Queer Spectra Arts Festival returned last weekend to Salt Lake City with both online and in-person performances. The 2022 theme, Tell It Like It Is, invokes the words of social activist bell hooks when she said, “the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is — it’s to imagine what is possible.” This year’s theme invited submissions that recognize the challenges that the LGBTQIA+ community faces and celebrates the strength of queer faith, family, and art.
The festival’s second showcase displayed a broad range of performance art, from spoken word to screendance. The diversity of mediums created a jukebox-like viewing experience, shifting themes and topics between each performance. Undertones of religious conflict and environmental strain carried through the show, addressed by drag artist Luzsaint, who read “the desert doesn’t care if it leaves holes” from their poem “Floor Boards.” Questions of “My God” and commentary towards the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints clearly reflected the experiences of queer youth growing up in Utah.
Funny features such as Kit Francis’s comedic act Face Changer balanced the show, amusing the audience with jests and gimmicks. Although a simple concept, as Francis used everyday objects to shapeshift between characters, the audience was asked to question the masks worn over queer identity and invited to step into a fluid gender experience. Aileen Norris’s video performance Ping Pong Brain similarly displayed a comedic struggle against external pressures, as she repeatedly failed to mount a piece of cardboard on a wall. These performances were successful because they were digestible and light, which Francis later discussed in the Q&A as a difficult approach towards queer art in a community that is burdened by heavy, complex problems.
The show’s two screendances carried the bulk of the show’s emotional weight. Based in Kolkata, India, Sangram Mukhopadhyay’s Fluid Man(?) used a voyeuristic close perspective to defamiliarize self embodiment. Fluctuating between undulating convulsions and tracing his own body in stillness, Mukhopadhyay displayed a full journey of self exploration. Transitions, created by Hannah Fischer and Ira Kaufman, also explored a body in flux. Accompanied by the sounds of Kaufman’s chimes and their words, Fichser used visual metaphors of tension and release to capture Kaufman’s experience within their gender transition. These screendances highlighted introspection through symbolism while showing great vulnerability from both Mukhopadhyay and Kaufman.
While most performances in this show extended a hand towards empathy and sympathy, one outlier stood apart from the rest. Tori Meyer and Nora Lang provided the only live dance performance of the evening with their piece Saggy Titties. Beginning with linear pathways and deconstructed movements, the dancers eventually unfurled blank nylon slings from their jacket sleeves, prompting them to pendulum and swing across the stage. Eventually ending the piece stripped down to only mesh underclothes, the two ended in an amorphous web of each other’s stretched appendages. Unexpected, dynamic, and abstract, this piece gave the audience an inquisitive gaze into alternative queer art but clearly served the artists’ satisfactions foremost.
As Queer Spectra reorients itself after the pandemic, it has traded a broader scope of geographic representation in favor for a Utah-centric festival. This narrowed focus gave greater opportunity for the audience to directly relate with the performances. For a festival that seeks to retain and attract queer artists to Utah, this year’s Queer Spectra successfully created opportunities for queer voices to “tell it like it is.”
Queer Spectra Arts Festival was held in Salt Lake City, May 22-29.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
Brianna Bernhardt is a current loveDANCEmore intern and a BFA candidate in the U of U’s School of Dance. She aims to cultivate creative excellence and promote academia within the arts through her role as a student leader and freelance artist. She enjoys going to museums, reading books, and long walks without destinations. Find her on instagram @bybriannabernhardt.
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