A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at.
– Oscar Wilde[1]

Words by Horacio N. Roque Ramírez (1969-2015); presented as part of Cidade Queer and the Deviant Quito Graphics Lab, Edições Aurora, 2017.

Since 2013, artists and activists have been invited to participate in an arts showcase as part of the cultural activities during the LGBTIQ+ Pride month in Quito, Ecuador. Last year, the show was entitled SOY PAISAJE and took place at Quito’s Center for Contemporary Art in July 2017. With this exhibition we sought to structure and represent the local, regional, or national memories and histories of the LGBTIQ+ community. This exhibition was a part of the Cidade Queer gathering, where artists, activists, and curators explore the relationship between queer, cuyr, kuir, and life in the contemporary city. Cidade Queer started as an organizing project in São Paulo, Brazil, (2015, 2016) and moved to the city of Quito for its second edition.

For the 2017 exhibition in Quito, we called on Ecuadorian and international artists to submit their proposals on how we inhabit our cities, what sustains the construction of our environments, and the architecture of our likings. The machinery of desire induces us to inhabit the city, to succumb to its forms. Living through desire is a political position that puts liberties on trial through affections.

As a result of this call for entries, 15 artists were selected: Amélie Cabocel (France), Darwin Fuentes (Ecuador), Víctor Hugo García (Ecuador), Juan Carlos Benítez (Ecuador), Johanna Villavicencio (Ecuador), Luis Alonso Rojas Herra (Costa Rica), Martina Valarezo (Ecuador), Edwin Mauricio Cruz (Ecuador), Wilber Hernán Solarte (Ecuador), Ernesto Salazar (Ecuador), Stephano Espinoza (Ecuador), Queer City, Raphael Daibert (Brazil), and Mavi Veloso (Brazil). Additionally, through a partnership between ArtsEverywhere/Musagetes,, and No Lugar, the Queer City Quito program invited a group of artists to produce artistic proposals for the residency: Anthony Amado (Ecuador), Felipe Rivas San Martín (Chile), Christian Proaño (Ecuador), Pato Hebert (United States), and Edições Aurora (Brazil). This curatorial format allowed artists and curators to freely experiment on the urban queer experience in Quito and Latin America.

José Esteban Muñoz begins his book, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009), with these words: “queer is an aspiration for the future.” Being queer is to imagine better futures, to evenly announce the utopia of a society without violence and without conflict. This is the premise from which we will discuss the exhibition, SOY PAISAJE.

The body simultaneously inhabits different spaces. In this exhibition we locate ourselves in the physical space and the virtual space of the city, a scenario where identities, desires, memories, affections, and encounters take place. The works in this exhibition are associated with the desire to inhabit, to be, to re-signify, and to de-construct possibilities of presence and permanence in the world. Thus, the art includes drawings, photographs, performances, fanzines, installations, painting, objects, sound, and videos, all of which demand a spectator’s sharpened gaze in order to recognize the use of artistic expressions as a strategy to alter the historical signs of LGBTIQ+ subject representations. This is achieved by de-constructing these signs as uses of violence and turning them into places of fondness and resistance—representing experiences, histories, subjectivities, bodies, desires, and experiences to put together landscapes, places, and an opportunity for these subjectivities to exist.

If queer is a desire to do things differently, a queer city is a place where things happen in a different way. What is the role of art in the transformation / representation of the city? Are cities as well as urban encounters an important source or reference for artistic work? Or, more broadly, can we discuss the role or right to the city[2] as an influence or basis for artistic and activist practice? The exhibition seeks to openly ask what a future queer city could look like, understanding queer as “that” which makes us feel this world is not enough, that in fact something is missing, as José Esteban Muñoz notes in Cruising UtopiaSOY PAISAJE is essentially the rejection of a here and now; it is an assertion of the possibility to build other cities, environments, and worlds.

This exhibition offers a way to approach the production of counter narratives and their formal manifestations facing the dominant ones: family, health, justice, history, architecture, urbanism, and even artistic creation. SOY PAISAJE is a profound reflection on desire, love, freedom, and self-determination, in relation to cities, urban centers, racialized and minority peoples, and the need for an emerging global imagery for the future.

The artworks in the exhibition SOY PAISAJE reveal that behind every look in the artworks of the selected artists, a relational practice of shared behaviors and joys sought and found is always built. Thus, the works acquire the character of a collective pronouncement, and therefore have the possibility of influencing society and being a sort of umbrella for the demands of sexual diversities, leading and protecting the struggles through artistic practice and militancy for as long as the need exists.

