[-empyre-] QUEER PARANORMAL
racheljstevens at gmail.com
Wed Nov 27 10:14:27 AEDT 2019
Great to hear your queer paranormal stories Jess. I was envious of the yurt
on the intergenerational camping co-op until I read on. Energetics, haunted
homes, emotional misreadings… Your assessment: “Queerness, grief, and the
paranormal evade seeing and naming precisely because they are always
already slippery and out of reach” resonates with me in relation to ideas
connected to the Bennington show, if not in general.
I’m very curious if the term “queer paranormal” brings up anything for
others. Particularly during this holiday week filled with family and chosen
family organized around whitewashed histories of the United States.
Hello again with my Two Chairs hat on. It looks like images have been
posted on the Usdan Gallery website, so if you’re interested to see what
the Queer Paranormal exhibition looks like, here it is. (minus Lana Lin’s
film, APRIORI’s outdoor plantings and the sound installation in The Lens).
As Jessica pointed out, seeing and naming are slippery and out of reach, so
I think the works in the show don’t fit neatly into categories. However,
for the sake of building a linear text, we shoehorned the work into three
themes: Haunted House, Haunted Past; Mediums, ESP and Extra-Human
Manifestations; and Witches and Witchcraft.
When asked about our inspiration for the project, one Two Chair member
recalled that they were “interested in exploring the queer past because so
much has been written about queer futurity.” The bulk of the artists have
ended up in this first category, “Haunted House, Haunted Past,” which
Jessica also seemed to evoke. Here are descriptions, from our Two Chairs
text, of projects by Anna Campbell, Zoe Walsh, Sasha Wortzel, Senem Pirler
and Tony Do. More on others tomorrow.
Senem’s work is also featured today on Usdan’s Instagram (vibrators, sound
from electromagnetic energy!):
SENEM PIRLER’S UNEARTHLY VIBRATIONS
Haunted House, Haunted Past
In Anna Campbell’s 2018 installation “You know it pisses you off . . . *
Campbell’s use of ornate “ribboned” marquetry text suggestive of opulent
interiors is used here on wood panels installed to suggest urinal dividers
dive bar. The text consists of excerpts from the English translation of
Monique Wittig’s The Lesbian Body. The use of dividers embodies the split
subject suggested by Wittig through the narrator’s use of the slash between
m and y (m/y), where two lesbian bodies disrupt bodily boundaries and
seemingly deconstruct each other. Dive bar bathrooms traditionally have
been sites for sexual encounters, but Campbell’s lengthy title suggests a
memorial function as well. The title character, Sandy, is haunted by
of writing on bathroom walls as a closeted lesbian at a moment when the bar
was the only place where she could be “out,” resulting In her bitter
partake in the possible pleasures associated with expanding horizons of
Campbell’s “I have nothing to declare except my genius,” said Oscar Wilde to
the customs agent. (2017) is a set of bronze fig leaves recognizable as
traditional devices used to cover the genitals of nudes in paintings and
sculptures, often applied centuries after a work was executed. Applied or
removed as public and bureaucratic sentiments moved back and forth
between the censorious and the progressive, their metonymic presence
references the ideological relations that are ongoing in display between art
and audience. The intention is, perhaps, to imagine or conjure a viewer in
of “protection” from some other, a viewer who, like Jackson’s Eleanor, might
otherwise be compelled to “put her hands over her eyes” when confronted by a
“marble statuary piece” that “was huge and grotesque and somehow whitely
Campbell notes as well a crucial reference that binds this work to
contemporary LGBTQ discussions surrounding gender:
Concurrently, the complex politics of exposure prompt recognition of
the violence in defoliation. This is especially so at a moment in which
“biological sex” is perverted to mean not the range of biological
diversity in regards to a spectrum of sexual characteristics, but rather
an immutable, “true,” and binary classification that has the effect of an
invasive cis-sexist kudzu. In such a moment, armor that is both
affective and made of metal may be necessary.
In Zoe Walsh’s paintings, architectural spaces and figures emerge
from layers of translucent cyan, magenta, and yellow acrylic. In this
photographic source materials are stills from the set of the 1984 gay porn
Ramcharger that Walsh found at the ONE Archives in Los Angeles. While
searching through archives, Walsh notes the “serendipitous encounter,” a
discovery that stimulates further investigation and digital manipulation
series of paintings. They cite Elizabeth Freeman’s book *Time Binds: Queer*
*Temporalities, Queer Histories* as providing an approach for thinking
pleasure inherent in such encounters: “Freeman theorizes the possibility of
alternative relationships to history and develops the idea of
‘erotohistoriography’ in which ‘against pain and loss, erotohistoriography
posits the value of surprise, of pleasurable interruptions and momentary
fulfillments from elsewhere, other times.’” (xi) The paintings explode their
origins by articulating a trans-subjective space both tangible and abstract.
