizing strategies that at that time were in full use as tools of colonization.

At the same time, there was a self-presentation in these descriptions, for Munby liked to juxtapose the proletarian masculinity of the women with his own feminine, weaker, and bourgeois corporeality, such as in a photograph in which he can be seen next to a women mine worker, or in the drawing in which he sketched himself next to a woman worker who was bigger and stronger than he was.

Munby's collection can be read as proof of how widespread the social science and empirical work, as opposed to the objectivity attributed to it, is wrapped up in power, desire, and the reworking of fantasies of the most diverse origins. To what degree do each of the power constellations and fantasy scenarios activated rest on racist and heteronormative archives of images? Where are alterations possible in which various – possibly contradictory – archives of images can be simultaneously activated? And how can the related expense or "work" be made visible in order to assume, change, or even refuse the images on offer and the place that is supposed to be contained within them?

Stefan Hayn, "Ein Film über den Arbeiter"
16mm/DVD, 18 min., 1997/98

The film takes up the question of the role of documentation and the possibility of objectivity. It was produced at a German film school, where it was supposed to be a film for television entitled "The Worker at the End of the Twentieth Century." It is concerned with the impossibility of such a topic, and therefore the filmmaker and documentarian himself becomes the protagonist of the film. It quickly becomes clear that he is hopelessly entangled in the process. When making a documentary film, it is not possible to have a "neutral" view of possible interview partners. They are as much marked by the conventions of documentary films as by the personal relations that arise during the interviews, and by social markers that structure these relations, such as sexual identity. Nor can the materiality of working conditions, working hours, wages, and bodily effort be separated from the (sexual) wishes, fears, compassion, or unconscious bodily reactions that characterize life at the work place. Sex work in a gay tea room is only one example of the fact that relations between service providers and customers simultaneously involve work, fantasies, and sexuality.

Henrik Olesen, "London Goth, Paris Femmes, Lesbian-Americans"
collage, computer prints on cardboard, 2006

The role of the visual archive, such as the one Munby produced, is reflected upon in Henrik Oleson's work. From the context of his previous artistic work, it is clear that this archiving is in no way objective, but follows a particular and pronounced interest, namely taking up heteronormativity in the history of visuality. He uses categorizations like "Lesbian Communities" or "Crossdressing" with no claim to sociological or historical accuracy, and without presenting the criteria that could qualify someone to be called part of a "lesbian community" here. The gaps in the materials used, in the found photographs, documents, or text fragments are not closed, so that one can always recognize what is available – and what not. At the same time, the archive produces, like Munby's collections, an intervention into the writing of the history of the nineteenth century. It tells the story of successful and famous women from the metropolises of London, Paris, Rome, and New York; the stories of masculine women, of women who had relationships with other women, or who dressed as men. It is striking that – unlike in Hannah Cullwick's work – these are stories of bourgeois women, who managed, usually due to their artistic production, to achieve social recognition. Though denied even the posthumous fame that many of their male contemporaries achieved, they still left behind documents that let their history be understood even today. For example, the often-reproduced image of the painter Rosa Bonheur "The Horse Fair" attests to her preference for a western aesthetic, and a document preserved states that in 1852 she sought written permission from the police to be able to wear men's clothes.

Christian Philipp Müller, "andersrum, the other way around
(times have changed, have they?)"
photographs, 1987/ 1991

Christian Philipp Müller's set of photographs is a new work that refers to an old work. The photographs were made in 1979 in the preparations for the first reader of the Swiss HACH (Swiss Homosexual Working Group). Published under the Swiss German title "anderschume" (the other way around), they represented an attempt to produce positive gay images without using stereotypes. In the course of the massive police repression of the Swiss youth movement in the early 1980s, the photos fell into the hands of the police during a raid. After insulting and interrogating them, the statement was made: "Unfortunately it's not legal anymore to gas (people like) you."

The photographs are framed in pink wooden frames. This is the color of the pink triangle, the sign that male detainees had to wear in the Nazi concentration camps when they were interned for homosexuality. This color, which is associated with being gay in many public images and discourses, at the same time contradicts the seemingly "neutral" aesthetic of framing common in the field of art, and also the handcrafted seriousness of the hand enlarged black-and-white prints.

By playing with the serial photographs from the seventies and eighties, the work points to the fact that the creation of "visibility" also tends to produce typologies that then can be answered with social rejection. Against this typologizing, however, the photographs present an atypical version of the group image, in that the bodies presented here are neither exhibited in a group picture nor involved in a sex act, though they certainly interact with each other. At the same time they turn a part of their attention to the spectator without the image being structured by this. The impression of the objective-documentary is as much undermined as the impression of direct communication that seeks to come into contact with the spectator or struggles for their recognition.

