Body as an Archive: tracking the transgender experience in Tasmania explores and articulates various historical and contemporary Tasmanian transgender experiences through storytelling and text, archival objects and artefacts, video, sound and photography.
This project responded to a lack of transgender representation in the media and historical archives, contemporary arts and general society. This had been amplified in Tasmania because of our (up until recently) lagging legislation, geographical location and small population. As a result, trans invisibility had been widespread and unchanging, and it bred feelings of isolation and despair among the local trans community.
Trans theorist, Lucas Cassidy Crawford argues, ‘transgender bodies are like walking archives because of their ability to change and shift, move and be constantly erased or supplemented’ (2010). Reflecting upon this I realised that we are also sites of consolidated queer temporality and experience, meaning we carry the collective intergenerational trauma of our community, past and present. Erasing trans identities results in the erasure of trans history and this perpetuates a vicious cycle of oppression through tampering with our sense of self-identity and belonging.
I visited various archives including the Gay and Lesbian Archives in Melbourne, ONE archives in Los Angeles and the Tasmanian archives and found only one record of someone who was possibly transgender and Tasmanian. This doesn’t mean we didn’t exist.
In recent years, Tasmania has been at the forefront of trans activism with the recent law reform around birth certificates. As trans activism gains momentum in mainstream society, it is important not to lose sight of the personal and political histories and stories of those who have fought for us to get to this place – sometimes by just simply existing.
I interviewed 8 diverse transgender Tasmanians and transcribed their stories into a self-published book and it was available for free for the duration of the exhibition. Not only did this book allow the trans community to share their stories with their immediate community but it will also be acquired by various archives and libraries. This will ensure that archives now contain our stories told by us.
Accompanying the book were several artworks born from the interviews and research in the archive. Some were in collaboration with interviewees, others responded to the trans experience more broadly. The other component of the exhibition was the resource centre. This area offered a space to spend time with the book that I put together well as other books, collections and videos about trans and diverse genders, queerness, visibility and representation.
This project and exhibition does not attempt to represent every trans persons experience, however it is the first step of many to make sure there is a stronger presence of gender diverse Tasmanian voices in the archive.
Moonah Arts Centre, 2019.
A special thanks to ANZ & Sydney Mardi Gras for funding this project.
Image 3 courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand.
In 1979, Australian performance artist, Jill Orr did a performance for camera on St Kilda Beach. It involved the artist laying down on the sand, clothed in a white dress, black high heels and sunglasses. She lay there with wild and domestic fish on and surrounding her body, and with a cob loaf on her stomach. Lunch with the Birds was Orr’s chance to “commune” with the birds while “exploring the play on flight, ascension and the nature of scavenging sea gulls” (Orr 2010).
I have fond memories of going to the local park as a child to feed the ducks old sliced bread. I engage in similar rituals as an adult. I regularly go down to Flippers on Hobart’s waterfront and buy fish and chips for $14.50. It is likely that by the time I’ve finished I’ve spared a chip or two for the seagulls. Sometimes I will offer up all my left over chips. I’m aware of how I’m not supposed to feed the birds but I do it anyway because the act is dripping with nostalgia and it’s for my own amusement and pleasure. It is difficult to comprehend how my actions as an individual affect the overarching wellbeing of the planet, especially since I know that for change to be substantive it needs to be collective. I often feel an awkward combination of helplessness and guilt as a result of not not feeding the birds.
Brunch with the Birds (a performance for the camera) is a parody of Orr’s work and responds to the subject of the Anthropocene through video and performance. During this performance I dress up in drag to look like Orr and buy hot chips from Flippers. Then I lay down outside the punts and scatter the chips all over my body in preparation to share my brunch with the birds. I lay back and let a flock of seagulls eat chips off my body. The performance is filmed using an iPhone and a selfie stick. This work uses humour to highlight the absurdity of the contradiction of wanting to experience the natural environment, to be part of it and preserve it while contributing to its destruction at the same time. The use of an iPhone draws attention to the performative politics of the privileged and how they often use technological apparatuses as tools to broadcast their opinions surrounding climate change while simultaneously shielding themselves from taking any accountability or action. This work embraces these contradictions and uses absurdity and satire to establish connection between concept and audience.
