Empty beds and queer sexualities

After mentioning to a friend today that I was looking into photographs of empty beds I was directed to Tammy Rae Carland’s series of empty lesbian beds. Hers is a response to abstract expressionist and color field painters such as Rauschenberg who has famously made paintings out of beds.

Tammy Rae Carland. From the series Lesbian Beds, 2002

Tammy Rae Carland. From the series Lesbian Beds, 2002

Visually it is different from Dean Sameshima’s series In Between Days (Without You) with photographs of empty beds in gay clubs which speak not only about quests to satisfy queer desires and the inevitable “petit morte” left in sexual encounters – a sense of loss of the experience once it is over. Sameshima’s images also speak about transition of gay public sex culture from bathhouses with diverse social encounters to strictly sexual environments to private cruising enabled by technology these days. Hence, Sameshima not only documents, but builds a reflective archive of queer experiences.

Dean Sameshima. From the series In Between Days (Without You), 1998

What I find interesting in Carland’s images is the fact that it is impossible to have the vantage point she shows without actually floating above the bed. These images have a sense of more crafted staging than Sameshima or, for instance, Felix Gonzalez-Torres famous series Untitled, 1991 with the photograph of his and his lover’s Ross’s bed after he had just died of AIDS.

Felix Gonzalez Torres. Untitled, 1991. Selected views

Carland seems to be painting with the objects inhabiting the bed, building the image as if with construction blocks rather than freezing the fragment of time. Also, Sameshima’s images are postcard size, Torres’ image was mounted on billboards, which nonetheless seemed almost invisible in the cityscape of New York. Carland blows up the beds to 40×30 inches. Perhaps if the images were attempting to replicate the painting less and contemplate about the presence of the camera in the absence of the body they would generate a more dynamic choreography of animated absence. These are just some thoughts I’ve been brewing in my rummagings of empty beds.


Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park

Kohei Yoshiyuki. The Park (Shinjuku), Gelatin Silver Print, 1971

It took me a while to track the name of Kohei Yoshiyuki. What fascinated me most first time I stumbled upon these infrared images from the series The Park was their presentation. To my knowledge, during the exhibition the prints were hanging in a dark gallery. The visitors were given little torches so they could light up the dark trails of The Park and indulge in the secrets unfolding among cruising gay men, peeping toms, and sexual encounters in public spaces. I think the presentation places the spectators into a ambivalent situation where discomfort of intruding private encounters mingles with voyeurism.

Eisenstein’s Mexico odyssey: homoerotic drawings

Sergei Eisenstein. Aux coeurs de Verlaine et de Rimbaud. Drawing.

These series, I believe, produced in Mexico, was a pleasant discovery for me. Stumbled upon them in Dominique Fernandez A Hidden Love: Art and Homosexuality, in the chapter The Dictatorships. Which only convinced me once again that sometimes invisibility is a question of where the vision is directed. I’ll post more of these.

Glen Fogel.

Glen Fogel. Glen from Colorado (2009). Installation


In the installation of this American artist received personal letters are read out loud with the artists name – Glen – flashing in fluorescent letters. The emptying of the personal is also expressed in his other piece of the same year – Art from Kansas City. Here the artist appropriated male escort Mike Jones’s memoir of his relationship with evangelical icon Ted Haggard. Blacking out the majority of the text, Fogel inserted his name in lieu of the author’s, and left uncensored sentences containing the word ‘Art’ – Haggard’s pseudonym and middle name Arthur.

Abelardo Morell and Camera Obscura

Abelardo Morell. Camera Obscura: View of Times Square in Hotel Room, 2010

Ok, so this one is not exactly “queer”. It’s just that I was researching a lot about beds in photography – how they are used and what worlds such images create. And as I was doing this I stumbled upon Cuban-born Abelardo Morell and his images done by turning the rooms he inhabits into camera obscuras. He’s smart – oftentimes uses the prism to turn the image so it is not  upside down. I’m tempted to do this one day too!

Notes for the project in progress: on animated absence and belonging

“We might say, in Benjaminian fashion, that thought emerges from the ruins, as the ruins, of this decimation. It does not constitute its reversal or recuperation, its ANIMATED AFTERLIFE. Animated precisely by what is not recoverable, this is a thought that is unthought to itself and thus opaque, but nevertheless alive and persistent. What results is a melancholic agency who cannot know its history as the past, cannot capture its history through chronology, and does not know who it is except as the survival, the persistence of a certain UNAVOWABILITY THAT HAUNTS THE PRESENT. Places are lost – destroyed, vacated, barred – but then there is some new place, and it is not the first, never can be the first. And so there is an impossibility housed at the site of this new place. What is new, newness itself, is founded upon the loss of original place, and so it is a newness that has within it a sense of belatedness, of coming after, and of being thus fundamentally determined by a past that continues to inform it. And so this past is not actually past in the sense of “over”, since it continues as an ANIMATING ABSENCE IN THE PRESENCE, one that makes itself known precisely in and through the survival of anachronism itself.

We could say, with well-deserved pathos and in the voice of traditional modernism, that this new place is one of NO BELONGING, where subjectivity becomes untethered from its collective fabric, where individuation becomes a historical necessity. But perhaps this is a place where belonging now takes place in and through a common sense of loss (which does not mean that all these losses are the same). Loss becomes condition and necessity for a certain sense of community, where community does not overcome the loss, where community cannot overcome the loss without losing the very sense of itself as community. And if we say this second truth about the PLACE WHERE BELONGING IS POSSIBLE, then pathos is not negated, but it turns out to be oddly fecund, paradoxically productive. ”


(Judith Butler. After Loss, What Then? In Loss. The Politics of Mourning, ed. David L. Eng and David Kazanjian (UCP, Berkeley: 2003), p. 468)


Notes for the project in progress

Queer space is not an enclave or ghetto, but exists everywhere, unbounded, ever-present” (Brian McGrath, March 1994, writing about his project There Is No “Queer Space”, Only Different Points of View).

In John Paul Ricco. Fag-o-Sites: Minor Architecture and Geopolitics of Queer Everyday Life. (Chicago: 1998)

Q: to what extent such framing of fluidity with regards to queer spaces and their possibilities pastoralizes the notion of queer (the term Leo Bersani uses as a threat to the political stance of queer identity)?

Q: how can activist practices be constantly re-invented?

Duane Michals. Certain Words Must Be Said.

Duane Michals. Certain Words Must Be Said. 1976.

“Things had become impossible between them and nothing could be salvaged. Certain words must be said. And although each one had said those words silently to herself a hundred times, neither had the courage to say them outloud to one another. So they began to hope someone else might say the necessary words for them. Perhaps a letter might arrive or a telegram delivered that would say what they could not. Now they spent their days waiting. What else could they do?”

I’m moved by this one as an endeavor to look for the language in which homosociality can be spoken. The suspension of the image and the text accompanying Michals’ work as his common strategy open up queer dreamlands in which unspoken desires echo, ripple and reverberate.