Adrian Piper, "My Calling (Cards) #1 + #2"
installation, 1986-1990

Adrian Piper has commented on her Calling Cards– cardboard cards with texts somewhere between business cards and flyers that can be distributed at appropriate occasions – in a text published elsewhere, clarifying what "appropriate occasions" means. The first card, which begins with a self-identification as "black," is conceived for dinner invitations and cocktail parties and here becomes part of a "reactive guerilla performance" (Piper). It functions as an intervention in all the work it takes to deal with common racist remarks at such events. Adrian Piper describes eight possibilities of reacting to this situation – from silence through confession to open argument. All of them entail great expense, even if she does nothing and therefore has to put up with her own shame and guilt feelings at not having reacted against racism. Instead, when someone makes a racist remark, she hands them the card, avoiding open argument while exposing the person to a shaming action.
The second Calling Card is used for uninvited flirting in bars. According to Piper, it takes longer for this card to have an effect, since the sexist idea that a woman "wants it in reality," no matter what she says or conveys by a card, is very persistent.

Klub zwei (Simone Bader, Jo Schmeiser)"Love History.
Die andere Seite der Geschichte"
video installation, 2 DVDs, 25 min., 2007

The work is based on the idea that the history of National Socialism and of the Shoah is imprinted upon our ideas and practices of love, relationships, and sexuality to this day. The installation presents clips from two interviews showing both close-ups of the person being interviewed, as well as conversational situations and the public space in which the conversation was recorded. Klub zwei speaks with women who researched their fathers' involvement in National Socialism and who are trying to come to terms with the effects of this on their own person. The question of how and with what self-technologies this history is and must be worked out is thematized here: What images of the self and others do female descendants of perpetrators and collaborators have in love relationships and friendships? How do they define "love"? Which forms of relationships do they approve of, which ones do they reject for themselves, for others? What are wishes and fantasies? What role do hierarchies and power play in the constellations of their relationships? Which sexual practices do they engage in, which not? Are love, relationships, and sexuality conceived as political (or politicizable) territories?

Zoe Leonard, "Blow Me", "I Love Pussy", "Gay + Proud + Dead",
"I Love You", "Lesbians", "Nicole Loves Sue", "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter"
photographs, 1994/95

Zoe Leonard's photographs each show portions of a wall. They seem to be toilet walls, only once do we see an outer wall, with an adjacent landscape. A small black frame underscores the photographs' fragmentary quality. There are words scratched or written on the wall, creating various levels. Only the clearest words, which by chance are written above, are legible. It is obvious that they will also disappear as soon as the paint crumbles further or other words are written over them. There are names, designations, and confessions that put those named here in connection with lesbian or gay sexuality. There are both self-determinations/self-recognitions ("I love Pussy") and possibly hurtful or shaming statements written by others. Sometimes it cannot be determined what exactly we have in front of us ("Lesbians" with the word "Dead"added). The very small format of the photographs and the fading words stress the casual quality of what is recorded.

Del LaGrace Volcano, "Bad Boys, Chain Reaction", "Daddy Boy Dykes"
Fotografien, 1987/ 1991

The image from "Bad Boys,"taken in the London club "Chain Reaction," captures more than just four visitors to the club. An important actor is the club itself– as a place in which queer subculture, queer sex, and queer cultural production took place. "Chain Reaction was everything I had dreamed of creating in San Francisco but hadn't managed. It was political, collective and full of hot dykes willing to take their politics out of the bedroom into the streets." (Del LaGrace Volcano). According to the image, a context and a place must be produced in order for the ways of life, the sexualities, and the genders presented here to gain a social reality; they clearly must be shared and the spectators are invited to do just that. They can't "know" anything about what is there to be seen without becoming involved themselves, without linking up their own practices. While two of the club visitors captured here in the image are simply "there," without anything in particular to do, two others in the background are "in action," although we cannot easily make out what exactly they are doing there.

The second picture, "Daddy Boy Dykes," shows a masculine, gay leather aesthetic. One of the boys presents a cock or a dildo, the other, who can be seen naked from the waist up, grabs it, a spot of light thereby accentuating one of his breasts. What is represented here is neither gay nor lesbian sexuality, but transgender or queer desire. The bodies that take part are not made explicit, the self-definition "Daddy Boy Dykes" points more to specific fantasy scenarios than to the idea that the genders or desires involved can be classified in a gender binary system or in the alternative of hetero/homo. With its explicit and attractive representation of sexuality, the image intervenes in the heteronormative and two-gendered archive of images that form the basis of everyday sexual images and fantasies, and works toward a new occupation of this archive.

In both of the images a gaze is returned, fixing the spectator. As such, what is shown resists one-sided voyeurism. Instead of being able to consume the scene, the spectators are invited to enter the image or the fantasy scenario for themselves.