In this sense, why reflect on LGBTIQ+ identities through artistic production? Art encompasses the lived realities of human experience, contingencies, apparent trivialities, emotions, subjectivities, and the singularity of life in all its manifestations, while at the same time art discovers the epistemological dimension, gives meaning to the world, and builds knowledge.

In order to describe the exhibition, I propose some lines of flight that can be read, not as a linear discourse that concludes and pretends to articulate a truth, but as a series of “extra” notes to the imagination of the audience, that unbolt new questions and allow diverse interpretations. These are unfinished lines of flight that require the complicity of the reader to synthesize what is suggested with a significant association of his or her own.

Personal Archives: Memories, Images, and Cities

Installation view of room one of the exhibition SOY PAISAJE.

From 2013 to 2017 the annual LGBTIQ+ Pride Month exhibitions have generated an archive of approximately 80 images. For activists and researchers in LGBTIQ+ community and queer history, archives have become not only an important source of information but also a tool to theorize about the experience and possibilities of queerness. As Charles Morris writes, “queer archives show us how queer and LGBTIQ+ lives—past and present—are made up of voices that draw strength from our joys and our struggles against the annihilating silence of society.”[3] The first exhibition space gathers works that represent, document, and bring meaning to experiences lived by LGBTIQ+ people in the city. These artworks provide the viewer with a sense of what it is like to be LGBTIQ+ in particular moments and places. The works also suggest how a narrative of emerging and changing queer experience could be built over time. LGBTIQ+ experience archives as recovery projects, providing us with resources to construct narratives about past and often painful experiences of individual and cultural homophobia and trauma, and also of affections, of desires, of empowerment, and of joys. This set of works provides us with powerful opportunities to think critically about the systems of oppression and the mechanisms of interconnection between the personal and the political.

The photographs by Amélie Cabocel, Edwin Mauricio Cruz, Raphael Daibert and Mavi Veloso, Pato Hebert, and Wilber Hernán Solarte work as documents that register the gaze on LGBTIQ+ communities or subjects in specific places and times. In these works, photography operates as an iconographic image that is constituted by people and vital spaces. It is completely disconnected from artistic experimentation and is oriented towards representing the real: traveling through a city, documenting spaces that occupy our struggles, affections, and desires, records of the LGBTIQ+ Pride March, portraits of diverse families, and bodies that are diluted in the landscape and light.

In the work of Juan Carlos Benítez and the documentary video of Queer City São Paulo directed by Danila Bustamante, a daring experimentation by artists is evident, mixing gender roles with a spirit of rebellion that transmits energy and the presence of racialized bodies. The works of Martina Valarezo, Stephano Espinoza, and Edições Aurora immerse the audience in memories, architectures, and cities: an album of photographs tells the story of two lesbian grandmothers through text and drawing; graphic interventions that circulated during the LGBTIQ+ Pride March are exhibited as devices to name what we forget, what we sometimes forget to name or remember; a painting of a man who is vulnerable to his environment shows—through the architecture in the painting—the loneliness that a modern city can cause.

Cidade Queer (Ciudad Queer), directed by Danila Bustamante, digital video, 2016.

Contrafuerte, Stephano Espinoza Galarza, Acrylic on wood, 44 x 57 cm, 2017.

Entomopop, Juan Carlos Benítez Vargas, Photography, 2016.

Entomopop, Juan Carlos Benítez Vargas, Photography, 2016.

Technology, Geographies, and Meetings

Installation view of room two of the exhibition SOY PAISAJE.

The second exhibition room of SOY PAISAJE addresses the production of spaces through sexuality and technology. Technology and geography deal with sexuality through the regulation of bodies, along with the (re)establishment of lines of thought and experiences on the public and the private. Queer geographies critically examine experiences of desire and the construction of diverse subjectivities in the city. The works in this room also approach “cruising” [4] as a practice for the construction of spaces for the gay male sexual experiences in the public and virtual spheres, and from the personal, social, and urban encounters that cruising practices can provide in the physical and virtual space of cities.

