Queerness in Two Faces Have I

The 1970s and 1980s LGBT underground world has been a subject of pop culture in recent years. Series, films, books and records have all emphasised the idea of an ostracised community inhabiting a certain worldview, with its own codes and political struggles surrounding that socialisation. This is the context for Bondage Boy, the video at the centre of the exhibition Two Faces Have I, curated by Ampersand. It is the fifth instalment of the Territory cycle, developed jointly by Fidelidade Arte, Culturgest and curator Bruno Marchand. Nan Goldin’s aesthetic portraits of the queer realm feature unashamed femininity and hyper-sexualisation, which at this point could only belong to an underworld kept hidden from the majority, to the sound of These Boots Are Made For Walking. Described by herself as satire, it reveals nevertheless the images of her microcosm. This piece is part of a film series played in various rooms synchronously and is probably the most interesting of her experimental videos.

But there are others. One of them, a dialogue about the characteristics of the laser and how to make it artistic, brings to mind the image of the red light in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which later embodies the tyranny of machines. There are also moments of a vinyl playing or experiments in filming a car wheel; these images, to the sound of rock music of their time, bring out the importance of noise and silence, embracing the many possibilities of the video format. One film even goes from the portrait of an anonymous worker to naming him from what appears to be his brain, rendered as it would be in a crude medical cadaver dissection. The numerous aids, including the Portuguese room text, the German room text from the original exhibition and the comments made by the artists and others, redirect the audience as much as they confuse it.

Despite exploring so many concepts, it represents a different gender expression and sex as something that involves domination and submission, presenting the archaeological trace of Chris Langdon’s journey. This is the artistic name that Inga has kept associated with these works, including after her gender transition, a moment in time before changing countries and putting her social and artistic career behind her.

But this exhibition is not a monologue. The motif of the ubiquitous films represents nothing more than a dialogue with the three other artists. Jana Euler shows us slug images, aggressively depicted, whose relationship with the other works gives rise to a sense of disgust; this may apply to the queer world, to the 70s marginalisation, which became worse as the 80s AIDS epidemic pushed many into ostracization.

Sylvie Fanchon’s two-colour works recall the exhibition by the General Idea collective, on show in Berlin until earlier this year. With Fanchon devoting herself to representations of a single object, the colours have nothing to do with the 50s pastel tones of the housewives and everything to do with the heraldry and poodle kamasutras of the aforementioned collective.

Contrasting with this queer aesthetic, Euler’s central image is a coffee bean, to which Louisa Wombacher ascribes the role of representing capitalism’s relentless grinding machine, whether because of the symbolic aspect of a robotised man’s daily work or the colonial infrastructures that this specific product implies. This is not an innocent or decontextualised reference, as this painting engages in a dialogue with Pati Hill’s representations.

This artist looks for objects from the domestic labour sphere in these works, such as food, telephones and hoovers. To this end, she uses the photocopier, a key tool of the time. This presents Langdon’s femininity in contrast to a classic form of womanhood, that of the housewife, providing food and cleanliness, communicating with others from this reclusive setting. The Ampersand platform, together with Ana Baliza, built a wallpaper in 2024 entirely made up of hoover adverts from Hill’s Women and Vacuum Cleaners archive to emphasise this idea. From the fringe society, we move on to the middle-class consumerist US culture, where an attempt is systematically made to show that domestic devices have come to lighten women’s lives, but which, through the same means that are supposed to liberate them, keep them trapped in the domestic space. Both exist in the same chronology, but the difference between them seems to be an insurmountable social rift.

To round off this idea of transformation, deconstruction and reconstruction, we are shown a board with collages of the features of two people who turn into sixteen faces. This is perhaps a hint to the onset of plastic surgery’s normalisation: both for transgender people and for cisgender women (people who identify with the gender they were given at birth) from the middle class – those domestic figures who strive to meet the beauty or normalcy standards of magazines. This is not to say that deconstructing collages is without its drawbacks. But there is always a reference to mutation of the social role, as well as the discovery of the individual, a case reflected in Orlando, Paul B. Preciado’s recent autobiographical film based on Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, featuring multiple actors playing the same role.

At first glance, the exhibition looks at the individual in relation to society, where gender has been rendered natural by the binary categories of sex. But it is more than that. It expresses femininity in a society where it has been relegated to the margins of invisibility: inside the household, such as in neighbourhoods where sexual orientation and gender distinctions are merged, in the eyes of society, with poverty and degeneration. Femininity is not necessarily a minority, but it is certainly confined to the absence of power and the agents of normativity’s manipulation.

The exhibition Two Faces Have I will be at Galeria Fidelidade Arte (Largo do Chiado, 8) until May 3, 2024.

Inês Almeida (Lisbon, 1993) has a master's degree in Modern History given by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, part of Nova' s University of Lisbon. Inês has recently completed a Post-Graduation in Curatory of Art in NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition "On the edge of the landscape comes the world" and has started collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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