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Un Magazine 10.2

Scene, and being seen at Day for Night

Luke Letourneau

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Cigdem Aydemir, <em>What If I Curl My Veil? And Other Questions</em> 2016. Day for Night: 24HRS 2016. Courtesy the artist and Performance Space.

Cigdem Aydemir stands atop a podium and is making herself up. Titled What If I Curl My Veil? And Other Questions, this work sees the artist gussy up her veil with rollers while a wind machine billows it as she dances to a deep house beat. In this performance the tropes of beauty commercials are applied to the figure of the veiled woman. Aydemir performs this work twice across the two day schedule of Day for Night: 24 HRS (20–21 February 2016), this year’s edition of an annual festival of performance-based work producing queer spaces and times, held at Carriageworks, Sydney and hosted by Performance Space. Throughout its history, this festival has invited artists working across either nightclubs or gallery spaces to perform in their scene at Performance Space in a setting in which the two converge. Aydemir’s work is indicative of the major thread connecting all of the performances across this event: it displays a body-centred negotiation of identity. She is at one point a figure on display, but she is dancing to the music, just like you might be, so she’s also just another exuberant member of the party.

Day for Night is an event of intersecting and divergent dynamics: it is a dance party, it is an exhibition, and it is the product of queer performance scenes. Curated by Jeff Khan (Artistic Director, Performance Space) and Emma Price (artist and independent creative enabler), the event has returned in the two years since its 2014 debut with a new program of artists. These artists are presented across a schedule which has clear spatial and temporal distinctions — part one: a durational day performance exhibition, and part two: a dance party. Through this convergence, the curators build a queer network which, I want to argue, creates a living history of the scenes presented. In recognising the significant cultural value of these scenes, and bringing them together, the curators enable opportunities for people, places and performance to make and remake ‘the scene’. In doing this, Day for Night becomes a tool for queer (re)production, a term that I use to signal the futurity of these queer scenes. Central to this process of queer (re)production are the activities of seeing and being seen at such an event on the scene.

Scenes are processes of social circulation. They’re about seeing and being seen by others, which creates a particular social experience. The idea of ‘the scene’ has been written about extensively in cultural studies work addressing the social geographies of live music cultures.1 In this context, a bar or club is as important as a record label, and audience members are as important as musicians because they all make the scene together. From this perspective it is evident that a scene does not have a centralised form of leadership, where the producers show the punters how to do the scene, but is a rhizomatic social experience. Every aspect is equally important because it is all a part of what makes up the scene’s identity, and consequently how they are fostered and developed.

In discussing the event on Sydney’s FBi Radio program Canvas, Jeff Khan described Day for Night as indebted to both the queer party scene and the work happening across formal gallery and theatre spaces.2 He stated that he is interested in these two contexts because:

those two worlds come into contact with each other every now and then, but really run in parallel. We wanted to mash them together for this project to see what happens when we mix those two worlds.3

Through Khan’s words it becomes clear that Day for Night provokes at least two scenes — the club and the gallery — to converge and intersect, with the intention that their proximity will create something new. By understanding the event as a queer space of (re)production, this ‘mashing together’ becomes a spatial incarnation of a reading of queer culture.

Yason Banal, <em>UNTITLED_SUNSET</em> 2015. <em>Day for Night: 24HRS</em> 2016. Courtesy the artist and Performance Space. Photo credit: Hospital Hill

At Day for Night all of the artists are not from the same scene. At the 2016 iteration of the festival Stereogamous, artists who have performed in bathhouses and on the international club scene, soundtracked most of the event but also acted as the main act four times across the weekend: The Day for Night All-Ages Dance Party, The Superqueer Saturday Night Party, The Post-Mass Rave, and Sunday T-Dance. Madison Moore, a writer, pop culture scholar and DJ working in London, presented the performance lecture How to Go Clubbing, a meditation on clubbing that evolved into that very thing. Yason Banal, a Manila-based installation artist, installed a series of cars outside Carriageworks as a companion to the Superqueer Saturday Night Party. People could jump into the back seat of these cars and chill-out, which they did, as well as kiss and touch and feel each other. The internationality of the artists in the most recent edition is unlike the artistic line-up the festival previously presented. In the 2014 and 2015 editions, Day for Night commissioned those working prominently in the Sydney arts and queer scenes. In that way, the previous festivals acted as a microcosm of those larger scenes and became more a representation of a Sydney perspective. The implication of curating the 2016 edition with a more international focus is that it reiterates the central reading of queer as such. From year to year, while the artists are not representing the same queer scenes, what remains is the notion that queer is a body-centred negotiation of space and time.

