Study for Garden, digital print, 2016
May 4th, 2018 to June 16th, 2018
Opening: May 4th, 5-8 pm
Artist talk*: Saturday May 5th, 3 pm
*ASL interpretation provided upon request
Read "The Tangled Roots of Haunted Queer Publics: Derek Dunlop’s PARK" by Dunja Kovačević below
*If you are interested in attending the artist talk on May 5th and require ASL interpretation, please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 204 779-6253 at least 48 hours before the event.
all events are free and open to the public
PARK includes work created after a multi-year engagement with various regions in North America — all cruising sites where men have historically met each other away from the prohibitions of society. The exhibition includes a floor sculpture, a series of monoprints, and several digital prints. PARK is part of an ongoing series of works that engage with how natural spaces, queer behaviours, and capitalism are all entangled in a continual state of becoming. All the work in the show speak to the condition of constant change — of growth, decay and mutation.
Derek Dunlop is an artist, writer and curator whose research focuses on the history of abstraction as it relates to theories of identity and the process of subject formation. He is particularly interested in questions dealing with form and materiality in the mediums of painting, drawing, and printmaking. He has participated in numerous residencies and programs including the inaugural Open Sessions program at The Drawing Center in New York City; the thematic residency, Are We Looking at Dead Birds? at the Banff Centre; as well as the studio artist residency program at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. The recipient of numerous grants and awards, Dunlop’s work has been exhibited in art galleries throughout North America including the UCLA New Wight Gallery in Los Angeles, Artspeak in Vancouver, and the Drawing Center in New York City. He completed his MFA at the University of British Columbia and is pursuing his PhD in Art history at the University of Toronto.
The artist would like to thank the Manitoba Arts Council for their support.
Martha Street Studio gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council and Winnipeg Arts Council for their dedicated support of our professional programming.
Heather Love from her book, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History:
“For groups constituted by historical injury, the challenge is to engage with the past without being destroyed by it. Sometimes it seems it would be better to move on – to let, as Marx wrote, the dead bury the dead. But it is the damaging aspects of the past that tend to stay with us, and the desire to forget may itself be a symptom of haunting…” and she concludes, “…The dead can bury the dead all day long and still not be done.”
For several years, I watched the flooding and receding of the Assiniboine River “excavating” the site when the muddy ground was traversable. The artifacts in PARK are discarded pieces of metal that I dug from the banks of the Assiniboine River at a site not far from the Forks. These can be described as leftovers or unwanted remainders estranged from the process of industrialization. The biological, mineral, and chemical growths on the metal artifacts posses a subtle alchemy of place. They embody a unique creative agency that is distinct from the human. Existing somewhere between the natural and the man-made: metal resembles bark, oxidization has created a complicated crystal, formless shapes reference the human figure – they resemble provisional tools, weapons, or new fledgling sign of communication. There is a haunting quality to their materiality that challenges our understanding of value and what is rendered obsolete.
Queer spaces have made a habit out of disappearing. Because of transformative projects related to gentrification, technological development, and other shifts in culture, the park is not used for cruising anymore; however, this exhibition proposes that the presence of the objects in the gallery have the potential to reactivate the site.
The mono prints are created using flora that I collected from a popular cruising trail in Stanley Park. I spent many days walking through trails, retracing steps, spending time with gay men from a previous generation, foraging for a collection of queer things. Queer culture is not easily transferred from one generation to the next — one needs to seek it out, create unique routes of communication, and eventually claim a history that fits. Creating improvised compositions on the printing plate, I imagine the printing press to be a kind of medium that has the ability to commune with the dead. When the objects get pressed into the paper, they channel the beyond by unleashing invisible, microscopic and unknown ooze. This series of prints becomes the material evidence of my process of making contact.
Photographs accompanying the show were created in the Ramble in Central Park. They are printed small, taken with my iPhone and act as a kind of tourist photo. Central Park was privatized in the late 1990’s and has undergone significant “conservation.” The Ramble was notorious for all kinds of activity deemed to be “unnatural’ by the pressures of heteronormativity. Spearheaded with the support of the Paulson Family Foundation, it is now being “restored” to a family friendly “nostalgic” vision of what the area might have looked like in the 19th century. It is interesting to recognize the time period that the park is being restored to — why not go further back to a time of pre-contact when Indigenous people inhabited the area? For a while, the Ramble was a place that capitalism had abandoned and made strange. Now it is being fully recovered and restored within the folds of capital and profit. As gay culture continues to be cleaned up across North America, these sites follow suit.
Several questions that keep surfacing in my research inlcude: How do these spaces become haunted by the dead? What is the drive that makes one return to these spaces? What do we hope to achieve by channeling the beyond?
I have a studio-based, theoretically engaged practice that considers the history of art. For the past several years, my research has been concerned with claiming an artistic tradition of queer abstraction which emerged out of the second half of the twentieth century. This tradition was created as a means for artists to negotiate a complicated subjectivity through coded expression. My desire to claim this tradition is nuanced and evolves from my own experience of living within an unresolved political moment.
Avery Gordon’s theory of haunting is very important to me because it has given me the ability to describe some of the characteristics of this impasse. She uses the term haunting to describe a condition “…in which a repressed or unresolved social violence is making itself known…” She notes that “…the term haunting [can] describe those singular yet repetitive instances when home becomes unfamiliar, when your bearings on the world lose direction, when the over-anddone comes alive…” Moreover, she describes how hauntings alter one’s experience of linear time: “…disturbed feelings won’t go away…the present seamlessly becoming ‘the future’ gets entirely jammed up.”
