Curated by Alison Bennett, Xanthe Dobbie and Travis Cox
A silvery multi-plane ice film ripples across its 3D-rendered digital sea alongside a monotone, computerised discussion of a pet fish, toilet water sounds, some algorithmic casio samba bop and a repetitive phrase of American rapper Eve’s 2001 hit, ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind (ft. Gwen Stefani)’. In a pokey, dark shoebox of a space reminiscent of an office server room is an arrangement of seemingly haphazardly ordered wall and floor-mounted screens, monitors, hard-drives, cords, extension leads and black and yellow striped safety tape.
Queertech.io features twenty-seven works from queer-identifying artists play on integrated monitors and sounds in a 27-minute loop, cleverly edited to exist on multiple screens simultaneously, as though self-governing artworks not simply contained to their allocated space but queer and ephemeral in nature. The multi-site result of an online artist callout by director-artist-queers Alison Bennett, Xanthe Dobbie and Travis Cox, these diverse and conceptually rich works riff upon the digital to comedically and poignantly present critiques, research findings, visions and reflections of their relationships with the digital as queer people and artists.
Inherent in viewing works in this bizarrely meditative context is the recollection of fragments, those of James Murray perhaps most powerfully present after I leave the gallery. Murray’s single-channel video Imagine A Place to be Among Friends (2016) scrolls through a finite selection of generative geometric black-and-white cult-esque symbological forms which penetrate the exhibition space with their flickering, multi-screen presence, darting around and occupying a variation of space at any given time. I later learn, when visiting the online exhibition contained at http://queertech.io/, that these symbologies were generated using a combination of software and derived from the dominant and recurring motifs in archived material from Chicago’s Leather Archive and Museum.
Rather than a selection of campy three-dimensional video-game style renderings - though those are represented here, too - and perhaps due to the many text-based works, the physical installation feels rather earnest; reflective. Virginia-based artist Tara Youngborg uses the language of the storybook - itself a powerful tool for intergenerational sharing of experience - combined with a single-image overlay in i used to be a cheerleader (2015). With its largely static medium, the work has a particular affective power in its user-led pixelation and erasure of the young artist’s portrait, whereby the author’s tender and at times humorous reflection on a childhood cheer squad crush is revealed gradually by the user. Similarly tender text prompting contemplation is also utilised in Miriam Poletti’s Lonely Girl Phenomenology (2017) a video investigation of sculptural forms which match the feeling of an ex-partner’s body - translucent water beads, a padded pink neck-cushion, plasticine, cotton insulation.
Agency, attention span and autonomy are played upon in the contrast between the carefully arranged yet busy loop of video and sound works and the installation of three iPad screens at the online exhibition home page. In the gallery space I click through to the online exhibition, learning that each new visit to the homepage uses code to randomise the order of works displayed, imbuing a true sense of hierarchy-less presentation where the curator becomes maintenance-person rather than administrator of information; the user is the driver of their experience. The irony of whether or not this user-led component has any real potential to be contemplated by a viewer in the somewhat convoluted gallery space is not lost on me. In some ways, it feels like the installation is purposely facetious in its using the language of multiplicities to create a conceptual reflexive dialogue about queerness; an in-joke to its queer visitors and audience members. The desire to eliminate sound bleed and distraction in gallery and museum contexts is played upon in the installation as a core visceral and conceptual feature of this installation, whereby the digital (see: URL content) the only ‘space’ that allows singular, complete viewing of works. There is a deliberate redirection of view to multiple planes, physical and digital, simultaneously; a riff on the idea of queerness as that which fundamentally resists category, unable to be absorbed or understood as any singular tangible thing.
Australian artist Catherine Corcoran’s work, placing various highly developed digitally rendered figures in a range of hyper-natural, sci-fi infused landscapes, is an example of an output which situates queerness outside of recognisable context. This is particularly present in Swell (2017), a video work accompanied by a backing of slow moving harmonic theremin-esque sound, where a 3D-scanned figure balances in an ambiguous space that appears to be both a clump of earth and a night sky scene. Alternating between various poses as the figure navigates their bottle-green sea surroundings, the work’s conceptual components subtly articulate a queer body’s sense of floating and feeling grounded simultaneously.
The politicisation of marginalised perspectives is often detrimental to their perception as valid. In this sense, resistance against and outside of the dominant canonical archive or library becomes a way to assert a sense of selfhood not adjacent from or parallel to the hegemony but as its own self-defined and self-contained sphere. It is arguable, then, that cataloguing the ‘other’ is a kind of activism. Queer theory academic and librarian Emily Drabinski1 delved into this, highlighting the importance of queering the archive when writing that the queer perspective is,
...one that challenges the idea that classification and subject language can ever be corrected once and for all... [it] requires new ways of thinking about how to be ethically and politically engaged on behalf of marginal knowledge formations and identities who quite reasonably expect to be able to locate themselves in the library.
This is what the team behind Queertech.io have done so powerfully in their creation of self-determined and resistive digital queer descriptive categories for the exploration of their web-based exhibition, using language that is both specifc and strangely vague; for example, ‘digital bodies’, ‘reworlding’, ‘interactive’, ‘prosthesis’ and ‘reframing’.
Existing both IRL and URL (lol), Melbourne-based activist-video-community-building-artistic project Queertech.io is a highly subversive, multi-modal exhibition where presentation is democratised in a bottom-up TRANS-mission of information. In collating a curated selection of work received from an open-call, accessible process and self-defining search categories and means of archival, Bennett, Cox and Dobbie circumvent the hegemony through prioritising access, democratisation and futurity. Readers, start your (search) engines, and may the best queer win*.
*Not that it’s a competition
Brigid Hansen is a Melbourne-based writer, curator and artist with an interest in queer performance, pop music, feminism and humour. She has worked with a number of organisations including BLINDSIDE, City of Melbourne, RMIT Gallery and True Estate and in 2017 was awarded La Trobe Art Institute’s inaugural Emerging Curator Mentorship.