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pleasurehome: desiring queer space


four months—four new works—one by one—here; welcome to the pleasurehome. an exhibition inspired by Catherine Opie, featuring John Greyson, Evan Sproat, Kaeten Bonli, and Shawné Michaelain Holloway, curated by Logan Williams, in collaboration with the Art Museum at The University of Toronto and the Jackman Humanities Institute. we’re happy you’re here—in this queer home. this month: John Greyson’s International Dawn Chorus Day.


Catherine Opie

Self-Portrait / Cutting
1993
C-print
40 x 30 inches (101.6 x 76.2 cm) Edition of 8, 2 AP
© Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and
Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, London, and Seoul

 you  catch a glimpse of your body as you strip off your sweat-soaked  clothes, naked in the mirror. breathing, moving. if only you could  explode out of the container. 
two women carved 
 rendered in childish forms  
 a house the sun some gulls 
 the “household” upended 
 incisions made in Opie’s back 
 drip and ooze palpable 
 the transference of the pain on my body 
 reaching out and touching me 
 carnal hermeneutics 
 the lesbian home  
 corporeal ten commandments 
 and the abject stains of blood and gore 
 immediate refusal for some even vomit 
 the scene is one of hope and violence 
 audience oscillation  
 desiring her pain  
 a new story told 
 the lesbians are me 
 they are you too 
 the scar will surely stay 
 sprawled on supple skin 
 reminders of otherwise 
 horizons exploding like dormant volcanoes 
 this body suffering for us                                    
  opie’s drawing her skin too 
 becoming life-size taking form 
 making real communities 
 desires pulsing unencumbered 
 this new home  
 what does that place look like? 
 where do you come home to your queer desires? 
 and when? 
 imagining spaces 
 arriving in your body 
 carrying with you the crass and dull weights 
 of expectation and survival  
 shedding them now 
 building new trusses  
 a roof for us  
 our desire our real real bodies  
 exploding out of the container 
 how did you get home?  


1 – International Dawn Chorus Day

John Greyson

International Dawn Chorus Day, 2020

It is with great pleasure to announce the opening of pleasurehome: desiring queer space with John Greyson’s film International Dawn Chorus Day.  

It begins with a poem by Attar of Nishapur, a Sufi epic that tells the story of thirty birds who outlast the tribulations of an enduring flight through seven valleys on their way to Simorgh, a benevolent bird-hybrid in Persian myth, in search of who will be the sovereign of the birds. When they arrive, however, they learn that they are Simorgh, it was within them through their journey and before, they had only to look at their own reflection. Thousands of years later, every May, participants across the world celebrate the early morning song of the birds, revelling in choral harmonies and distinctive chirping for International Dawn Chorus Day. For a moment, birdsong is repositioned from the background noise of daily life to a featured soundtrack; attentive ears pay homage to the complex stories inherit in each bird’s cry. This singular moment expands beyond just a day in John Greyson’s film International Dawn Chorus Day, as a collection of birds from across the globe meet through Zoom to discuss the day of celebration. These birds decipher the political expression of music in Egypt, using Shady Habash and Sarah Hagazi as their source material through subtitled chirps and chants, narrating and mimicking these powerful and tragic stories. Both Habash and Hagazi are caught in the terrifying chokehold of the Egyptian prison system, brutalized for their voices as artists and queers, and the birds nestled tightly in the Zoom compartment are their fellow jailbirds, restricted to a world forcibly resolved to online communication. Greyson’s complex weaving of birdsong with the voices of Egyptians who have been forced to flee the country or imprisoned illuminates the burden still carried in the pursuit for queer home, the fallacy of being ‘as free as a bird.’  

Another lockdown marks an assured return to a Zoom-centric existence, truncated into small boxes and projected as pixels through space, communicating across landscapes that remain relatively empty. While the human goes into preventative hibernation, the bird spreads their wings through vistas of wide-open space, cooing into the quiet air. International Dawn Chorus Day asks: how might we spread our wings into these expanses when so much of our experience now, so much of the queer experience, has been restricted to boxes? And while our houses are the spaces in which we tune-in, how does distance effect the conception of home? The schism of violence opens, threatening to swallow those who can no longer endure the brutality of their marked difference, those who crave the sky in which to expand their tethered wings. Greyson’s film is a compelling reminder of the continued necessity of building homes in which to welcome queer desire—to stop and hear the birdsong.  


Acknowledgements

An immense thank you to Barbara Fischer for her belief and guidance in the unfurling of this project; to Marianne, Maureen, and Esther at the Art Museum whom have made this project possible; to Kaitlyn Simpson for her genius; to Cathy Opie who helped sow the seeds of the exhibition; to Alison and Kim at the JHI for their unwavering support; to Cosita, SKP, and Z for their love and listening; to John, Evan, Kaeten and Shawné for their brilliance and versatility, to whom I dedicate this queer home. And to you, for being here. Thank you.