Ines Doujak "Dirty Old Women"
installation of photographs in display cabinet, 2001

Ines Doujak's showcase presents a large number of photographs, each of which shows a group of "dirty old women."Sometimes they are naked and have hung their smocks" on the nail," sometimes they are wearing their aprons, sometimes they are showing body parts under the aprons to each other that we as spectators do not see. The women are photographed in a white cube into which the viewer looks from above diagonally. The classic voyeuristic gaze is, however, avoided: By no means is the spectator invited to look through the keyhole. If s/he looks, s/he exposes him/herself. But it does not seem to disturb the women to be viewed, nor do they pay the least attention to the spectator.
The photographs are – like dead butterflies – pinned up in a display case. This is reminiscent of the presentational methods of (natural) historical museums and refers as such to (post)colonial practices of exposure. The spectator is, however, not offered what this "packaging"seems to promise. The women interact with each other with their bodies and are obviously interested in each other. Since these are not actions that can be easily decoded – for instance as sex – they do not convey "insights" or "knowledge," but instead pose the question of which actions (and by whom?) we actually usually classify as "sex".

Oreet Ashery "Self-Portrait as Marcus Fisher I"
photograph, in collaboration with photographer Manuel Vason, 2000

The photograph by Oreet Ashery as Marcus Fisher shows a person, recognizable as an Orthodox Jewish man. From inside his white shirt a white round breast is brought out like some strange object (or like a dildo, a non-natural body part). Marcus Fisher looks at the breast that he holds in both hands. The evidence of gender markings is here carried on ad absurdum. They are indeed exhibited, but they can't be trusted in the process. At the same time, it is made clear that gender cannot be negotiated separate from other identity markings. The representation can only be understood in the context of various gender attributes and expectations that are connected with Orthodox Judaism. "Marcus is looking for his masculine identity, somewhere between the effeminate Eastern European orthodox Jew and the Israeli ultra masculine Jew" (Oreet Ashery).

Mar-Cus in Hebrew means "Mr. Cunt." Oreet Ashery describes the work on the persona of Marcus Fisher– developed in various photographs, in videos such as "Marcus Fisher's Wake" and "Dancing with Men", and in many performances in LBGTI-Clubs– as a "queer return" to Jewishness. Jewishness is here understood less as religion than as background, as work on cultural identity in the diaspora in England, or more specifically: in the London Art Academy or in the London queer subculture.

Alexandra Croitoru, "Untitled: Prime Minister, TV Star, Hip Hop Band, Bodybuilder"
photographs, 2003/04

Alexandra Croitoru's photographs recall a master/slave constellation. We see the artist herself with various men who are each featured prominently in the image and appear "important." In fact – though not necessarily available knowledge in a western art or political context – the men are the Romanian president, an important television moderator, a well-known boy group, and a famous bodybuilder. The images not only point to powerful representations in the tradition of masculine portraits, but also to the material power that is shown in the occupation of important offices, in making political and media-political decisions, bodily strength, and not least in earning money. The artist herself is portrayed in everyday, not overly feminine clothing, standing behind the men, one hand lightly resting on their shoulders. Since in this way she appears to be presenting the men, their powerful performance is overlaid with irony and the whole constellation is shifted: The gesture of the patriarch, who lays his hand on his wife's or children's shoulders, effeminizes or infantilizes the power wielder. Involuntarily we wonder: How did the situation made in the image come to be?

Ghazel, "Untitled Self-Portrait"
video installation, 2004

In a kitschy golden picture frame on a deep red background that calls up both bourgeois aesthetics and camp aesthetics, a series of portraits – instead of a single representative portrait – are faded in and out by a video monitor. They are self-portraits of the artist, seen in a white dress. The images were created in the course of a project in which Ghazel thematized marriage as the only available possibility for her as an Iranian citizen to obtain a French passport and thereby permission to remain in France. While the woman portrayed is seen "as a bride," a possible husband is missing. But this is not the only way in which the images work through various possibilities of visibility or invisibility. While those without documents are considered "invisible" because they have to hide themselves and therefore cannot easily make public appearances, the artists plays with various media strategies of hyper-visibility. These come up when a person is shown who is not supposed to be seen: a bar over the eyes, pixelation or blurring of the face. The images presented here also show the possibilities of passing as "invisible" through a gender change– as Hannah Cullwick considered doing– or by wearing a veil or a chador. The crossing of various positions in the field of gender, religion, status (passport), or origin are here put into the context of the European regimes of borders.

Hannah Cullwick's crossings show how love, work, her position as a domestic servant, her being a woman, her masculinity, and sexuality are interwoven, and how this strengthens power relations, even when it contests them. In each case a great deal of work has to be accomplished – as is thematized quite differently by the current day contextualizations/readings of Cullwick's photographs shown here in the framework of "normal love" – in order to negotiate within the demands, instructions, promises, encouragements, and threats related to sexuality and work position. But the current artistic interventions at the same time make it clear that these crossings can also challenge the field of labor, and "normal love"can be understood as an incitement to translate the "sexual labor" at work here into queer politics of sexuality.