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Shocking pink

Homotopia gets under way this week, but is it a bit much? asks Laura Brown

Written by . Published on November 2nd 2011.

Shocking pink

I ONCE stood in front of an artist who showed me her hymen. Displayed in a decorative jewellery box, the hymen was genetically constructed and designed to show its status as a desirable object, particularly in countries where marrying a young inexperienced girl is good business for a family.

Boxer 1 By Matthew StradlingBoxer 1 By Matthew StradlingIt was part of an exhibition the magazine Jackdaw described as being simply out there to shock. It was a bit shocking. It dealt with quite adult themes of how science becomes entangled with art, where art stops and where science begins and how skin is becoming an increasingly popular medium for modern artists.

The artwork was kept within a gallery space. Warnings were displayed on promotional material and outside. The work would inspire discussion, but it was not shocking for shocking’s sake, and in particular the images used to promote the exhibition weren’t too sensational.

'This year may appear confrontational and masculine. This is good that art can elicit a response' - Homotopia's Gary Everett

Art and culture have to be shocking sometimes. But it is how you communicate that controversial material that means people either switch on, or switch off. Too much and quite often, you may find yourself becoming the boy who cried “Vagina”, only to find after the sixth or seventh time that it has lost its impact.

This week Homotopia begins. A celebration of queer art and culture it is one of the highlights of the year. Challenging, colourful and often doing the thing that we in Liverpool do so beautifully; looking at the world, tipping our head slightly and offering a view that suddenly makes you see everything differently. Think of the inaugural Alternative Miss Liverpool. That this will be on while the reality TV show Desperate Scousewives is filming in the city is a stroke of unintentional genius.

Portrait By Sadie LeePortrait By Sadie LeeThere should be a celebratory air around Homotopia this year. This August, the only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender arts organisation in the country was awarded NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) status by Arts Council England after it filed a complaint when its original application was turned down. It was one of only three organisations to be successful in overturning a decision. It means Homotopia’s funding is secured up to 2015 and including its tenth anniversary.

It’s exciting, it’s challenging but without wanting to sound like the person at the party about to put a dampener on proceedings, does it still have to be so confrontational?

This year, the lead image used to advertise Homotopia is an art work by Sadie Lee from an exhibition, PIN UPS. It is aggressive, masculine and startlingly eye-catching. Exactly, Gary Everett, the Artistic Director of Homotopia says, what they were looking for.

“Our campaigns seem to attract attention which I would argue is the hallmark of good communication. Sometimes sexy, garish, pop and even political.

"Our 2009 campaign was created by Liverpool artist TRADEMARK who also was responsible for Kylie Minogue's Homecoming Tour in 2008. We do make a collective decision to be as out there with strong campaigns.

Cruising, Clubbing, FuckingCruising, Clubbing, Fucking"This year may appear confrontational and masculine. This is good that art can elicit a response. We do try and stay away from the typical hunk in white tight shorts as that’s the commodified stereotypical 'gay' look that the gay media have sold everywhere. It’s good to challenge this too.”

There’s a new commission at the Unity Theatre called “Cruising, Clubbing, Fucking”, an exploration of how gay men have seduced each other since the 60s. Anonymous encounters, trips to parks, public toilets... I’m not entirely sure how that challenges the “commodified stereotype” of how gay men behave, too often trotted out in the mainstream media as a series of coded jokes and nudge-nudge, wink-winks.

It’s also true that Homotopia is no longer the only showcase cultural programme in Liverpool. Last year the first Pride event took place in the city (Liverpool was the only major city without a Pride presence). This summer it spread from the gay quarter, around Stanley Street and Dale Street and onto the “Queer Head”. Visitor numbers swelled this year to 40,000. In March, Liverpool Pride became a registered charity. This autumn, organisers expect figures back on the economic impact on Liverpool of the new festival. Prepare, they say, to be surprised. It’s a great footing to prepare for their next festival in 2012.

284984_10150256301941922_648686921_8201344_3678692_NLiverpool PrideBorn out of something so horrendous as the homophobic murder of teenager Michael Causer, the fact that it is so inclusive and is celebrated by so much more than the city’s LGBT community shows a desire for a sustainable legacy

But it hasn’t been easy. The organisers of Pride were criticised for the decision to move a sizeable chunk of this year’s event to the Pier Head instead of the unofficial gay quarter.

They cited the costs of policing and closing roads. Members of the team have been the focus of online attacks and smear campaigns; allegations about the misappropriation of funds, entirely untrue, have caused anguish and stress.

As Gary Everett from Homotopia says, “Queer and LGBT art has a unique role to play on Merseyside as it connects, brings together communities behind a strengthened sense of identity, a place, a heritage that all too often is disparate and disconnected in gay communities”.

Although he does add that Homotopia is an organisation that programmes activity throughout the year “rather than focus on a weekend” in a desire to show that you can’t put Pride and Homotopia in the same box. Not front his point of view, anyway.

Anderrida Shurville By Sadie LeeAnderrida Shurville By Sadie LeeNegative attitudes, attacks and fear of walking into a bar or club where you’re not welcome are a real problem for Liverpool’s gay community. Homotopia’s work on anti-bullying, anti-hate education and youth exchange will be one of the most important projects that stops such attacks and criminal and anti-social behaviour against the city’s gay community. But on one hand we have inclusions and education, and on the other a desire to raise a profile via confrontational images.

Breaking down barriers is the only way that communities can be truly inclusive. But shocking the other side into action only runs the risk of alienating them.

It’s not about diluting the message, but like a shock jock who enjoys confrontation and getting his audience into a tizz, it kind of makes it look like he just wants to start a fight.

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Joan BurnettNovember 4th 2011.

Cruising Clubbing Fucking was one of the most lyrical and finely performed dance pieces I have seen for a long time. The three performers were extraordinary and if anyone saw Joseph Mercier's one-man Giselle last year, you'll know that he creates work of intense honesty. This work was about the emotional vulnerability of men, and their bravery in making themselves vulnerable in this way - the nakedness of the performers underlined the nakedness of the character's desires - examination of the self in it's most seering form.

Homotopia has won it's funding because it has never been afraid to push the boundaries of expression and exploration. Any community needs to be able to look itself in the eye and see all of its facets, good, bad, dangerous and beautiful. LGBT communities need to reach out past the easily packaged and digested "disco queen" and "lipstick lesbian" images that mainstream tv would have everyone believe represent all of us. Trans people are almost never included in mainstream coverage except in ways that are often exploitative or insulting.

Gary is absolutely right - Liverpool Pride and Homotopia are completely different animals with differing aims and ways of working, but both are essential for our city - in their very diversity, they say something about the changes happening in attitudes. Homotopia is one of the festivals in Liverpool that helps me live my life to the full - along with the Arabic Arts Festival, Brouhaha, Writing on the Wall, Da Da and many others.

All of these festivals question our preconceived ideas of the world - they should shock and delight, tantalise and cajole. Thanks to Gary and the team, Homotopia does just that - and now can have a firm bedrock of financial support to carry on doing so. This year Liverpool has celebrated its Radical tradition – Homotopia is truly Radical in the very best sense of the word. I enjoyed your article and hope it generates more debate about how vital performance and art are when it comes to challenging ourselves.


1 Response: Reply To This...
Angie SammonsNovember 4th 2011.

Thanks Joan.

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