December 05, 2020—
The title, A Queer Query, is maybe a bit selfish on my part: As I began to put the event together, I realized I had more questions than I did answers. I wanted to open a discussion about how our identities, and in particular, queerness, is a part of our authorship as architects. I know queer artistic culture through dance, performance, music, art, but not though architecture. If anything, it seems yucky to me to describe architecture as queer, given that we have clients with their own identities and that buildings require so much money and real estate and construction workers. Also, from my experience with architecture so far, it’s not a very queer world of people – far from it. I wanted to know: How can I participate in queer culture as an architect? Would I need to make art? Can I intentionally make a queer building? All my instincts say no; instead, I think of scholarship and writing on, as Jack Halberstam would put it, low theory, or as Jaffer Kolb suggests, working queer. Which led to me to think – how can I teach queerly? How can my practice be queered? Perhaps it meant to work as a queer, to simply exist fully as myself rather than consider the work I do as queer. But then, Andrew Holder suggests there might be some possible points, five points in fact, for making a queer architecture; so I don’t know, maybe there can be an intentionally queer building. After all, all that planning, all that plumbing and those toilets and material seams and vapor barriers and windex and rugs and available things, all the insides and outsides, the crannies and gaps.. those seem pretty queer. Can a queer thing be authored by a non-queer person? Or is it only in retrospect that cultural objects seem a bit queer? Or should we limit the discussion to queer authors, to work whose subject lingers on queerness? Maybe I’m being too selfish though, maybe the discussion shouldn’t be about queer authorship at all – maybe it should be about who is included in architecture, who makes buildings, who theorizes them, who makes art about them, who makes collective spaces, who has a seat at the table, and for whom are all these things designed for?
It is not simple to discuss a term that’s both a noun, an adjective, and a verb – a reclaimed term that describes something so personal and yet so political. Queerness, queer, that’s queer, queer it, those queers, queer family – it’s vague but the term is reclaimed from a slur and transformed into a badge of honor, it describes people of varying sexualities and genders, brings them together into a community, and at the same it suggests something a bit beyond the mere fact of sexuality and gender, towards a kind of other way of being in the world.
Jose Esteban Muñoz, in Cruising Utopia, suggests that “Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.” I like to think that queers, given their struggles, having to come out and declare to the world who they are, having to often find alternatives to family, money, and careers.. maybe suggest the most radical alternative paths. In Maggie Nelson’s memoir, The Argonauts, she describes the way Eve Sedgwick “wanted to make way for “queer” to hold all kinds of resistances and fracturings and mismatches that have little or nothing to do with sexual orientation.” She quotes Sedgwick: “Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive – recurrent, eddying, troublant. “Keenly, it is relational, and strange.” We return to Nelson: Sedgwick wanted the term to be a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder – a nominative, like Argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. That is what reclaimed terms do – they retain, they insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive. “At the same time,” Nelson continues, “Sedgwick argued that “given the historical and contemporary force of the prohibitions against every same-sex sexual expression, for anyone to disavow those meanings, or to displace them from the term [queer]’s definitional center, would be to dematerialize any possibility of queerness itself.”” Then Nelson concludes, “In other words, Sedgwick wanted it both ways. There is much to be learned from wanting something both ways.”
When I read Nelson’s description of Sedgwick’s definition of the term “queer”, I hear Nelson’s empathy for wanting something both ways, for Sedgwick to impossibly define queer as something that resists and is nominative and at the same time can’t be separate from queer people.
Architecture, as both a practice and as a web of thinking, also tends to want things both ways. We think of architecture as a discursive, intellectual, creative, and cultural practice, something that points towards concreteness in the world while staying a bit more fleeting through text and images and discussion. While we can’t fully separate architecture from buildings, in the same way Sedgwick can’t separate queer from queer people, we also know that architecture is much more than mere building, it is also, in Sedgwick’s terms, a fleeting and strange thing; somehow more than building yet about building.
Today’s event was supposed to have occurred back in March 2020, in person. A week beforehand, however, the lockdown in Los Angeles occurred, and the world changed. Today’s postponed event is not the same one as had been initially conceived. While architecture and art is still at the center of our discussion, the online format, the wear of 2020, the fresh protests on racial inequality, American ignorance and misinformation, and COVID’s horrible trajectory of death all have recast today’s event as something a bit different.
First, it’s impossible to ignore that violence continues against the queer community, right here at home. For example, during June’s protests on racism, six black trans women were murdered in just nine days, and at least 40 have died this year, including numerous attacks on trans people here in Los Angeles. The pandemic recalls the terrible ignorance of AIDS, when so many gay and queer people were left to die because that disease disproportionally did not affect heterosexual people. Sadly, even though COVID kills indiscriminately, we know that it continues in a similar trajectory: it disproportionally affects black, latino, and native americans, the poor and the elderly. The mirror to the AIDS crisis is haunting, and is a reminder that, in fact, it is still a crisis, without a cure, that excessively affects the queer community. Thirty years into this AIDS crisis, we have effective prevention and treatment measures, but governments continue to not make combating AIDS a priority. The COVID pandemic has laid bare the same inequalities of our society, the rush to selfish behavior in the face of our interdependent lives and the ease for those in power to ignore the marginalized.
So here we are, online, remote, and taking care of our health. The second way this year affects today’s event, obviously, is the format. Today we all tune in from home, on a computer that’s probably also where many of us work, where even by watching I’m asking for your attention in your private spaces, kind of like watching tv. In some ways, I think of this transgression as inherently queer, that the intersection of our private lives and public personas are a fight for identity and that an academic symposium is a space for discussion, that, of course, is consumed. Today’s symposium is transformed by all this – today’s tone is inquisitive, fun, quick, and fleeting. What we’ll see today are a series of short segments, including lectures, performances, films, and interviews interspersed by short discussions. They’ll verge on the silly and the serious, the researched and the performative.
So we’ll query our guests. During our first group, titled “Doing it Exactly Wrong”, we’ll hear Jerome Haferd, Mitch McEwen, Laida Aguirre, Patrick Staff, and Jack Halberstam speak to expectations, artistic practices, bounce music, plumbing, and grit. In “Entanglements” we’ll explore how one thing is inscribed into another thing, how queerness is found in the work of the architect, and in the apps that organize and produce queer sociality and sexuality. Andres Jaque and Andrew Holder explore the camera view, the design object, and the entanglements of sex, buildings, and lecture delivery. Our third group, “Out Here,” presents a look into the urban and rural spaces that queerness inhabits, as Jaffer Kolb, Adrian Silva, Victor Jones, Mimi Zeiger, and Nancy Nguyen critically look at the histories and contemporary situation of gay neighborhoods, rural sexual role playing video games, gay bars, queer utopias and colonies. In “Feeling Ourselves,” we’ll be joined by Richard Mapes and Enrique Agudo, as they explore the construction of the self-image, of portraits and mythologies, and of bodies and the environments that support them. Join us as Leah Wulfman leads a bathing routine that mines the internet and its associated geologies for an immersive steamy primordial soup of technologies, slime, and servers dredged up from the sea floor, and, as Leah says, gay ass rocks. So welcome to A Queer Query. We’ll be right back.