Brunch with the Birds (a performance for the camera) is also a critique of the relationship between radical queer culture and contemporary art. Agitating at the tension between queer humour and queer politics, I draw upon my experience of the paradoxical policing of queer activism within our community—that work must be serious in order to be activism or even art. I feel pressure from some in the community to devote my practice to facilitating an understanding of the political movements of our moment, using it to catalyse awareness and action. If I don’t, the reasoning goes, I am not using my ‘platform’; I am not making ‘good’ work, and worse, I am not being a ‘good’ queer. I use playfulness, messiness and vulnerability in this performance to disturb expectations and relax the boundaries between art and activism.
Did Jill Orr lay on St Kilda beach with fish in her eyes and contemplate the Anthropocene at all? If she was holding a placard would that make it self-aware protest? What are the limits of what is considered useful political dialogue? What are welcome interventions in our natural environment? Brunch with the Birds (a performance for the camera) is a playful exploration of our guilt, the tension between humour and seriousness in debate, and the tangled boundaries between individual and collective action in our environment.
Safe Haven is a community focused project that explores the intersection of place, belonging and queer identity in Tasmania. In 2018, I visited the homes of 3 people from the LGBTIQ+ community to talk about their experience of being queer and why they like to call Tasmania home, and I created billboard artworks in response to these interactions.
I visited Caleb, a young gay Aboriginal man, on Country on the outskirts of Burnie and I found his spiritual connection to the Land and how that intersects with his queer identity and idea of home incredibly powerful. What was particularly moving was the strength Caleb finds in his Aboriginal identity and how that offers refuge when he is experiencing oppression relating to his gay identity.
I visited Holly, who is non-binary, on their boat that they live in in Sandy Bay. It soon became very apparent that Holly’s hope and passion for making a difference was very significant to the way they make meaning and find a sense of belonging in this place.
And I visited Felicity, a transgender woman who lives on a beautiful property near the Snug tiers in Margate. Despite Felicity’s adoration and dedication to the weather —Felicity is a retired meteorologist—her eyes lit up the most when she spoke about her love for her partner and the landscape in which their home is situated.
For decades, queer activism in Tasmania has responded to the relationship between our island state and the mainland. Some campaigns have even irreverently proclaimed, 'we're here, we're queer, we're not moving to the mainland'. These billboards respond to the connection between queerness and place, not through refusal, but through belonging. As Tasmania's geographic and cultural spoils attract the attention of those from elsewhere, these billboards aim to invite the viewer to inhabit and witness the personal and political renderings of our state.
They use a combination of photography and quotes to articulate the reasons why members from an at risk community choose to remain in regional areas rather than relocating to more populated cities, and explore how queer community members define and experience home, from both within and beyond the walls of a house.
The billboards will be on display May-July 2019 in Mathers Place, Hobart.
This project was supported by the City of Hobart, Working It Out and the Gay and Lesbian Foundation of Australia.
Image 1: Billboard artwork #1: Caleb
Image 2: Installation view of billboard #1
Image 3: Billboard artwork #2: Holly
Image 4: Installation view of billboard #2
Image 5: Holly (participant) standing in front of billboard - image courtesy of the City of Hobart
Image 6: Billboard artwork #3: Felicity
Image 7: Installation view of billboard #3
Image 8: Felicity (participant) standing in front of billboard - image courtesy of the City of Hobart
Image 9: Dexter (artist) in front of billboard #1 - image courtesy of the City of Hobart
Image 10: Holly (left), Dexter (center), Felicity (right) at Safe Haven launch - image courtesy of the City of Hobart
The After-Image is an evocation of the artist’s lived experience of being transgender through multimedia installation. The two-channel video component documents an endurance performance that was done in the dark with only the flash of a photographer’s camera capturing images. The performance involved the artist erasing 6 large-scale self-portraits, the remnants of which comprise the second component of the work. Employing the concept of the after-image (the shadow of an image that remains on the retina after the initial stimulus has ceased) the video uses photographs from the performance, editing, strobe-like flickering and sound as methods to articulate the trans experience. While trans visibility has gained traction over the past few years, these representations of transness have focused on the majority of trans identities being a two-part process from one gender to another through physical transition. The artist’s identity does not mirror these representations and in the process is erased. The After-Image co-opts the tools of their oppression, and investigates various methods of erasure as a way to regain power over their own image.
