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“Lost & Found: Transgender Image-Making”

logoihliaAs the Arts program coordinator for TranScreen and together with trans* artist Willemijn da Campo, I curated the exhibition “Lost & Found: Transgender Image-Making” at the International Gay and Lesbian Archive and Information Centre (IHLIA) in the Amsterdam Main Public Library. From April – July 2013 it was open to the public of the library, some 5,000 people a day. “Lost & Found” explored the politics of producing and archiving transgender images through visual art, video installations, social media campaigns, workshops and debates with Dutch and international artists.

During the festival a panel discussion was held with seven of the participating artists about what it means for them to produce trans* art today (including Fernanda Milan, Madsen Minx and Simon Croft). Through partnership with the Gender Graduate Program of Utrecht University, Susan Stryker (University of Arizona) gave a Public Lecture “We Who Are Sexy: The Whirlwind Tour of Transgender Images in Cinema” on the archive of trans* cinema.

 

Detailed summary

The exhibition was envisioned as an opportunity for festival visitors, IHLIA visitors, and the broader public to make a connection with this important archive, to learn more about the practices of film and image-making, and to become aware of the representation politics around transgender people. Through interactions with artists and trending media narratives, the visitor to Lost & Found was invited to become more aware of the ongoing injustices, the profound achievements of transgender movements, and diverse trans artistic practices.

Invitation flyer Lost & FoundThe materials on display in Lost & Found were organized around three interlocking themes: The Documenting Impulse, Collecting Lost Stories, and Excesses of Creativity. Participating artists include Pride Photo Award winner Manual Garcia Ricardo with images from his series “Transmen of the World” (Mexico/Germany 2011) and editorial photographs from the acclaimed series “Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America” by Molly Landreth (United States 2004-2009). We also featured a collection of stunning visual art: from Emmett Ramstad’s series “Intimately Preserved” (United States 2013), stained glasswork “Antony” by Willemijn da Campo (NL 2011), as well as sculpture from Simon Croft (UK 2006), Sebastian De Line (Canada/NL 2012), and from Miss Tobi Möhring (Germany 2012). Selected video works are all recent shorts that meditate on the politics of representation and finding each other, from seven international artists.

We also present social digital/street media produced to bring awareness to the Fernanda Milan campaign for asylum in Denmark and around CeCe McDonald’s self-defense court case in the United States. Finally, to show the behind the scenes creativity of trans filmmaking, we displayed materials such as the wild storyboards of cult hit Dandy Dust (Hans Scheirl 1998), ornate costumes by Antoine Timmerman worn in the documentary One Zero One (Tim Lienhard 2012), and animation stills from Alec Butler’s The Misadventures of Pussy Boy Trilogy (2002-2006).

 

“The Documenting Impulse” – registering diverse trans representation strategies

The photographs of Manual Garcia Ricardo and Molly Landreth record their travels around the world and through America. We can look into the eyes of trans people from all walks of life, represented in their home environments. Next to the color photography, the stained glass portrait of Antony Hagerty by Willemijn da Campo uses an older technique for preserving important figures.

Rather than creating new documents, the other visual artists included here recycle and repurpose found objects. Emmett Ramstad’s work, comprised of bodily sculptures and preserved intimates, is inspired by LGBT archives and trans embodiment. The sculptural forms by Simon Croft employ wit to stitch together feminine and masculine craft, and self-crafting. Found object sculptures by Willemijn da Campo, Sebastian De Line, and Miss Tobi Möhring also poke fun at gender perceptions.

The documenting impulses in these works involve artistic strategies of excavating archives, and creating new ones for trans identities.

 

“Collecting Lost Stories” – mediatized stories of struggle

Seven international video artists meditate on the politics of telling stories and finding each other in the process. The contemporary shorts collect stories lost in the dominant narratives of normative gender, and even of transgender. We can hear about mothers who say “you are even pretty when dressing masculine”, from top trans athletes navigating the sports field, and testimonials about experiencing transitioning differently depending on skin color.

The pillar display showcases a collage of community-made digital and street media. These global campaigns are based on social justice struggles in the Netherlands, America, and Guatemala/Denmark. Images from a rally in Haarlem show slogans and colorful banners demanding the passage of the ‘transgender law’ (Article 29). Creative media pressure on the Danish government to grant asylum to activist Fernanda Milan was eventually successful. The ‘free CeCe’ movement is still aiming (as of 2013) for the release of transwoman CeCe McDonald from a men’s prison.

The practice of collecting and sharing these stories is aimed at bringing to light ongoing injustices. They showcase too the profound achievements of creative transgender activism in fighting inequality.

 

“Excesses of Creativity” – the hidden side of film production

The art of filmmaking involves a great deal of pre-production that becomes invisible in the final product. Accompanying TranScreen Amsterdam Film Festival, we showcase the excesses of creativity from films programmed in this second edition.

Storyboards enable the director to imagine key scenes, thus to develop a film’s look and feel. Director Hans Scheirl sketches show the wild mise-en-scene and characters from Dandy Dust in vivid detail. The document of scene layout from The Year I Broke My Voice similarly details a working method, but of collaborative filmmaking. Productions stills are taken during shooting to try out and capture different points of view. Forming interesting documents in themselves, the pictures from these films give us insight into image-making practices. The performances of drag duo Cybersissy & BayBjane captured in the documentary One Zero One involve ornate costumes. Integral to the film’s visual richness, designer Antoine Timmerman’s creations are often made-up of surprising everyday components.

