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"As Reskript suggests, EKKM is not only an art institution but also a community. A community that consists of the artists and curators who have exhibited at EKKM as well as the exhibition installers and also the cafe subletting the foyer and so on, as well as friends, friends of friends and even complete strangers." – Siim Preiman "Crisis of imagination" (KUNST.EE 3/2021)

 

Queeziness is Needless

Piret Karro (3/2014)

In the atmosphere of the current debate regarding the gender-neutral cohabitation bill in Estonia, Piret Karro visits an exhibition based on queer-theory.


2. VIII–7. IX 2014
Contemporary Art Museum Estonia (EKKM)
Curator: Rebeka Põldsam.
Artists: Antonia Baehr, Adam Christensen, Dénes Farkas, Kadi Estland, Danielle Kaganov, Neeme Külm, Jannicke Låker, Maren Poel, Kristin Reiman, Jaanus Samma, Ariel Schlesinger, Laivi, Triin Tamm, Anu Vahtra.


The introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum Estonia "Feeling Queezy?! / Kõhe tunne?!" connects two basic ideas of the exhibition: queer and queasy. Here, queer means a situation in which one feels left out or weird, or not conforming with the norms of society. Curator Rebeka Põldsam mentions in the introduction that queer-theory today no longer refers just to sexuality, but also other marginalised groups in society such as those based on class, race, gender and other factors.

"Feeling Queezy?!" deals with the idea of queerness in quite an extreme way. The exhibition presents, among other works, a video of a woman in the dark perpetually fleeing in distress (Jannicke Låker, "Running Woman", 2006), text excerpts of impersonal, decadent and completely coincidental sexual experiences (Adam Christensen "Sexclub. Hotwired", 2014) and a construction under great tension, which plays with fire (Ariel Schlesinger "Bubble Machine", 2006). In addition to all this, walking around EKKM one does feel queezy, light-headed. It's not apparent whether this is due to the museum air, events in one's life or the work on display. The connotative sphere into which the exhibition catalogue places the term queer contains, along with exclusion and weird, queeziness (in the introduction), discomfort, nausea, dread, repulsion, un-cosiness, gruesome, strangeness and campness (Jennifer Boyd).

Then the question is raised, whether queer-ness is actually something nauseatingly repulsive? No, it isn't. Queer-ness is more ordinary than perhaps we think, especially in its wider meaning. Everyone who discovers something about themselves which is under pressure from or either subtly or radically removed from the norms of society can feel queer. Who does "Feeling Queezy?!" represent?

"The priority of the exhibition is to create a physical sense, through art, of coming second" (press-release), which helps those who are usually subjects of privilege, and not second-best. However, what position is the viewer placed in if the feeling of being secondary isn't simply an entertaining past-time experienced in an art museum, but everyday reality? Should the viewer feel the discomfort, repulsion or fear of recognition due to the repulsive works or should they be able to see themselves (as uneasy, repulsive, foreign)?

The exhibition is happy to use terms and methods that cause alienation and appal such loss of balance, nauseating repetition, affective dissonance and so on, which have all been brought to cultural theory via queer-theory. The exhibition doesn't represent queers as people, rather everyday people, who are part of our society.

It is important to note that queer-ness in Estonian society is not marginal or something that does not effect the majority. It is present always and everywhere. Queer might be when a young person does not recognise themselves in the woman in a supermarket advertisement, because for him or her wearing shoes of a certain brand is not equated with being a woman, and then they are faced with the question of how to express their gender. The same may happen for a dark-skinned person in a society of primarily light-skinned people, or someone who does not see it as necessary to tie their sexuality to either side and proceeds on a case-by-case basis.

People who want to go against the static norms and not conform, implementing their own dynamic individuality are the reason queer-theory has been created. The world is not just a boring collection of rules that are expected to be universal. There are also those who differ from the standard, who aren't swayed by ideas of hetero-normality or the binary nature of sexuality. Queer-people are behind queer-theory; there is identity behind the text. The methods in art which break the cultural hegemony, like a loss of balance or grisly scenes, don't come from queers as individuals, but from their sometimes extreme relationship with a repressive society. Therefore, one must be able to distinguish between artistic exaggeration or theoretical mind-games and the actual repression of real people. In the case of "Feeling Queezy?!"the first and second can be found but not the latter. The inexperienced viewer, going along with the mind games of the theorists, may at first be frightened by the term "queer". They may think that queer represents some sort of dreadful fear and something heinous with which they don't want to have any contact.

 

Zierle and Carter

Alexandra Zierle & Paul Carter
Pearls of Sustenance
performance
2010/2014
Courtesy of the artists, photo by Mari-Leen Kiipli

 

 

The exhibition catalogue injects a great amount of dread and paranoia. For this reason, it is important for viewers to remember that this is art, where exaggeration as a method is allowed. Queer people aren't necessarily anything to do with such extreme unnerving.

Therefore, one should take the exhibition as artistic hyperbole or a play on themes, not as a manual on how to understand one's 13-year-old little brother after finding gay pornography on his computer or to understand the Hindu family across the street. The exhibition requires a certain prior knowledge of queer issues so as not to be left with the wrong impression. It's not all that horrible.

 

Piret Karro is a semiotician, artist and art critic, whose academic focus in semiotics and anthropology is non-normative family models, gender and sexuality.

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