OTHER MODES OF TRANSMISSION
I am interested in revolt, not necessarily political revolution but revolt as Julia Kristeva understands it, as a permanent state of questioning, of transformations, an endless probing of appearances1. My impulse is to create work that asks questions, proposes a reflection, confronts the viewers and offers an alternative way of perceiving the world and its representation. For instance, Jean Genet in Chicago is a rewriting of the events of the 1968 National Democratic Convention from the point-of-view of the controversial French writer. The “thief-video” makes manifest my desire to look critically at history and to draw attention to the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, in this case, by using a strategy of cross-fertilization between archival film footage and video reenactments of historical events with masked actors in contemporary settings. This technique is crucial to the project, as it destabilizes the viewing by blurring the line between facts and fantasies, past and present.
The journey down history is often a bumpy ride for the queer traveler. Neither family nor school tells us anything (positive) about our past struggles. The task at hand is to research, rethink and rewrite. In many of my projects, the strategy of choice has been to queer the archive, creating a new hybridized text that reactivate the past and reframes the present. POSTFACE looks back at the filmography of troubled 1950’s screen idol Montgomery Clift whose private life and career spiral downward after a 1956 car crash that left his face scarred and partially paralyzed. In this video the transmission of knowledge is connected to gossip. If gossip is often understood as unreliable and malicious, it can also give visibility to issues that are taboo in times of repression. The writing of the text is engage in a system of exchange, in this particular case the information culled from the gossip column that infiltrated the Hollywood scripts is now reclaimed in POSTFACE as evidence of a queer life lived in the shadows of the spotlight. As always the work investigates the slippery territory between history, lived experience and fantasy.
The desiring gaze is central to my work. By means of the simple point-of-view shot, the aim of the camera is transferred to the viewer. The spectator is invited to look and desire but the bodies on display are not the usual suspects. The customary system of attraction is turned on its head and the voyeur is confronted to “inappropriate object choices”: the violent thighs of police officers, the bulging guts of men on the beach, the degenerating face of a once-idolized actor. Always the work strives for an opening up of possibilities and a reassessment of presumptions. The two-channel video installation The Faithful revolves around two opposite screens portraying men of different age, race and style, all active in an intense game of seduction. Gay bars are usually segregated, desire strictly organized according specific types based on nightly themes. The fictional space of the installation imagines the opposite, a queer utopia where everyone wants everyone. The men of The Faithful are loyal to the politics of early gay liberation, prioritizing the fleeting and the unknown over more stable and normative arrangements. They are looking back, framed in the nostalgic grain of black and white 16 mm film, but only to look forward, learning from the past to find alternative propositions for the present, the future. Ultimately, the act of cruising, of looking with inquisitive eyes at the possible is what the work demands of the viewer.
1Kristeva, Julia. Revolt, She Said. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002
A project by Frédéric Moffet
In a large room of a galley or public site, two walls facing each other are covered by video projections displaying a series of portraits originally shot on 16mm film and then transferred to digital video. On one wall a succession of six men are posing alone next to a pool table. There are six men of different ages, styles, body types and races. A few of the models are transmen. The performers all look directly in the camera; the framing remains the same for the six shots. Each shot is the length of a hundred feet of film complete with the leader and flares at the beginning and end of each roll. On the opposite wall, five men are posing in front of a mural within the same formal system. Once projected in the room, the men will appear to be cruising each other from opposite sides of a virtual bar. Since the number of portraits is not the same on each wall, when the videos loop, the men will be flirting with a different partner.
The portraits were shot at Touché, Chicago’s oldest leather bar established in 1977. The original bar, located on Lincoln Avenue, burned down in the late eighties but rose from its flames and relocated on Clark Street in Rogers Park. Through it all, Touché has preserved the original rough aesthetic of a working-class neighborhood dive bar from the late seventies. By shooting on 16mm in this type of establishment, the film will locates itself anachronistically and with a heavy dose of nostalgia in the seventies, a moment mythologized in gay culture as the epoch of the clone, the sexually liberated masculine icon of the pre-AIDS era. The men selected for inclusion in the project are not disguised as seventies clones, they simply pose in their own contemporary clothing but they are selected for their confident straightforward attitude, magnetism and sex appeal. In keeping with the tradition of many past and contemporary backrooms of gay bars, a few men are wearing leather apparel while the rest are shirtless. The cast is selected from intimate communities at the intersection of various queer scenes that I frequent: artists, friends from the bars, acquaintances from the gym, strangers met on the Internet. They are, in one way or another, all part of an extended alternative kinship system.
The project engages in a disappearing act, it aims for a conflicting sense of loss, nostalgia and resilience. Black and White 16mm film is on the fast track toward extinction while gay bars have taken a hard hit from the proliferation of Internet hook-up websites but regardless of their digital competition, neither has conceding defeat. Bars are still the locus of the gay community while the materiality and texture of 16mm will always have a strong hold on artists and experimental filmmakers. And above all, men will always cruise other men, regardless of risks, prejudices and oppression.