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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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.

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.