DRINK THE NEW WINE | Exquisite Dialogue

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Matthew Buckingham
& Sharon Hayes

MB: I’ve heard you’ll be traveling to and making art at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions in August and September this year. I also understand that this project will involve asking people to participate—to read or recite something? What will you ask them to say?

SH: I’m writing a text that 75 to 100 people will speak in unison. It is a text spoken from/as a single person, an “I” drawn from historic texts that engage the encounter between the mainstream political sphere and a real or a mythic “gay” person or, perhaps, more traditionally a “homosexual” or the idea of homosexual. The project is still evolving, but I’m interested in inviting people to come personify a kind of flamboyant queerness…which could be both an embodied position or a costumed one. In this, my model is more the early Christopher Street Liberation Day Parades than the later pride parades. I’m really interested in the way in which queers in those early parades were demonstrating, wearing, flaunting their queerness to themselves—and only later to a larger, more hostile, more skeptical public. There’s something about this that strikes me as a kind of complicated flirtation that constitutes the power of “gay power.” A power that was at once empowerment, visibility, self-definition, and threat, much like Black Power—but utilizing very different terms.

MB: How does this relate to, or is it different from, some of your recent work where you have (personally) brought pieces of writing into public space by speaking them aloud?

SH: It’s definitely related to the work I’ve been doing lately. The difference is the scale or the volume of the work, and their sites—which produce a kind of spectacle in the work that none of the other pieces have had. I’ve always been drawn to the spectacle-events of the political conventions. I’ve spent, as I think you know, hours and hours at the Museum of Television and Radio watching old conventions. I know that in the disparity or depravity of the current political landscape they tend to be huge and empty moments of unwarranted celebration. But I also think that as a ritual of mainstream national politics, we can’t help but converge on them. It’s this convergence between candidates, politicians, delegates, protestors, media, television viewers, newspaper and blog readers, passersby, and residents of host cities that I find so compelling.

MB: In your recent projects I March in the Parade of Liberty, But as Long as I Love You I’m Not Free and Everything Else Has Failed! Don’t You Think It’s Time for Love?, you use words that could be from someone’s love letters, e-mails, or even voicemail messages. When listening to you, I have the feeling that I’m witnessing both an action and a metaphor of that action. I think this is because your words sound very private but are being delivered as a public address. I have to consider not only what you are saying but also how and why.

By speaking in public you open the question of constituency. To experience your work I must immediately make a decision about how I will participate, whether or not I will join your audience, or in some cases, literally follow you through the streets as you walk and talk. The audience that deliberately joins you and the one that encounters you by accident both must navigate an artifice or theatricality in the work that resembles but is different from what we find in political demonstrations or street actions.

This ambiguity reminds me that the word “protest” is both a verb and a noun. I think the past twenty years has seen a shift or reduction in the role that public demonstrations play in our political process. To a degree, our market-based culture tries to depoliticize public space. Are you partly trying to remind us that before becoming a “thing,” protesting is an action?

SH: Yes, I think you’ve described it quite well. What you name as the coincidence of the action and the metaphor of the action, I could also name in methodological terms. When I am standing on the street speaking these private addresses—in which I am speaking of and to love, war, desire, longing, desperation—my task is not really to “be” a character who feels these things, but rather to really speak to people. I feel strongly that any of these texts I’ve written, taken into a theatrical context, would function as pure metaphor, but on the street they don’t. To stand on the street and talk to the public, even if you are addressing them as your absent lover, is to stand on the street talking to the public. So in that way the object of my speaking can’t help but be both who I am talking to literally and who I am talking to metaphorically. “I love you”—“you” singular, “you” plural.

MB: There is something hopeful and at the same time futile in broadcasting one’s “private” emotions, and I wonder to what degree these projects of yours can be read as a commentary not only on the role of political demonstrations today but also on the limitations of these forms themselves?

SH: One of the lines that repeats in almost all of the texts is the line, “I know that the ears are the only orifice that can’t be closed.” Impacted largely, I believe, by my generational formation, I am unwilling to let go of hope. But I’m also not able to embrace it. Neither hopeful nor hopeless, I throw, literally project, words out into the space of the public. Like thousands of people have done before me, and like thousands of people will do after me. In the narrative of the text, it is in the hope that somehow my words will find their way to my lover. But in the works’ reverberations, the hope is that somehow the words will find their way to a body public, to a body of people, that they might somehow find their way to political meaning or significance.

It is not a commentary on the promise and limitation of political demonstrations today, it is, hopefully, a demonstration that makes the desires and disappointments that are provoked by such promises and/or limitations more transparent. It is a piece that, somewhat simply and sincerely, attempts to work in the space of emotion by trying to find precise intersections between desire, politics, and war.

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