It's back! Homotopia in Liverpool celebrating all things fabulous in the LGBT art scene has just launched for its 11th year. I headed over to Camp and Furnace for the launch party and checked out the amazing Alien Sex Club exhibition by artist John Walter.
There is a whole section of Camp and Furnace which has been taken over for the exhibition. There is so much to explore it feels like your entering into a unique artistic universe exploring gay sexuality and its relationship to HIV education. The place feels like a labyrinth nightclub (or cruising sauna maze) with a series of routes that have vibrant patterned wall all created by the artist. Apparently there is over three years’ worth of work inside.
You walk through a multi-sensory, immersive visual feast for the eyes. Walter has devised a large-scale installation that incorporates different elements from painting, video, sculpture and a performance bar to discuss the complexities of contemporary sexual health.
I visited with a few friends and we started our tour with a tarot reading. Walter’s has created an entirely new set of Tarot cards which he’s individually drawn based on the original concepts of Tarot. He’s certainly taken some creative license; instead of swords, cups, wands and pentacles they’re replaced by the following suits Barebacker, Serosorter, Giftgiver and Bugchaser. These minor Arcana link to their titles for example Serosorter’s ace card features a webcam, noting to initial online screening through websites and chatrooms to meet and hook up.
The higher Arcana include various historic and current references to idols and media characters. I was taken by the cards and brought a set for myself, annoyingly they don’t include instructions, but from spending more time looking through the images they are beginning to reveal more about the artist and his work so perhaps it’s a deliberate restriction to make people consider there meaning?
The depictions relate to stories and how leading narratives get reproduced in different ways through revising characters. They provide reflective reference points to universal behavioural traits. Seeing these characters illustrated in this ways reminded me of Jungian’s twelve archetypes whilst revealing some of Walter’s own personal interests and influences.
A couple of examples, Novice depicts Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus. Icarus is falling from flying too close to the Sun. Icarus ignores the advice from his father ultimately leading to his own demise. By branding Icarus as the Novice the card indicates to me that Walter feels he has grown wiser with time and conscious of his ambitions. It also indicates the type of relationship he might identify with his own father.
Ancestor features a portrait of Keith Haring wearing a T-shirt with his own iconic style of painting which has clearly influenced Walter’s work. Both feature a bold style, Haring’s images were painted in a condensed style to present easily digestible concepts of party culture. Haring created awareness on several issues, such as AIDS, of which he died in 1990 and it appears that Walter is picking up his mantel.
Walter was even wearing a shirt at the launch with various pills incorporated to the shirt’s design; the images of the pills are also featured within the exhibition itself. Walter is physically presenting a progression in the fight against HIV and AIDs with new progressive drugs whilst demonstrating an evolution of queer art. I like that he’s stamping his own authority as the next in line to claim recognition to this area of work.
Performance of Self feature’s Keith Lemon as Scary Spice. The card provides a self-portrait, Walter provides an indication of an influential character which has impacted on his own work. Lemon’s mixture of humour and cheap trash chic sketches chimes in harmony with Walter’s media works in particular.
Walter's media piece's are fun, making exploring sexuality and health interesting and accessible in a different way. The pieces are are visually challenging though which appears to be a growing format with media based artists like Ryan Trecratin (one of my favorite artists), Bedwyr Williams and Rachel McClean whose most recent commission Feed Me is a part of the British Art Show 8 current at Leeds Art Gallery.
I thought the concept of the tarot work was really interesting. The piece attracted a lot of interest; people sit with the mystic and ask for an answer to a single question which often relate to home, work, potential conquests and partners. The Tarot set under a ‘gay gaze’ with a framework surrounding sexual health appears to highlight self-fulfilling prophecies of ‘cruzing’ encounters. Each suit describes a potential outcome for those that pursue particular types of character. The cards direct the questioner to what type of person they will find. Will it result in a ‘Barebacker or a Serosorter? As four contrasting suits however provide a limited range of choice and ultimately outcomes.
Alongside this there were lots of other pockets of art works hidden in the depths of the maze. There were a series of cardboard models of the HIV capsid. These structures represent a visual model of the virus. The capsid houses the RNA which goes on to use the host cell in order to produce new viruses. These sculptures reflect the beautiful and complex structure biology contains visualising the twelve pentamers (pentagonal proteins) and around 250 hexamers (hexagonal proteins).
There are a series of ‘shrinkies’ plastic displayed like a museum exhibit. The ‘shrinkies’ contain drawn images which are baked in the oven in order to shrink to miniature size; like individual bacterium and virus’, life forms associated with the Alien Sex Club.
Additionally there are drawings presented saloon style, exploring the rituals, characters and symbolism. They reference various situations inside clubs, which alien sex club character crashing the party and more intimate scenes of sexual encounters of an unusual kind.
A series of computer designed, virus-like heads that inhabit the Alien Sex Club. Like Damien Hirst’s Medicine cabinets, there are models of these viruses contained in a cabinet. I’m also personally really keen to see the Alien Pug head, however he’s in the Walker gallery so I’ll have to make another journey to Liverpool to take a look at this particular piece. Other virus heads repeatedly feature other works throughout the exhibition. Their frequency makes me think of the phase ‘there are Alien’s amongst us’. Virus’ and foreign bodies have already invaded our planet and bodies yet visibility of their presence remains insidiously hidden.
The last bit I’ll mention is a series of marrows with individually knitted ‘hats’ which were handed out to visitors as they visited. They carried the marrows around the exhibition in their arms little babies with knitted hats. The work explores ‘condom fatigue’ which is the tendency of some gay men who have become desensitised to concerns about practicing safe sex. The phrase comes from those who have lived through the AIDS crisis and safer sex messages have to turn to practicing unprotected sex as they are tired of using condoms. I like the idea of carrying the sense of responsibility by walking with a marrow as a reminder of the consequences of unprotected sex could produce an unwanted ‘love child’ or STI/STD. Having a little woollen hat as a form of protection for your ‘marrow’.
There are loads more to see and explore but I’ll leave it there to encourage more people closer to home to go and see the exhibition for yourselves. But for the lovely bloggers and readers abroad you can see the majority of the work through the Alien Sex Club website or take a moment to watch the following video from Homtopia.tv
Everyone, regardless of your sexuality should see at least one event from Homotopia it’s such a brilliant festival and it’s fantastic it happens in the North of England.