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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.

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About Lina Žigelytė

Queer activist, writer, educator, interdisciplinary artist. Based in Rochester, NY.

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