Over-the-top or minimalist, trans filmmaking can be seen as a creative act from beginning to end.

 

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LIST OF WORKS

Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America, Molly Landreth, The United States, 2005-2008.
Traveling across the country, this long-term portrait project explores what it means to be queer today in diverse locales. The transgender and genderqueer participants depicted worked in collaboration with the photographer to create an archive of rapidly changing communities.
Gina at Home, Everett, WA.
Jason and Star, Columbus, OH.
Cruz, aka Jalesa, Columbus, OH.
Frankie and His Best Boyfriend Trophy, Oakland, CA.

TransMen of the World, Manuel Ricardo Garcia, Mexico/Germany, 2009-2012.
These images are from an international photography project about FTMs, in all stages of gender transition. The photographs are taken in the participant’s hometown, with attention to “their special beauty and their vulnerability” (Garcia).
Alex, Berlin, Germany
Themba, Soweto, South Africa
Marcos, Sevilla, Spain
Alex, Oslo, Norway

Antony, Willemijn de Campo, The Netherlands, 2011.
An intricately wrought stained glasswork portrait of Antony Hegarty (artist and singer of Antony and the Johnsons), as a saint-like icon.

Discarded, Willemijn da Campo, The Netherlands, 2013.
A pair of old glasses sits unused in a conservation box, but a closer look at them suggests a deeper rejection.

Trans-homoerotic Archive, Emmett Ramstad, The United States, 2013.
Using found and repurposed objects, this collection shows different forms of preserved desires and invites us to reflect on why we archive.

Nuts, Simon Croft, The United Kingdom, 2006.
Using a linguistic pun and a visual game, “Nuts” interrogates the construction of masculinity from a trans perspective.

Hair Shirt-photograph, Simon Croft, The United Kingdom, 2005. Photograph of chest hair as needlepoint.

Hair Shirt, Simon Croft, The United Kingdom, 2005.
A delicate rendering of trans-masculinity.

Vagina Dentata, Sebastian DeLine, Canada/The Netherlands, 2012.
A menacing object created with a found saw blade, jump rope handles, and humour.

Switch it, Miss Tobi Möhring, Germany, 2012.
Using found metal objects, the sculptural lamp challenges our visual expectations.

Headpiece “recycled glamour”: Puppets-irokee with suck on connection, Antoine Timmerman (Cybersissy), the Netherlands, worn in the documentary One Zero One: The story of Cybersissy & BayBjane (2012), 2006.

Shoes “recycled glamour”: Pumped up pumps, Antoine Timmerman (Cybersissy), the Netherlands, worn in the documentary One Zero One: The story of Cybersissy & BayBjane (2012), 2012.

Ceramic statue: “stuffed by symbol”, Antoine Timmerman (Cybersissy), the Netherlands, seen in the documentary One Zero One: The story of Cybersissy & BayBjane (2012), 2012.

Chrome Tittie-Top “recycled glamour”: Two Ivanhoe Children’s Hat and Bra, Antoine Timmerman (Cybersissy), the Netherlands, worn in the documentary One Zero One: The story of Cybersissy & BayBjane (2012), 2012.

The year I broke my voice, Madsen Minax, United States 2012. Production stills.

The year I broke my voice, Madsen Minax, United States 2012. Collaborative scene layout document.

Dandy Dust Journals, Hans Scheirl, Austria/UK 1994-1998, (on loan from collection of Maren Gröning). Storyboard in director’s own art journals.

N.O.Body project materials, Renate Lorenz/Pauline Boudry, Germany/France, 2008

Sissy Calendar, Elisha Lim, Singapore/Canada, 2012

TransMen of the World photobook, Manuel Ricardo Garcia, Mexico/Germany, 2012.

The Misadventures of Pussy boy Trilogy, Alec Butler, Canada 2000-2004.
Production stills from episode one: First Love.

 

VIDEOS

Trans*sport*gaygames, Tom Weller, Germany 2011, 9 min.
The documentary interviews trans participants at the gay games about the binary organization of sport.

The Homecoming, Carine Parola, France 2011, 10 min.
Negotiating the outside gaze, Kay Garnelen, Lalla Kowska Régnier, and Floryan Saez speak about their experiences of losing and finding a place to call home.

The Hawker, Coco Riot and Elisha Lim, Canada 2012, 2 min.
The animation tells a story about remembering a trans street-hawker in Singapore, and taking pride in visibility.

A Difference, Zion Johnson and Raymond Rea, United States 2010, 18 min.
Various raced transmen provocatively debate how transitioning is experienced differently.

Find Each Other: Local Autonomy Networks, Micha Cárdenas, United States, 4 min.
The performance piece explores how networked technologies can facilitate new communities and end gendered violence.

They, Ignacio Rivera, United Sates 2007, 8min.
Using archival footage, this experimental documentary investigates family memories and a lifetime of gender fluidity.