The photographic sources, while queer, are haunted by masculinity. Through
Walsh’s interventions, hyper-masculine cowboys appear genderless. Steve
Garlick queries whether “gendered identities are the equivalent of haunted
houses melancholic structures inhabited by the lost other?” (xii) If this
case, Walsh has developed a methodology rooted in abstraction that counters
the melancholy in favor of investigating “the pleasures, dichotomies, and
varied materializations of trans-subjectivity.”
Sasha Wortzel’s work resurrects queer histories that are buried or
Her works in this exhibition use poetic means and the human voice
to “haunt” us with two such narratives.
In 2012, just before Hurricane Sandy, Wortzel researched the life of Julie
Mindler, the only female sailor to be admitted, in 1965, to Sailors’ Snug
home for aged sailors on Staten Island. At Snug Harbor, Wortzel developed a
series of projects under the umbrella *Eight Bells* (2013). As part of this
research, the artist organized a “séance-like sea shanty gathering and
recording session.” The resulting audio, *Siren* (2013), performed by eight
women, is transmitted in the CAPA Lens on campus (and, incidentally, in the
only land-locked state in New England). Wortzel explains, “Eight bells is a
nautical euphemism meaning finished. It signaled that a sailor's watch on
ship was over, [and] the death of a sailor is also marked with the ringing
eight bells.” This sonic work “references time as ongoing, cyclical, and
collective. Created with eight voices, it sounds singular yet is
they. It is the echo and reverberation of the eighth bell, a bell that is
constant, a hum in the background, underwater, subterranean. . . .” The
dreamy and shifting drone soundscape lures us into an altered state of
attention as we attempt to decipher something at the edge of legibility, a
conjuring of distant but resonant histories.
Wortzel’s video *We Have Always Been on Fire* (2018) features artist Morgan
Bassichis performing a sorrowful song (which he wrote) while standing on
ocean dunes in early morning light. The scene, shot in a part of Fire
has long been a queer gathering place, is intercut with archival footage by
queer nightlife documentarian Nelson Sullivan shot in 1976, preceding the
AIDs crisis. Though the piece operates as a celebration of queer culture
elegy of loss, an additional layer of meaning emerges in the thematic
of witchcraft in the exhibition. The condition of being “on fire” can thus
read as a sign of persecution. The culture’s slow response in finding a
the AIDs virus was, essentially, a death sentence for many in the queer
Senem Pirler’s audio installation, *Unearthly Vibrations* (2019), directly
how the paranormal made its presence known in the Hill House narrative:
sudden sounds and movements that seemed to come from the walls were
expressions of the house that dared to speak the unspeakable. Here the
sounds are amplifications of electromagnetic energy, played over speakers in
the third-floor corridor of Jennings. Electromagnetic energy pervades the
environment via our many technologies but is usually undetectable. When
made perceptible, the rhythms and intensities seem to have an unpredictable
logic. Pirler has heightened the presence of this unseen energy through the
overt intervention of recording—via audio and video—a collection of
in a fish tank. The playful campiness of the animated sex toys make explicit
the forbidden erotics that are repressed or merely implied in Jackson’s
As the artist herself articulates, the situation enabled through amplifying
vibrating others is “an opportunity to listen to their queer desires. . . .
these nonhuman bodies move and what do they sound like when they are not
controlled by human bodies? What can we observe about queerness by
listening to them?”
Tony Do’s wall installation in Jennings—*The Eye of Providence* (2019)—
consists of hundreds of lenticular prints of a “blinking eye” that
and alter eyes depicted on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United
and on the U.S. dollar bill. Says the artist: “This project seeks to both
and alienate the viewer by suggesting an intersection of power corresponding
to divine benevolence as well as to the “evil eye” of state-corporate
surveillance.” In this context, the blinking eyes echo the ”eyes” of Hill
as described by Dr. Montague, the paranormal investigator in Jackson’s
“It watches. The house. It watches every move you make.” (xiii) Dr.
observation eerily references surveillance technologies today that track our
movements with cameras and through our constant interaction with GAFA
(Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). Whereas the queer paranormal gaze is
destabilizing (and not ontological), the state corporate gaze is a
and heteronormative apparatus; its main purpose is to maximize the
system of production and consumption. The queer/paranormal gaze
doesn't necessarily counter capitalism but remains resistant to, somehow
outside of, capitalist logic.
