Ruinous Recollections

I am currently researching for a new exhibition in Manchester entitled ‘Ruinous Recollections’ established by two Manchester-based curators; Darien Jane Rozentals and Robert Knifton. “Taking multiple stories of the city as its start point the exhibition will create works that etch memories into Manchester's urban canvas, re-imagining and adding layers to an already fluid city”. Each participating artist has been invited to respond to a public historical figure associated with Manchester. I was selected to focus on Alan Turing, extremely apt in light of my recent research outlined in posts below. Alan Turing was the founder of modern computing and worked in the city after WW2 before committing suicide with a cyanide-laced apple. His suicide was especially controversial as it was thought to be as a result of a relationship with a younger man, which resulted in Turing being prosecuted for homosexuality and consequently being prevented from working in his chosen area of research. I have chosen to use the public memorial for Alan Turing placed in Sackville Gardens as a starting point. I’m especially interested in the symbolism of the apple in this context as Turing was thought to have selected an apple laced with poison as ‘Snow White’ was his favourite fairy tale; it was also speculated to have been a reference to Newton’s apple. Urban myth suggests that Apple.Inc have used an apple with a bite taken out of it as there logo as homage to Turing’s influence on computer technology though this is not confirmed officially by the company.

My research continued whilst on a recent trip to Berlin where I was able to view the recently unveiled National Memorial for Homosexual Victims of National Socialism designed by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset. The viewing experience of the Memorial is an interesting manifestation of the psychogeography of the city and ones place within the heteronormative environment. The memorial is a slightly distorted single granite cuboid with a blackened window enabling viewing access to a video that shows two men tenderly kissing. The site is tucked into the corner of the Tiergarten opposite the imposing Jewish Holocaust memorial. The high profile public position and vastness of the many architectural forms of the Jewish memorial is in stark contrast to the single monolith placed in the Tiergarten partially disguised by trees.

click above image to read inscription

A plaque revealing the meaning of the memorial is placed on the promenade in front of the monolith that sits at the end of a gravel path. The viewer then must make a detour to the monolith to view the video described in the text. Peering into the blackness of the interior, momentary disorientation follows as eyes adjust to the moving image.

I felt both disorientated and physically vulnerable as I peered into the darkness and was reminded of the cultural shame experienced as my own emergent sexuality came to the fore in my young adulthood. This public/private experience felt akin to being caught admiring a handsome man, reminiscent of the first burgeoning signs of the experience of my own sexuality, both terrifying and exhilarating. This very personal interpretation may reveal more about my own personal perspective rather than the artist’s intentions though the complex reaction evokes some of the terror of those early victims of cultural homophobia.

The horror of contemporary cultural homophobia is something I recently explored in ‘Hanged’ part of the Reykjavik Arts Festival in which I depicted the public hanging of Mahmoud Asqari and Ayad Marhouni in Iran. The drawing process was intended to act as a humanising strategy revealing the personal contemplation of this state sanctioned execution. Simultaneously the relocation of the image from computer screen to exhibition space enabled the profundity of the event to be considered in a location once associated with death which has been transformed into a place of art and culture. The drawing element of the show supplemented the photographs of pansies I planted at the site of homophobia and an installation of pansies placed outside the Slaughterhouse Cultural Centre in Egilsstaðir where the exhibition was housed. For more information and images click here.

As my exploration of the depiction of gayness in public locations continues I will endeavour to reveal more here on my thought processes both for the interested few and to benefit my own research processes.

Comments

robk said…
Fantastic post Paul, I've mentioned it on our blog too. I think its fascinating to bring together and compare these two monuments in public spaces, the different dynamics they bring to these places. It certainly fits with the Iceland work too: very powerful stuff!
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