Curatorship as an exercise of affections, according to Jaime Welsh

Our social behaviour and interaction are developed according to very specific languages, within the landscapes in which we grow or live. This was the greatest discovery of gender studies which, in turn, forced a review of the canons of that time and a dilation of the research fields of many subjects, including Art History.

In Gender Trouble, Butler stressed the significance of the social argument and the multiple languages associated with in the construction of the self. Codes, expressions, gestures, languages – terms that started to include the academic lingo in cultural and visual studies and that, in this way, required a review of the history of art and its construction.

The conclusion of that effort must now be retrieved, one that said that History of Art, the subject, besides being masculinized, was homosexual in the beginning, because, according to its founder, J. J. Winckelmann, was especially attentive to the beauty of young Greeks athletes, particularly focused, according to Whitney Davies, on androgyny and the hermaphrodite. And, inadvertently, The History of Ancient Art gives a glimpse into all of that.

This means that art and history cannot be seen without the proper context in which they were construction and, to accomplish such a task, sex, sexuality, gender, race, body, society, culture, geography and identity are called to participate in the debate of their respective constructions. With what they have of positive and negative, objective and subjective, with what they are and what one wants them to be.

About this text’s subject matter, the queer culture – linked to the gay culture, taking into account that culture, in this context, has a very comprehensive meaning, unattachable from a very specific community – is perhaps, by nature, the most interesting when seen from a visual and artistic standpoint. Also political, also communal. But this is a culture full of codes and visual languages deeply daring and one that bravely fought the prevailing normativity – the heteronormativity –, until, let’s say, the 80s, more than any other period. The Stonewall protests, the decriminalization of relationships between same-sex people and the spread of AIDS brought to the public opinion, to the media, to the galleries and museums, a series of claims that would give visibility to this culture/minority.

The exhibition Coded Encounters, curated by Jaime Welsh, is an intimate portrait of this same culture, of the language that shapes it, of codes that make it so peculiar and subversive and, in this way, it is a contribution to queer studies. A look is not just a look: it is a communication or an assertion of desire and power. A gesture is not a simple gesture: it is a way of telling, of speaking, a will, a challenge. A conversation on Tinder, Grindr, Scruff carries a specific lexicon of interchanges, easy, fast sex and, in parallel, a lonely melancholy.

Streams, of Abri de Swardt, is a four-photograph series that register other pictures, under a typical meta-recursion of a community that is prone to the visuality of images, photos that are profusely found on the internet and digital dating platforms. It is a staging of pictures lying on the floor, abandoned between sheets, or floating on the water, left in the currents of unpredictability.

But the works Sp1ra, of Kevin Brennan, and mise-en-scenes, of Welsh, are perhaps the ones that better uncover the hesitations and tensions of the gay community. The first due to the video of two characters who wander among the ruins and walk towards a vast inhospitable landscape between complicity, affections and teasing; the second due to the use of the mise-en-scène’s cinematographic lingo, using the scenario, the décor, the accuracy of the camera angle to amplify the emotional loads of the encounter, the failed meeting, the abandonment.

Albeit not expressed, in both cases, as in Streams as well, the starting point is the staging, the performative mask as an agent of communication and expression. The behaviours are hidden, the body pretends whenever it wants to show anything. Perhaps an anguish, a repression, maybe an uncontrollable and enthralling impulse.

The original aspect of this show is that it introduces the honest stance that this is a curatorship of affections, more than affinities. From random encounters that led to an artistic project more or less durable. As a synopsis, “Friendship as a way of life” is an expression that the artist wisely lends to Foucault to emphasize this need to perpetuate a sense of community, in which this exhibition is based. And perhaps that, according to many, may seem utopian, in an era of total disintegration; but that does not mean that we should not continue to try. After all, everything is politics.

Coded Encounters is an elegant, evocative exhibition without being graphic, which shows many of the ambivalences of the queer culture. It does not have the blatant combativeness of many others which approach these subjects. It is rather a sincere feeling, expressed with calmness and clarity.

Until 2 June, at Galeria Graça Brandão.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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