What it means to be queer has become a frequent discussion not only among my students but also among my peers who had long ago embraced LGBT identities. Reclaiming the term “queer” from the realm of pejoratives, which had once signified the right to and pride in living lives unfettered from heteronormativity, suddenly held new possibilities, particularly in the context of a tide driving LGBT people into normalcy. While no one regretted the demise of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or the Defense of Marriage Act, the prospect of a new normativity raised issues about the desirability of that status.

In a Spring 2013 course I taught at Parsons called “Homonormativity and the American Ideal,” art historian and artist Catherine Lord visited my class, to speak about “To Whom It May Concern…”a site-specific installation she had created at the One Archives in Los Angeles. That project focused on dedication pages in the books the archive had collected. She talked about the color of the pages, the typeface, the bleeding print, the telegraphing of indecipherable massages that conveyed biography, politics, intentions, passions, fears, and other qualities. She talked about the power and “queerness” of those pieces of paper. Often those pages were not only different in design and content from the rest of the book, they possessed an autonomy that often inflected readings of the texts that followed. It was about that time that I began thinking about grounding future queer as a project would de-stabilize the ways in which we see our environment, and foreground approaches that demand, in some cases, attention to the details of the worlds they critique and the visions they present; in others an openness to the spirits they embody.

The works on view in grounding future queer represent a mining of The New School Art Collection for works by artists whose work and lived experience present options to heterosexual norms. From more than a two thousand works in The New School Art Collection, spanning a period of 85 years, these works were made by an international group of practitioners between the period 1929 to 2012 who have experienced changing political circumstances and cultural responses to issues pertaining to sexuality and gender.

The works run the gamut from the 1929 allegorical work of Russian émigré Pavel Tchelitchew to the 2012 work of Aziz & Cucher responding to the complexities of their responses to turmoil in the Middle East, from the minimalist image of a poem about a young man’s abuse by John Giorno to works by Frank Moore, David Wojnarowicz and Ross Bleckner that are direct responses to the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, from the work of Joan Snyder who calls out the names of Biblical women to a photograph by Catherine Opie recording performance artist Ron Athey creating scarification on the back of Divinity Fudge (a.k.a. Darryl Carlton.) Together, they lay bare the contradictions and ambiguities of defining queer experience while simultaneously peeling away the assumptions that underlie our world.

Tony Whitfield, Curator of grounding future queer

This blog has been created to provide an ongoing context for discussion of the individual works in grounding future queer as well as other related works in The New School Art Collection. Please contribute any thoughts you have about the ways in which these works inform our understanding of queer culture as well as any information you might have about these works.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher

Aziz + Cucher
Aporia Series #4
Durst Lambda C-print


  1. In their Aporia series, Aziz + Cucher visualize the fraught emotional negotiations of their cultural backgrounds in relation to the war between Israel and Lebanon. The photographs are related to their video piece “By Aporia Pure and Simple,” a clown performance making reference to what Aziz + Cucher believe is an absurd cycle of conflict and futile communication. The word aporia, which refers to irreconcilable internal contradictions, suggests that conflict in the Middle East is rooted in inherently absurd constructions of boundaries that do not reflect, and in fact contradict, the needs of those who call disputed territories home. For this first venture into anything that could be called self-portraiture, Aziz + Cucher chose to shroud their bodies in a clownish costuming of their cultural identifications, as an overdone presentation of clan affiliation which conceals all details of the individual. The imagery of the clown evokes the buffoon, the old archetype of otherness, who is allowed to navigate the public sphere only as an object of ridicule. Aziz + Cucher’s clown personas are outcasts denied access from their respective national and cultural affiliations, unless they play the uncritical fool. These outcasts wander the vacant liminal spaces of an industrial world, seeking a space where they can finally unpack their baggage

    Sorcha Fatooh

  2. We have been living together and making work as a couple and collaborative team since 1991.

    This image is part of a series of photographs we made in connection to a single channel video that was commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2012, called By Aporia, Pure and Simple. The title was inspired by a line from Samuel Beckett’s novel “The Unnamable." According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word aporia refers to “the expression of doubt.” *

    Some literary critics have described Beckett’s entire body of work in this way and we found the word to be especially apt in relation to the project we were working on at the time, which was a series of pieces that tried to poetically address our shared moral distress in relation to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, especially between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

    The image of us as clowns was meant to express the foolishness we both felt when embarking on an artwork that tries to make sense of the utter madness that defines the Middle East. This piece also represents the very first time we ever used ourselves or referred to our personal relationship in our work. It is also the first time and the last time we ever made a self-portrait.
    Below is an excerpt from an interview we did recently with Art History Professor Richard Meyer and we think it sums up, at least in part, what we were thinking at the time:

    “RM: One of the things that doesn’t seem ironic to me about By Aporia—notwithstanding the clown suits—is the fact that it is a portrait of a couple. I met you guys shortly after the two of you got together in 1991 and here we—and more importantly here the two of you are—21 years later. So I see the work as a highly crafted self-portrait of a middle-aged (sorry) queer couple who are working at the intersection of video art, performance, and photography but also within the context of their own long-term relationship and ongoing day-by-day dialogue.

    A+C: Yes, the fact that we have reached, as you say, middle age, has perhaps given us the freedom to look at ourselves with more humor and not to take ourselves so seriously, throwing caution to the wind. Whatever intimacy or tenderness between us that comes through in this piece was never in any way planned but is very much the inevitable result of us spending virtually every moment of every day together for the past 21 years, “in sickness and in health,” enduring the ups and downs and bumps and turns of living an unconventional life as artists. ”**

    Anthony Aziz & Sammy Cucher

    * http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/ame
    **-“Some People,” 2012, edited by Lisa D. Freiman, co-published by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Hatje Cantz, Indianapolis and Ostfildern, Germany. Page 115.