On Friday I joined other artists exhibiting in the Queer Constellations exhibition, at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading, to see our work, meet each other for the first time ‘in the flesh’, and take part in workshops/discussions relating to the subject matter of the exhibition, namely queerness and rurality.
As part of the day I ran a workshop sharing my Walking Pages process and inviting the artists, exhibition coordinator Joe Jukes and Queer Rural Connections originator Timothy Alsopp, to layer their experiences of the MERL’s garden, onto printed photographs. The intention was to give people a chance to explore how we can document queer experiences of place, and consider how these might differ from mainstream representations.
Film director Ned Botwood also gave a talk about his short, celebratory film Happy Pride, From the Middle of Nowhere’ created for British Vogue this Summer.
“Why do I have to watch Brokeback Mountain or God’s Own Country to see a slither of queerness in nature?” he asks, regarding the overarching portrayals of queer people in gritty cityscapes. “It’s obviously not the case, and I wanted to spotlight the people, the pioneers and explorers, making the countryside work for them.”
You can watch Ned’s film here:
There’s a lot for me to process from the day, but there’s a few key things that stand out for me that I’m thankful for and left focusing on. Firstly our diversity – we are all different, our work is all different and we each have the capacity to evolve and change within that. It’s definitely not one size fits all, despite all that we share. We don’t all run away to the bright lights of the big city, and even if we do, many of us return to settle in rural areas. Whilst rural spaces can give us the freedom to be ourselves, they can also mean that we have to ‘come out’ again and again.
What I took away from my workshop was the focus on multi-sensory experience, as people included scent and texture in their pieces, reponding to experiences of lavender, the wind or the shape of the chicken run. I was interested in how 2D images were folded, cut, rolled, and queered. Semi transparent layers were placed over the top of the ‘official’ photographs of the Museum grounds, holding text that related to experiences of childhood gardens. Others had holes punched through them, or were drawn on to explore the unseen reality beneath the surface.
It’s been a big leap for me to start exploring my sexuality/gender identity so publicly in my work. Now that I am, it can feel a pretty solitary experience. I make the work, write or talk about it to an audience, or send it out into the world (either online or by post), unsure of the reception that its going to get. This exhibition and artists’ gathering has been the first opportunity I’ve had to exhibit and share my work within a specifcally queer context. I’ve been thankful for the opportunity to come together and share both our practices, and our thoughts and feelings about being queer in the countryside.
I’ve hung onto everyone’s pages from the workshop (not something I usually do), in a box I put together for the purpose, and will share them as a collection when I exhibit more Queer River work in the future. I hope to keep in touch with everyone from the exhibition, and to be able to come together to continue our conversations in the future, as I feel that I’m learning a lot.
The Queer Constellations exhibition continues at MERL in Reading until September:
‘Queer Constellations is an exhibition that poses the question as to whether there is queerness in rural life. It brings together artists from around the UK and Ireland, including Epha J Roe, James Aldridge, Emma Plover, Gemma Dagger, Eimear Walshe, Claye Bowler and Daniel Baker, to delight in the strangeness of rural life and to feel its enough-ness. We invite users to trespass the space, explore the margins, and to join us in queering the countryside...’