* Full title: *Anna Campbell, You know it pisses you off, because like
*everything is so open and accepted and equal. Women, everyone goes to*
*where they wear slacks, and I could just kick myself in the ass, because
*the opportunities I had that I had to let go because of my way. That if I
*able to dress the way I wanted and everything like that I, Christ, I’d
*made, really. Makes you sick. And you look at the young people today that*
*are gay and they’re financially well-off, they got tremendous jobs,
*that we couldn’t take advantage of, couldn’t have it. It leaves you with a
*of bitterness too. I don’t go around to the gay bars much any more. It’s
*jealousy, it’s bitterness. And I see these young people, doesn’t matter
*way they go, whatever the mood suits them, got tremendous jobs, and you*
*just look at them, you know, they’re happy kids, no problems. You say ‘God*
*damn it, why couldn’t I have that?’ And you actually get bitter, you don’t*
*even want to know them. I don’t anyway. ‘Cause I don’t want to hear about
*don’t tell me your success. Like we were talking about archives, you know*
*where mine is, scratched on a shit-house wall, that’s where it is. And all
*dives in Buffalo that are still standing with my name. That’s it, that’s
all I got*
(x) Shirley Jackson, *The Haunting of Hill House* (New York: Penguin,
(xi) Elizabeth Freeman, *Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer*
*Histories* (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 95.
(xii) Jenen and Munt, *The Ashgate Research Companion to Paranormal*
(xiii) Jackson, 62.
Thanks for listening. <3
Rachel / Two Chairs
On Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 5:04 PM Jessica Posner <jlposner at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi, Everyone!
> I hope you’re starting to slow down before the gear up of going to or
> returning to wherever it is you may be going or whatever it is you’ll be
> doing this emotionally fraught week. I am hoping that everyone on here has
> a moment to catch their breath and find some rest within. I am grateful to
> be invited to be invited to participate on this thread—as I feel like I was
> only just here on the thread remembering Carolee Schneeman, Barbara Hammer,
> and Grace Quintanilla! Thank you for this invitation, M.
> I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to write about this week, but there
> are a few things that I think I’d like you to know about where I am within
> the QUEER PARANORMAL. I’ve been living deep in PARANORMAL QUEERNESS these
> last few years—and certainly this last year. This is going to get personal.
> I feel like it might be helpful to explain the reasons I believe
> Margaretha invited me to contribute this week, as none of these things are
> really addressed in my professional bio or website (lolz). Please know that
> I offer this to you with tenderness and care:
> 1. I was a colleague of Margaretha’s before we became
> friends—academics in the same department. We became friends after I
> insisted that I help ghostbust her house about a year ago around Halloween.
> I don’t know that the details matter much, but it was very intense, and we
> did it. Using sound, plants, potions, reiki, song, movement, and rhythm
> (and a variety of other tools); we managed to flip the energetics of a
> building that had been constricted for years. It was very powerful, and no
> one was surprised that we were able to do this.
> 2. I’m queer! I host a bi-monthly women’s event called FLANNEL at
> Wunderbar in Syracuse, NY. This October, I conducted a group ritual with at
> least hundred other queers in a parking lot. I burned mugwort harvested and
> dried from Margaretha’s garden. It was magic. I also had people screaming
> at the tops of their lungs on the dance floor all night— it was medicine.
> Please reach out if you’re interested in coming to our next one.
> 3. I’ve just returned from my father’s large suburban house in
> Philadelphia. His wife (who was quite cruel to me) died on my birthday last
> year (Oct. 3, 2018). I would spend the next few weeks preparing and hosting
> Shiva at their home. It was perhaps the most difficult weeks of my life.
> Part of the preparation for these weeks of mourning (for which I was
> excluded as a non-blood relative) included rendering a 3,600 sq foot home I
> never lived in ready for dozens of guests in a mater of three days. Neither
> my father nor his wife learned to let go of material things, so their home
> held 70+ years of stuff, paperwork, and memories. In some rooms, there was
> little room for anything else. With my help, my father has been purging his
> house in an effort to get it to market. Remarkably, he has done it (through
> some tough love and my own adaptation of Marie Kondo’s energetic methods).
> But as the house is now emptied of things, it is booming with the echo of
> my step-mother. She died while she was across the country, and had always
> intended to return to her big house filled with the things of her life. But
> now that she’s gone, as well as most of her things, her vibration echos
> loudly from the corners of drawers, rooms, and closets. My father wasn’t
> ready to do energy work to clear this yet, and the house hasn’t sold in a
> market in which it should have. I sprinkled dried plants in those corners
> before I left on Sunday. The feeling is that of a photograph. Before he
> became an engineer, my father was a photographer. He’s kept a darkroom in
> every house he’s lived in (which is many).
> 4. I built a yurt on my family’s intergenerational camping co-op in
> the Summer of 2018. One one hand, it happened with such grace and speed
> that it felt destined. But then many signs appeared that suggested this was
> not right: a severely sprained ankle, two concussions, hundreds of Monotropa
> uniflora sprouting up around my yurt where nothing else would grow.