My work considers the way in which the history of queer people continually haunts the present. What does it mean to be haunted by queer spectres? Through this lens, I have developed several bodies of work that have explored abstraction within the contemporary field.
My work primarily finds form in drawing, painting and printmaking. Very recently, my practice has started to include “Table Works” which involve sculpture and installation. Using the affective vitality of found objects as a starting point, the new series of works are created to think through the creative agency of things. This work evolves out of very specific landscapes. For example, the installation “PARK” includes an accumulation of pieces of discarded, decaying metal that I dug out of the riverbed in Winnipeg. The site that these objects are taken from is significant because it is along what used to be a popular cruising trail for men. The presence of the objects in the gallery have the potential to activate this landscape and through a unique installation, an affective charge is unleashed.
The Tangled Roots of Haunted Queer Publics: Derek Dunlop’s PARK
Ann Cvetkovich asks, within her broader project of uncovering queer, affectively charged archives, “what happens if the histories you want to know have left no records?” (Carland 76).
For queer subjects, our collective history has been doubly devastated, both by the erasure of queerness from dominant historical narratives and by the sheer losses occasioned by the advent of AIDS in the late 80s, particularly in communities of men who have sex with men.
In PARK, Derek Dunlop, whose theoretically informed practice has been primarily rooted in painting and printmaking techniques, explores a multi-year engagement with various cruising sites across North America where men have gathered to collectively partake in queer behaviours both away from, and still fully in view of, a heteronormative public.
Theorist José Esteban Muñoz, in Cruising Utopia, turns to the photography of Tony Just to explore how to establish connection with, or render visible, queer spectres that haunt physical sites, as well as our queer collective memory. Just meticulously cleaned public restrooms in New York City known, at some point in time, as gay hookup destinations, and photographed them in this newly sterilized state. Fixing them in a condition of hyper-sanitization only drew attention to their historical queerness through negation, by highlighting the forcible erasure of all remnants of their gay counter-histories.
Making visible this invisibility allows access to, what Muñoz terms, a “hidden queer history of public sex outside the dominant public sphere's visible historical narratives” (Muñoz, 1996, 6). Dunlop similarly employs negation, the historical lack of the past, to commune with disappearing queer spaces.
A barrier to the formation, and transmission, of queer archives rests in the ephemeral nature of queer acts and performances, as survival was often bound up in the ability to be rendered selectively invisible within heteronormative society and institutions. In response, queer historical evidence must also deviate from a straight path, remaining in “traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things." (Muñoz, 1996, 10). And, in the open-endedness of these terms—traces, glimmers—possibility resides.
Pulling pieces of metal from the muddy banks of the Assiniboine river—near the Forks—from a previously popular cruising destination, Dunlop materializes the site’s spectral queer history, surfacing through these traces like the objects themselves emerged from their resting place over years of slow excavation. Catalogued and arranged in archeological fashion, these warped and softened objects begin to resemble human remains in their oxidized skins and suggestive forms. And, in a sense, they are.
Witness to the “ghosts of public sex” (so-called by Muñoz), these hand-forged objects have hauntingly endured (albeit in slow decay), while their human counterparts moved on, fell to the AIDS epidemic hollowing out queer communities in the 90s, or likewise remain somewhere, also in decay. These objects speak across time, stand in for memories and performances of queer pleasure that disrupted public space by rendering the public queer. Each metal tool is a carnal remnant, a gravestone, a proxy body, that reminds: we have always existed, no matter how covertly.
Heather Love suggests that “the longing of community across time is a crucial feature of queer historical experience,” affirming that the archival impulse is also located in a desire to speak back to, or dialogue, with a shared past (Love 37). Dunlop attempts a spiritual communication with his queer ancestors through the preparation of a series of mono prints.
Using flora plucked from a popular cruising trail in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, Dunlop performs a spontaneous and irreproducible queer act via the printing press, connecting him to a legacy of queer activism in the form of printed materials. The magic of alchemy, represented by the oozing pink and lavender repurposed from early queer propaganda, rejoins the past by reactivating it for the present.
Other traces showcased in PARK do not so easily offer the promise of repair. This tension is palpable in the photographs taken in Bonnycastle Park, in Winnipeg. In “Graffiti” the word “gay” is barely visible on the restored limestone barricade/planter, its faint imprint the only reminder of what once transpired here, in this place. As public spaces are renovated to serve revisionist, sanitized, historical narratives, even the glimmers of their seedy, raucous, queer counter-histories disappear.
To be queer is to be alienated from, and displaced within, a heteronormative structured public. It is also to be haunted by a painful awareness of an absent historical archive and an inability to repair, reconstruct, or even fully know, what has been lost. Our archives then, too, follow a twisted path, like the tangled root system Dunlop photographs in Bonnycastle Park with his camera: bound up together, not easily trailed, folding in on itself in a series of indistinguishable and interconnected knots.
Dunja Kovačević holds a BA Hons in English and an MA in Cultural Studies from the University of Winnipeg. She is an editor, co-founder of feminist print anthology Dear Journal, and an emerging cultural critic. Lately, her work explores the formation (and inheritance) of alternative, affective archives for displaced queer individuals and communities.
Carland, Tammy Rae. “Sharing an Archive of Feelings: A Conversation,” Art Journal, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 70-77.
Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of History. Harvard University Press: 2007.
Munoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York University Press, 2009.
Munoz, José Esteban. “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes on Queer Acts,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 8:2 (1996): 5-12.