ELEMENTS OF VOGUE
A CASE STUDY OF RADICAL PERFORMANCE
17 NOVEMBER 2017 – 6 MAY 2018
CURATED BY: SABEL GAVALDÓN & MANUEL SEGADE
Bodies are both an agent and a result of history. Bodies are historiographic tools for interpreting the past, present and future. History is somatic, a choreographic repertoire of gestures that are read in a certain order. Gestures make us legible to others: they are assigned to a gender, to an ethnicity, to a social class. They speak of identities which are naturalised precisely through the systematic repetition of identical gestures. A pose is a conscious recognition of gestures qua construction. Posing, therefore, means becoming aware of how a body makes history. To pose … to pose a threat, as the cultural theorist Dick Hebdige wrote on the meaning of style in youth subcultures. That is why it is important to trace the history of dissident gestures, the genealogy of those poses that are sufficiently daring to challenge the norm, opening space to imagine other futures for the body or even new social choreographies still in the making.
The stylised poses of a voguing performance belong to this kind of gesture. For those who dare to listen to them, the hands of a voguing dancer tell a story whose implications and possibilities expand beyond the individual body of the performer towards a collective territory where the struggle and resistance of minorities takes place. Voguing is a form of dance inspired by poses in fashion magazines, though its origins lie in bodies which have been imprisoned, racialised, medicalised and punished over and over again. When it is viewed as a case study of radical performance, voguing is revealed as a tangible—even dramatic—demonstration of how posing is like brushing history against the grain. This exhibition engages with the political history of the body in order to explore the radical embodiments of style and identity that came together in the ballroom subculture that arose decades ago in Harlem, New York.
True to its roots in homosexual night life and in black cultural expression, ballroom is an underground scene where Afro-American and Latino femme queens (transsexuals) and butch queens (homosexuals)—and other queers of colour—came together to see and be seen. A transvestite dance, with its exuberant fashion parading and dance steps, opens up a wide range of marginal identities that exhibit the most spectacular version of themselves. At once, ballroom allowed the emergence of vectors of subjectivation that do not fit in with closed categories or with established typologies. These vectors cut across a large number of minor histories, struggles for freedom and affective communities. In other words, the type of performativity that this exhibition overviews does not belong to a single social group, but reverberates through that slippery space-time that the poet Fred Moten called “subcommons”.
How can a gesture become minor? This exhibition investigates how minorities use their bodies to produce dissident forms of beauty, subjectivity and desire. These minor poetics are seen as a threat to the normative world, but longed for by hegemonic culture (with Madonna’s exploitation of the voguing aesthetic being an excellent example). Paying attention to the cultural debates, conflicts and struggles that surround voguing as a case study of radical performance, Elements of Vogue addresses the complexity of these dynamics of assimilation and resistance. It is not an exhibition “about” voguing, but a rehearsal that is deployed in multiple directions, taking the queer body as an archive from which to map the different subjectivities, affective legacies and embodied histories that are condensed in ballroom culture. Under this optic, voguing is revealed as a case study to understand the emergence of posing and its ability to articulate new social forms. This exhibition takes a look at the networks of affiliation that conform the lives of those subjects who coexist in the subcommons and the strategies that allow them to dismantle the hegemonic categories of race, sex and gender. Because, at times, striking a pose is all it takes to interrupt the process of normalisation. Because the most minor of gestures can stop history in its tracks.
Elements of Vogue can be inscribed within the lines of research at the core of CA2M’s programme, examining the relations between art, music, visual culture and subcultural phenomena.
Lyle Ashton Harris, Charles Atlas, Joan Jett Blakk, Willie Cole, Ellen Gallagher, Gerard Gaskin, Marsha P. Johnson, Juliana Huxtable, Crystal LaBeija, Zoe Leonard, Ligia Lewis, Glenn Ligon, Kalup Linzy, Paul Maheke, Rashaad Newsome, NON Worldwide, Lorraine O’Grady, Paper Tiger Television, Adrian Piper, Pope. L, Carl Pope Jr., Pope L., Marlon Riggs, Sylvia Rivera, Martha Rosler, Bruce Talamon, Wu Tsang and Andy Warhol, among others.
Alongside the exhibition itself, there will be a live arts programme of voguing performances, workshops, oral history and educational activities. Voguing will also be featured within the Film On Sundays programme as well as the subject of a new collaboration with Teatros del Canal in the performance it is preparing to add to this programme with Marlene Monteiro in January. The programme is designed to build up throughout the first half of 2018 until the dance held to celebrate the closing of the show in May 2018.
Visits Wednesday and Saturday at 6:30 pm
Voguing workshops. Elements of Vogue
Two publications will be released to coincide with the exhibition: firstly, a reader published jointly with the publishers Oriente y el Mediterráneo’s BAAM (Biblioteca Afro Americana Madrid), featuring a selection of texts on the black political body in the USA throughout the twentieth century made by Mireia Sentís; secondly, a publication in the form of a constellation that includes the works in the exhibition with other cultural citations that enable a reconstruction of the narrative in which they are inserted.