Khan’s interest is in how these parallel queer scenes can come together and illuminate new understandings of what queer can be. Given that performance is the primary art form represented, it is important that queer is understood, in relation to a reading of Day for Night, as a body-centred identity. This notion of queer is one which has resonances with the concept of queer developed by J. Jack Halberstam in In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives.4 In Halberstam’s reading, ‘queer’ is explored as a way of life that rejects being restricted to hetero-mainstream expectations and experiences and, as such, is productive of subcultural life/worlds which exist alongside and outside of the mainstream. It is a relational conjunction rather than a fixed identity category; queer moves. Importantly, this understanding of queer is explicitly temporal; queer must be experienced rather than simply pre-existing. I understand it as a negotiation of space and time (often) against those structured around family and reproduction of the same. To queer, in this sense, is to produce difference, often at the risk of breaking with existing orders and traditions. A queer experience therefore points towards potentiality and the future. A queer temporality is the result of a negotiation (in space and time), which embraces both the immediate and the evolving.

One’s embodiment of space and time in Day for Night is written on one’s skin. As the space evolves from day to night your body behaves in reaction to various spatial and temporal cues. Night-time: advertised and set-up as a dance party, eighteen-years-old and over only. As you make your way through the doors, you are met with a live soundtrack scored by Stereogamous. The music is loud and the bar is open for business. The event’s curators have programmed a series of performances that will take place across the evening, but this is a party, there is an assumption that you will dance; so be prepared to sweat. Day-time: advertised and set-up as an art exhibition, open to all ages. During the exhibition the music is quieter and the distribution of light greater, this feels closer to a traditional gallery viewing experience. The exhibition is still a queer space but not exactly the energetic party from the other night. What this convergence of day and night reveals are the various spatial and temporal cues that a queer navigation responds to. This queer space and time is constantly evolving because it is responding immediately to cues.

It is the present-ness of queer experience which psychoanalytic literary theorist Lee Edelman uses to critique contemporary forms of mainstream politics in No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive.5 For him, the figure of the queer can escape the anxieties relating to expectations of a legacy or a life perpetuated into the future. Edelman’s queer is a figure living for the now, seeking a place in the ‘bed or the bar or the baths’.6 It is through this indulgence in the immediate experience that his figure avoids the hetero-mainstream expectations of being remembered and having a legacy to pass onto the future. Edelman’s queers might step into various scenes of sex or music, however, thinking these scenes more closely challenges his hedonistic notions of queer experience. This is possible without departing from Edelman’s productive insistence on the experience of the immediate or his cynicism of institutional reproduction of the same.

Day for Night (re)produces queer tempor­alities because it provides exposure to them. It does not allow for the reproduction of the individual, instead it affords a forum for the scenes to endure. It is in this way that the event can be seen to function as both a rejection and indulgence of Edelman’s key idea that to work to preserve a present is to divorce yourself from a lifestyle only for your present. At Day for Night you can seek your place at the party. The artists perform their scene and you are afforded a proximity to it. What this establishes, in relation to (re)production, is that the party and the exhibition provide an opportunity for the attendant to participate and witness. Whether you identify as being a part of the scene or not, you become implicated as a witness. You are experiencing a space and time as an expression of scenes. Day for Night thus becomes a point in the queer scene in Sydney attentive to its own role in remembering itself, and how this can create something.