Like the after-image, my transness exists between two states – what is here and what is no longer present. It is illusive, fleeting and transitory. It is defined by persistence, slipperiness, disappearance and loss; attempts to immobilise it are futile. It will always push towards the limitlessness of invisibility — its destination will always be the unseen and immaterial. It is filled “with the intention to be lost” (Muñoz, 2009 pg. 72). My transness flickers beyond my image and past my body. It is located in the act of disappearing and I find home in the process of slipping through society’s attempts to make sense of my existence — my self-acceptance rests within the ephemeral and I thrive in gestures of resistance.
This work was awarded first place in the Midsumma and Australia Post Art Prize 2019
Images by Rémi Chauvin
Self-Dissolve : Reiteration is part of an ongoing project that exists at the intersections of the self, self-image and the poetics of absence. I performed my first iteration of this work in early 2018 where I publicly rejected patriarchal renderings of personhood in favour of embodying the emotive self through sandpapering 100 self-portrait photographs during a 2-hour live performance.
For Self-Dissolve : Reiteration I shifted my focus to my lived experience of having a non-normative gender identity in Hobart. Through live performance, photography, video and remnants I communicate the pain and frustration caused by colonial and patriarchal forces upon my identity, self-image and gender with particular focus on how these forces cause discomfort and disjuncture.
I wrestled large-scale self-portrait photographs and sandstone blocks for 2-hours during the opening night until the image on each print was destroyed. The remnants and video documentation of the performance remained in the space until the exhibition concluded.
This performance was an act of vulnerability where I self-inflicted agitation in order to transcend trauma and reclaim agency over myself and my gender identity.
Salamanca Arts Centre, September 2018
Images 1-8 by Alexandra Hullah
The Quiet Strength is a video made in collaboration with Patrick, an inmate from Risdon Prison. It was part of The Pink Palace, an exhibition that was curated by Constance ARI and part of Dark Mofo Festival in 2018.
The idea for this work came from the conversations I had with Patrick over a 6 month period between December 2017 - June 2018. During this time we discovered that we were more like each other than not.
We found common ground through shared pain which stems from a personal ordeal of ongoing disjuncture between the self, ego and self-image. The Quiet Strength uses endurance performance and poetry to articulate this difficulty and explores how it is rendered through or onto the body over time.
In the performance I repetitively pick up and drop large chunks of sandstone onto several self-portrait photographs until exhaustion. Only at the end of the film are the damaged self-portraits revealed.
Although the project was about common ground, Patrick didn’t expect to find it therapeutic. The interview process to design the work became one of the most valuable parts of the whole experience because it created a space to build trust and intimacy in what’s usually a regimented place. Towards the end of the project Patrick said that visits with me became a reminder to the parts of the outside world that he missed.
Dark Mofo Festival, June 2018
Image 7 by Lucy Parakhina
Back to Back, Back to Black is a queer, intersectional response to the tension between artists, Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple surrounding the rights to the use of Vantablack; the darkest material on earth or “the blackest black”. Anish Kapoor is the only person who currently has access to this pigment.
Back to Back, Back to Black uses drag and the over performance of gender to critique Semple’s behaviour and highlights that his response is one typical of white male privilege which perpetuates cisgendered and heteronormative standards of ownership and control.
The performance included a drag king routine where I sang ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse repetitively for 2 hours. The routine also involved handing out roses to members of the audience. Through repetition, absurdity and overkill I seek to reveal the tokenism, extreme competitiveness and lack of empathy that is entrenched within white male culture. In addition, it communicates how drag and humour can be used as powerful tools to agitate the gender binary.
My aim was not for Kapoor to be completely vindicated but to bring attention to Semple’s petty and incessant attempts to prop himself up above Kapoor.
Contemporary Art Tasmania, April 2018.
Images by Alexandra Hullah
Self-Dissolve is an exploration of the self and the poetics of absence through the platforms of live performance, photography, video and remnant and is an act of empowerment via a rejection of the patriarchal conceptions of the self in favour of the emotive self. This narrative of liberation of the self is based upon the fundamental paradox that it only succeeds when self image is dissolved.
I sandpaper 100 photographic self-portraits during a 2-hour live performance on the opening night. The remnants and video documentation of the performance remain in the space until the exhibition concludes.
The self-portrait photographs in Self-Dissolve play a crucial role as they act as metaphors for the socially constructed self that is disembodied and therefore dislocated from feeling. From childhood, we begin to accept the self through essentially visual, externalised images of the self, superseding and repressing the emotive self. Self-Dissolve is a counter ritual that critiques this dominant understanding in an attempt to contribute to current social discourse around subverting the patriarchal repression of the self within our society.