> Nightmares. Strife in personal relationships. I pulled some tarot cards
> about the yurt and it was always: images of lightning, of towers falling.
> In March of 2019, I was notified that my baby yurt had been crushed by a
> 100 ft, old growth tree that had been stuck by lightning. No-one was
> injured, but the yurt was destroyed. I had intended to share this space as
> a retreat for artists and healers, but this plan is now indefinitely
> stalled. I cannot afford to rebuild.
> 5. My art practice is largely a vehicle for bringing embodied energy
> work to the public. I spend great effort and focus on understanding
> the energetics of the language and materials I employ creatively— employing
> poetics as a method to move people into a state of emotional openness and
> transformation via their bodies.
> 6. My mother (with whom I have a very fraught relationship) revealed
> to me, literally from her hospital bed, that she believed me to be a person
> that I am not. In fact, the person she believed me to be was the opposite
> of who I have spent my life becoming. She misunderstood me on a soul level.
> This was very painful to hear and feel.
> 7. I’ve experienced a variety of sudden and mysterious physical
> ailments over the last few years. All of them occur suddenly, have no
> medical root, and resolve with the assistance of homeopathy, acupuncture,
> herbs, diet, and rest alone. Energy work is the only think that helps.
> 8. My relationship to academia is the most contingent it’s ever been
> at this moment, and it has always been contingent. I am starting Yoga
> Teacher Training in January, and am conducting embodied movement and
> yoga workshops in Central New York. This work feels good, but I’m not sure
> it is right.
> 9. My partner works at Syracuse University (where I have taught, may
> teach again, went to undergrad, and worked as staff and faculty), which has
> been besieged by white supremacist hate crimes over the past few weeks. I
> do not know that I can accurately describe the soul-level grief and pain
> that comes along with being a member of a minority identity targeted by
> hate crimes within your own community. It is, at times, unbearable. It is
> no question why people with the means to leave these kinds of contexts do.
> It is no question that those with the capacity to organize will.
> It’s been a harrowing year for me (for the reasons listed above, but also
> for additional personal and professional reasons I won’t discuss here).
> I’ve been taking time. I was discussing the past year with a friend who is
> a queer artist working in spiritual realms, and she asked me what I needed
> in order to do the things I know I need to do next. She meant to help, but
> it felt overwhelming: accountability, deadlines, ways of turning up the
> pressure, lists, strategic planning, etc. I know all of these things, but
> they are of no use to me now. I told her I just needed time. I needed time
> to shift my own energy, and to slow down enough to allow a momentum to
> catch up with all of this grief. In this past six, twelve, and eighteen
> months I’ve experienced layers compounded grief. Grief is certainly a space
> with a way of keeping a very specific kind of time.
> It makes me think of what Jose Esteban Munoz made so saliently clear in
> his first few paragraphs of *Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer
> Futurity:* Queerness is on the horizon*. *If we read this along Sara
> Ahmed’s theory of queer phenomenology, we understand that the horizon is
> oblique—slippery. If we believe what Munoz and Ahmed are saying, then
> queerness is always out of reach. It’s sitting in time. Looking. Slipping.
> Navigating gravity on a round earth that is always already spinning,
> tilted. I think of how now all we have of Jose is his words, echoing like a
> This is what I’ve learned this year: Not everything that forces change is
> a blessing. Sometimes painful things happen for no reason, but that does
> not mean that they will not change the course of your life. I do not
> believe that the breaking of a curse and a blessing are the same things.
> Some things hurt much more than the others, and we must make these
> I believe some of the most powerful energetic medicine is seeing, naming,
> and accepting things for what they are. Queerness, grief, and the
> paranormal evade seeing and naming precisely because they are always
> already slippery and out of reach. In order to accept them, to work with
> and through them; we must learn to recognize exactly what it is we cannot
> yet see.
> I hope these notes are interesting as a framing device for my approach to
> this concept of the Queer Paranormal—which for me, is deeply personal.
> Tomorrow I hope to lighten things up a bit, by sharing my favorite queer
> paranormal story of the notorious, early 20th century French medium Eva
> C. and her lesbian lover, conspirator, and photographer Juliette
> (image record <https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/284437>,
> via the Met.)
> In queerness and grief,
> Jessica Posner
> jlposner at gmail.com
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
racheljstevens at gmail.com
rachel.stevens at hunter.cuny.edu
Editorial Board – Millennium Film Journal <http://www.mfj-online.org/>
Adjunct Assistant Professor – IMA MFA <http://ima-mfa.hunter.cuny.edu/>,
Film and Media Studies, Hunter College, NYC
Curatorial Collaborator – Two Chairs Projects
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