Mathew1
Photo: Mathew Parkin

There is that old idea of nature vs culture, female vs male, emotion vs intellect, but I’m not sure where queerness fits into this. If it's linked with camp, and often it is, then via Sontag it’s about artificial exaggeration and performance of the natural (please don’t @ me for this reading, or any of the other readings) because queerness is muddy. It is hard to grasp with both hands. It is a trajectory, it shapeshifts. While queerness is often dripping in memetic cultural references it is of and for the body. It is of sweat, the bowel and the body hair. It is of the belly, both in laughter, six-pack, good food and anxiety. It is not just that queerness is concretely about what bodies do with other bodies, mutual pleasure and collective pain, but it is concerned with authenticity or realness.

I won’t and can’t stand by this writing. I am wary of writing. I use it as a way to think through ideas but often it seems too solid. I do not seek to be an authority. Nor am I seeking to make an argument. To paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin this text is a vessel to hold some thoughts together, it's not a spear with a point.[1]

A windmill is on the front cover of Bridget Penney’s Licorice. A windmill features in the story it contains, of the low budget production of a folk horror film. It’s easy to point to windmills as now aestheticised industrial buildings, either as housing or conceptual photography. Ironically windmills as a renewable energy source are often protested as blighting a constructed natural landscape. As if fields are devoid of labour. However Licorice is more interested in trying to record the sound of the windmill, which brings to mind Maria Fusco’s assertion that, 'I have absolutely no access to how history sounds' in Legend of a Necessary Dreamer. The windmill in Bridget’s narrative is a device to hear a past, adding the same authenticity to the film production as hand dyed burlap wardrobes and the real life sexual relationship between the actors. I guess what I am trying to clumsily gesture at here is the distinction between the real and simulated sex, landscape, narrative.

‘Tilting at windmills’ means attacking a perceived enemy of threat. I wonder how much it is connected to a strawman argument. A strawman, according to Wikipedia, is a form of argument based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. A symbol of the rural, and particularly farming, once again stands in for a fake, perceived or constructed enemy.

I think I was tilting at windmills when I suggested this writing. I was reading Licorice.

I have had sex outside, but very rarely have I lain in the mud for it. Or on the hay. Or in the manure. Or on the scrub. Or on the sand. Or the rock. It’s mainly been stood and fumbling. It’s mainly been swift; anxious about a perceived threat. Animals often try to make themselves look bigger when confronted with a perceived threat.

The windmill Grindr. Scruff works best for me, or a moustache. It’s not that I’m not attracted to smooth faces, but they are better with a bruise and an accent.

I hate to do this, I really do, but mills at the moment (whether wind or otherwise) are struggling to meet demands for flour during the coronavirus lockdown. Well, they are struggling to meet a rise in domestic demand, 'it is not the flour that is lacking so much as the ability to package smaller units in greater numbers'.[2]

I wonder if the farmer is trade. Or the farmer’s son. The labourer is I guess, but I find it hard to map my class politics onto this. What makes trade, is it the presumed heterosexuality and by extension masculinity, or is it proximity to manual labour? The mill and the field are both sites of labour, but are they both sites of radical organising and collective bargaining? I’m not going to get into the enclosures here as I fear I don’t have the word count or the knowledge.

In Jamie Crewe’s Ashley, their Margaret Tait Award commission which recently screened at Glasgow Film Festival, we see the titular character taking a trip to a rural cottage in an attempt to regain or consolidate their sense of autonomy or selfhood after a break-up. Travis Alabanza’s narration contextualises the landscape as belonging to the ex, however the threats seem mainly situated in the domestic environment, not the outdoors. What we find in the landscape instead is a trans body glowing among the green: a powerful being running amok through the field.

At a screening event programmed as part of Jamie’s sister exhibitions at Grand Union and Humber Street Gallery Love and Solidarity and Solidarity and Love, we collectively watched a YouTube playlist that Jamie first compiled in 2017 for Art In America magazine. Accompanying this communal remote watching event was a chatroom, which for me became an essential part of the experience. Finding togetherness while apart.

One of the films in the playlist was Juliette of the Herbs, depicting the life of Juliette de Bairacli Levy, a ‘world renowned herbalist, author, breeder of Afghan hounds, friend of the Gypsies, traveller in search of herbal wisdom and the pioneer of holistic veterinary medicine.’ In the film, they talked us through the plants in their gardens, and the names of the herbs alone were so provocative. Large bushes of antiseptic rosemary, dew of the sea, by the door of her house. I keep lavender, rosemary and thyme by my building’s door. The opening scene was of someone swimming on a blue shimmering sea, slightly distorted by dated VHS technology that in some ways made it more tangible. I longed to be enveloped. The film was shown alongside drag performances, sometimes from trans performers, who were occasionally naked, and I was interested in the coexistence of these two types of film styles–documentary and cabaret–and that they may mush together better than we have been led to believe. Lady Bunny and RuPaul cooking on an open fire.

Through digital communications geographical importance lessens and discrete social spaces become a larger overlapping space. In Sgàire Wood’s Extreme Beauty YouTube video for Vogue, she succinctly expresses an idea I’ve tried to talk about in previous work: that finding community online is a queer millennial experience, perhaps equal in significance to the ritual of coming out and moving to the city for previous generations. However the importance of where one grew up, and an origin story, seems to be just as important. Through the internet I can understand other specific and nuanced queer cultures. Queer expression can become more multitude. What I am saying is through the internet I can find people who understand my reference to French and Saunders, rather than having to align with other forms of dominant cultural production.

I wish I hadn’t pitched this as talking about queerness, and I wish I could stop using that word.

*

[1] Expanded from the theory of the novel as a vessel not a spear outlined in Ursula K Le Guin’s 1986 essay The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. The essay argues the vessel is the first human tool, not the spear, and links this to a feminist critique of linear storytelling and time.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/fo...


***

Mathew Parkin is an artist living and working in Glasgow.

'Cottaging The Hedgerow' is a chronicle unfolding over four weeks from 20 March 2020