Sawtooth Gallery, March 2018
Images 1-10 by Alexandra Hullah
A shrine to my first love/ a shrine to self-love is a three-part ritualistic invocation of unrequited love using the elements of water, fire and air with the intention of fostering a liberation of the self.
The ritual began with tearing up unsent love letters written to my first love when I was 15 years old. I then used water to soften them into a pulp to make 14 sheets of handmade paper; one for each year I have kept these letters.
I turn to fire in the second part of the ritual, burning one piece of the handmade paper per day for the duration of the exhibition.
The final element of the ritual is the dispersal of the remnants via the natural circulation of air in the space.
While the transformation of the paper aims to be symbolic of the volatile, obsessive nature of adolescent emotion, the ritual enables me to gradually dislocate myself from and eventually transcend the memories of unrequited love. The final movements of this transformation are then left to the natural elements. This act of liberating the self becomes an act of empowerment through shifting the focus from my first love to my own well being, and actions that are within and beyond my control.
Visual Bulk, January 2018
Everything and Nothing is a two-part provocation of struggle and self-identity via the platforms of video, performance, high-resolution scans and material remnant.
The first component is a durational video consisting of a pain and endurance performance where I complete a large scale abstract expressionist drawing over 7 days with 2B pencil and then obliterate the entire image with rubber erasers. The second component is the large scale high resolution scans of the lead pencil shavings and rubber dust from the performance. The performance is a self-inflicted agitation in an attempt to promote my own corporeal and emotional awareness while the scans investigate the materiality of the remnants and how objects transformed alongside my body.
My name is Dexter and I’m an alcoholic.
The full impact of my alcohol dependency hit me once I gave up drinking. It was an exasperating and traumatic experience. I had intense feelings of isolation and my creativity was abruptly stifled.
It felt like I was producing nothing because I could only manage scribbling on paper. This felt monotonous and worthless at first. However, it very quickly became vital to me. I used drawing as a way to busy myself – both mentally and physically. I would have caved in to my cravings without it.
I began to realise the full extent of the fact that I had spent my entire life constructing my identity surrounding this substance; I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about myself through sobriety. The performance articulates this notion and I used it as a way to agitate myself and confront this ordeal head on. In this way, the performance and Everything and Nothing as a whole became an unconventional type of rehabilitation. It offered me room to grapple with and eventually work through many of the complexities surrounding my relationship with alcohol. Although this was very difficult, it was transformative and I am still sober today.
While Everything and Nothing developed from confronting my addiction, the project came to reflect the arduous nature of navigating self-identity alongside all my private struggles. Through self-observation and reflection, this project made me realise that my practice is more than just a creative outlet. It is also a compulsion that offers me a safe space where I can explore and challenge all my discomforts.
Recently I’ve been engaging in performances that highlight the pain, endurance and frustration of existing in this world as someone with a female body. My first concept for this performance was to showcase my strength and determination by wrestling an unrestrained boxing bag until exhaustion. I initially did this for two and a half hours in an attempt to disrupt society’s notions of gender and body. However, during the performance I began to realise that I was actually wrestling with myself, not with society; the video represents and articulates this battle. It’s unrelenting and at times excruciating. Through this performance I uncover my engrained misogyny. I found this confronting but it is not surprising since I live in a world that oppresses the feminine out of fear. Through observing myself I discover that I often use society’s ideas of masculinity as a mask to hide behind, rejecting vulnerability because of its association with femininity. The performance demonstrated this was unsustainable, and that vulnerability is fundamental to the human experience. Self-aware until I enforce a self-inflicted agitation, I transcend my own discomforts – further transforming my ideas of gender, body and identity. In tears and exhausted, I end realising there’s more power in acceptance, not resistance, of self.
*Runner Up, Tasmanian Portraiture Prize, 2017.
Twenty-eight high resolution scanned images documenting the artist's menstrual cycle on their underwear.
"In allowing us to engage with the reality of her own cycle, Rosengrave's work critiques the sterilisation and phobia of something anyone who has a vagina experiences, in some way, on a daily basis. Sunny Side Up, illustrates a kind of beauty in what is hidden and shamed." - Grace Herbert
Island magazine, Issue 145, 2015