The works gathered in SOY PAISAJE require the spectator to “crossover” the edges of the visual and not so visual fields. As Oscar Wilde’s famous quote states at the beginning of this text, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at.” In this sense, SOY PAISAJE not only asks viewers to reconsider ideas such as hope and utopia, but also challenges them to feel hope and feel utopia, and sometimes fear. That is, it challenges them to look and feel beyond what they usually see and feel about the city and queerness. If cruising is a practice in which queer subjects seek to fulfill their desire, then perhaps to perform cruising in an exhibition is to approach the images with curiosity and not with biases. It is to believe that artworks may show something beyond what our collective unconsciousness allows us to see when confronted with the unknown. There are unexpected encounters that can change the way we see the world. Art can do the same.

The artworks of Anthony Amado, Felipe Rivas San Martín, Luis Herra, Victor Hugo Jaramillo and Christian Proaño address cruising as a research topic for their artistic production. Through different tools or strategies, artists produce cartographies, portraits, conversations, and sounds, which refer us to physical and virtual spaces of sexual encounters: chats, applications such as Grindr, saunas, parks; ways to meet the desire of the other reflected in ours, and also make clear a way to inhabit cities globally. These “ways of being” exist in San José, Quito, or Santiago.

Anthony Amado produces a collection of photographs from “dick pics”[5] that Grindr users sent to the artist from their nearby locations in the city of Quito. Christian Proaño presents a sound installation that reproduces the sounds of cruising spaces such as saunas or meeting booths. Felipe Rivas San Martín generates a cartography of spaces of cruising through his own experience and exhibits it in the room through a QR code made with condoms. Rubén Darío Díaz and Ernesto Salazar reflect on ways of relating to the spaces we inhabit, which produce in us the relationships we establish in them: a way of being and of looking at the world and ourselves.

Our identities and forms of self-determination are dominated by discourses of normative gender and heteronormative sexuality, which discipline how we articulate both the truth of our being and the values ​​in which we invest. The artworks in SOY PAISAJE insist on interrupting such normative understandings and creating a poetic (expository) space to address and potentially give voice to the excesses of normalization, to the excluded, to the subjects left behind in the processes that economize desire along the straight and narrow roads that our cities have built. They also offer a way to build cities from other places of intention through artistic practices, cities that allow us to display our affections, desires, curiosities, and liberties.

Foreground: Chatroom, Víctor Hugo García Mejía, Multimedia installation, 2017. Background: Post-SIDA: Crusing Quito, Felipe Rivas San Martín, condom QR code, 2017.

The Collector, Anthony Amado, photographic installation, 2017.

Tortigrafía Playo-Tica, Luis Alonso Rojas Herra, Cartografía sentimental, 2016.

With this theoretical background, the exhibition SOY PAISAJE brings together a constellation of artistic and discursive practices that arise at different times for different groups in order to articulate resistance to regimes of sexualized normalization. Such strategies seek to remedy the impoverishment of our imagination, our sexual and gender imagery, as well as to reintroduce in the public sphere the imagination of bodies that surpass the normalizations of the legal, political, and medical culture that “fixes” things. From the Center of Contemporary Art in Quito we maintain the need to trace that normalization in order to create a productive rhetorical space where alternative views, critical differences, and potential freedoms can be possible.

It is necessary to think more about the relationship between the struggle for a bearable life in the city and the aspirational hopes for a good life in the city. As Angela Jones mentions in her book, A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias (2013), “The point is that it is difficult to struggle without aspirations, and aspirations are difficult to have without giving them some sort of form. We can remember that the Latin root of the word ‘aspire’ means ‘to breathe.’ I believe that the struggle for a bearable life in the city is the struggle for queer subjects to have spaces to breathe … With breathing comes imagination. With breathing the possibilities arise. If queer politics is about freedom, it could simply mean the freedom to breathe.”

el sonido del viento me hace sentir que el suelo en el que estoy reposando se desvanece (the sound of the wind makes me feel that the ground on which I’m resting fades), Ernesto Salazar Rodríguez, video, glitch, 2015.

[1] Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” qtd. in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz.

[2] According to Wikipedia, the right to the city is an idea and a slogan that was first proposed by Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville. Lefebvre summarizes the idea as a “demand…[for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life.”

[3] Queer Archives / Archival Queers; Charles E. Morris III and K. J. Rawson.

[4] English term that defines sexual activity in public places, such as parks, beaches, or vacant lots, mainly referring to homosexual men.

[5] Photographs of the penis, refers to a selfie of sexual organs.

Article originally published on ArtsEverywhere, on April 27th, 2018.

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