Requiem Mass: LGBT / Working Title, presented by Portland-based Holcombe Waller at this year’s Day for Night, considers this very idea of how we remember and create something new. Staged on the Sunday morning — following Stereogamous’ Superqueer Saturday Night Party — this is a requiem mass. There is an organ playing, a community choir, a sermon given by a celebrant and a reading by Reverend Dr. Margaret Mayman, of Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney. Through reading and song, the work invokes the names and experiences of the dead who have suffered persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. Waller recounts queer experiences through songs, readings and sermons. To remember in this way — through song and, importantly, in partnership with other communities — is to construct a space for people to remember collectively. Here, audiences are participants in a queer civic space. A Mass is not something new but in the context of Day for Night, the Mass becomes linked to the parties hosted in that very site. The event provides another opportunity for audiences to get lost in a community of music. It is a space where queer communities, and others, can come to remember and sing through the past; it is a space where queer communities, and others, can witness each other remembering. Requiem Mass creates something new as a consequence of Day for Night because it implicates us as the participant and witness. A Mass might hardly be one of Edelman’s ‘bed or the bar or baths’ but it becomes a queer space here because it is the consequence of a history of body-centred identities activated in the present.

The life continuing potential of queer scenes has been explored by gender and cultural studies academic, Kerryn Drysdale, in her exploration of the Newtown Drag King scene after falling audience numbers led to their regular clubs and bars ceasing to book performers.7 For Drysdale, the Newtown Drag King scene continues to live orally. For those within the scene, continuing to speak about the performers, spaces and social dynamics of the scene keeps it alive. Even though the scene is no longer active, through oral history it continues to be an active history, conjured in the present. Writing and speaking of scenes is therefore an important form of (sub)cultural maintenance work, which might just keep the scene alive. The scene may not have the same entertainment venues to meet at, but members are still active in their social engagement with each other. This sociality affords the scene a history, and thus a continued survival. An awareness of this history offers the potential for a Drag King scene to re-emerge in the future.

Bringing together artists who perform in their queer scenes in Day for Night exposes them to a larger public. An audience engaging with the event is placed in the proximity of performers from different scenes. This proximity allows for the audience to embody the history of the scene. For each audience, at any given point across the event, not only is a queer space and time navigated differently through engagement with the work of different artists, it is also navigated socially. These social dynamics, which make up aspects of the scenes, are afforded a history by being consumed and remembered by that audience. Generations pass, but the past is always there to provide a direction for other ways of doing the future. While the Newtown Drag King scene might survive orally, Drysdale’s research provides another means of cultural survival and, as such, potential for renewal. For those outside the Newtown Drag King scene her writing provides a means of access. In this way, I read Performance Space’s staging of Day for Night, as well as my own discussion of the event, as important forms of cultural work, performed in the hope that they might also function to provide access.

In Day for Night the curators’ mediation on various queer scenes historicises them by bringing them into the social archive. This is a paradoxical understanding of queer space and time, which both accepts and rejects the notion that the future ends here. It embraces Edelman’s hedonistic insistence on the present but acknowledges that presents can continue to have a presence. A queer (re)production is not a blind repetition of the present; instead it is the recognising of the now, soon to be past, as but one more potential among many ways to do the future. This becomes possible not only through archiving and remembering but making, re-making and embodying. It is in the archiving of scenes that cultural successors have access to (re)produce them. For successors, in their new spaces and times, the present can become one more option.

Luke Letourneau is the director of Kudos Gallery and an emerging curator based in Sydney.


  1. Of particular relevance is Benjamin Woo, Jamie Rennie and Stuart R. Poyntz, ‘Scene Thinking: Introduction’, Cultural Studies 29.3, 2015. pp. 285–297. 

  2. Canvas #021 — Body Politics’, Del Lumanta interviews Jeff Kahn, Canvas, FBi, 94.5, 23 February 2015, radio interview. 

  3. Ibid. 

  4. Judith Halberstam, ‘Queer Temporality And Postmodern Geographies’, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, NYU Press, New York, 2005, pp. 1–21. 

  5. Lee Edelman, ‘The Future is Kids stuff’, No future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Duke University Press, London, 2004, pp. 1–32. 

  6. Ibid., pp. 29–30. 

  7. Kerryn Drysdale, ‘When Scenes Fade: Methodological lessons from Sydney’s drag king culture’, Cultural Studies 29.3 2015, pp. 345–362.