Queer Spectra Arts Festival 2020 is a two day interactive virtual gallery (September 5-6, 2020) showcasing work by LGBTQIA+ individuals from the Salt Lake area as well as artists from across the nation. The gallery can be accessed for another week here. The festival’s theme this year is Risk of representation. Conveyed throughout the works presented are motifs of shame, social conflict, celebration of self, and the de-stigmatization of the Queer body. Each artist’s work speaks to a different facet of the Queer experience through photography, movement, poetry, painting, etcetera.
The topic of Queer shame is a recurrent reference in many of the works presented. “Samuel Beckett Does Drag“(concept and performance by Emmett Wilson, videography by Matt “TheRat” Nelson, music by Ms. John Soda) is a drag performance in which the viewer is let in on complicated relationships to societal pressures of gender roles. A sock, at first being used as DIY packer for a mannequin prop then stretched over the performer’s face, accomplishes a masking of identity mirroring real insecurities and shame revolving around exploration of gender expression and identity. In Nate Francis’ work, there is a sense of shame associated with the subject’s poses in the photographs and choice to keep their face hidden. The set of photographs creates an aura of malaise using a dark backdrop, green tones, and underexposure.
The motif of social conflict in art is ever present as the fight for equality presses on.
“Silence is Violent,” a collection of spoken poems by Nico Sin, speaks powerfully on the subjects of erasure, discrimination, and violence towards LGBTQIA+ individuals under the influence of the LDS church in Utah and the continued effort to hold systems of oppression accountable for their acts against minority groups. On the matter of social media and dating, “Two Questions,” by Tony Griego is a social experiment asking eleven individuals, age 18-70, “What would you say is the biggest struggle being gay in this day and age?” and “What is most important in life?” on the popular Gay dating/hookup app, Grindr. This work looks at the difficulties of forming an intimate bond with someone in the era of social media and hookup culture.
Concepts of destigmatizing the Queer, Black body are evident in works by Jordan Simmons and Steven Salabsky. “LIFTED,” a short dance film (direction, editing, choreography, and performance by Jordan Simmons, direction and videography by Malcolm Fields, music by Jazmine Sullivan, cover art by Taylar Jackson) presents a celebration of self. Filmed out in nature, artist Jordan Simmons embraces their transgender body through movement combining fluid contemporary movement, Krump, and other dance forms. Close up shots show them smiling and wearing their top surgery scars proudly. In “Self Portrait,” a series of three painted self portraits by Steven Salabsky, the artist paints himself getting in and out of the bathtub, an everyday task to showcase humanity against the harsh criminal stereotype that is placed upon black men today.
Day one came to a close with a live Zoom performance: “I heard it’s worse if you open your mouth,” a movement exploration choreographed and performed by Dominica Greene with music by Simon and Garfunkle, Bach, and Tchaikovsky. The artist’s body contrasting with classical compositions by the historical white man amplifies the differences of being a Queer, BIPOC in a white heteronormative society, encompassing the concepts of shame, social conflict, and destigmatization highlighted by the event’s theme, Risk of representation.
Day two of the festival featured two panel discussions, via zoom, on the topics of Risk and Representation and a zoom zine-making workshop.
On the subject of risk, organizers from Queer Spectra were joined by some of the presenting artists to discuss and share. The conversation highlighted the ways risk of Queer self expression surface in art and how sharing identity openly can be a risk depending on environment. Jordan Simmons talked about their experience moving from Salt Lake City back to New Jersey during the pandemic and being confronted with the risk of people from the community they grew up in, seeing them post-coming out and transitioning. The artists expressed how they have learned to adapt to being more comfortable presenting work that is more authentic to themselves, rather than not fully putting forth the message they are trying to convey.
Zine makers and other curious artists, including myself, came together to participate in a zine making workshop led by Max Barnewitz. Max gave us a brief introduction to zine history and introduced their perspective on zine culture being alternative and inherently representative of the Queer community. We started making our zines by folding paper into a small booklet. We were then asked to write a word associated with risk on each page. To accompany each word, we drew shapes which created a jumping off point for illustrating a “monster.” This creative exercise allowed the participants to confront feelings surrounding risk and openly discuss if/why taking risks is important.
The panel discussion on representation had some of the presenting artists reflect on times when they saw their identity represented in someone else’s art. There was conversation around both physical representation and emotional representation such as relating to someone else’s work and the joy that comes with realizing that there is a shared identity or experience between oneself and the artist. The discussion also brought up if what the artist intends to represent motivates their process or if the themes appear after the work has been created. Teresa Fellion, choreographer of “Healing Currently Downloading (in progress),” shared how she tries to avoid thinking about the work’s message too hard in order to allow the themes to emerge organically.
Queer Spectra Arts Festival 2020 uplifted LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities during the global pandemic (virus, racism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia alike) by giving artists the opportunity to share their voices and perspectives through a wide array of disciplines portraying individual experience of risk and representation in today’s society.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org
Harlie Heiserman (they/them/theirs) is a dance artist originally from the D.C. metropolitan area. They trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance prior to relocating to Salt Lake City where they are a current member of SALT2 and Oquirrh West Project. Harlie’s work and research is driven by heightened emotional states, instinct, and effort.