Monday, 22 September 2014

Sutton House LGBTQ exhibition update

I've been really moved and delighted by the number and quality of submissions from volunteers to the LGBTQ exhibition I'm working on for LGBT History Month 2015 at Sutton House, Hackney. I thought I'd share a few examples of some of the contributions I've received so far.

Just a reminder, I'm aiming to collect recordings of all 126 of Shakespeare's fair youth sonnets, in a crowd-sourced collecting project where contributors record their own readings on their phone. I'm also asking for each of the readers to submit a 10 second video "selfie" clip too, and both sound and video will be used as part of an audiovisual experience at Sutton House in February 2015.

Here are a handful of the sonnets that I've received:




and here is a small selection of the video clips I've received so far:



126 Sonnets - video teasers from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they will whet your appetite for the exhibition, or even better- inspire you to get involved, there are still spaces for contributors! If you want to get involved, email SuttonhouseLGBTQ@gmail.com. There's more info available here.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

#NTHouseproud

I'm delighted to have been part of the launch party for #NTHouseproud last night. The newest initiative of the National Trust's London Project, with the help of RCA students and graduates and MADE.COM, the project aims to capture a snap shot of how Londoners live today.

Billed as a 'social media experiment', the London Project invites Londoners to upload pictures of the interiors of their homes to twitter or instagram using the project #NTHouseproud hashtag, and the those who the take best pictures can win MADE.COM vouchers, with the over all winner having the opportunity to have their homes temporarily become London's 13th National Trust property, with the red velvet rope treatment, room stewards and a guide book produced.

I think this is a great idea to continue to challenge people's ideas of what heritage means and can mean, much like the Big Brother takeover last year did. I'm curious to find out more about the logistics of taking over a 'normal' and lived in house, and even more curious to know the sorts of people who would want the prize! As excited as I am about the project, having visitors traipse around my home sounds like a panic attack waiting to happen.

Aside from the innovative idea to open up a lived in and real house, the #NTHouseproud project will produce a vibrant archive of photographs of home life in 2014, in an accessible and social media-friendly way, the kind of archive that future historians will be very grateful for.

I'm really interested to see how the project unfolds, and hope to continue to be involved with it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

LGBTQ oral his- and her-stories essay

'Collecting the contemporary: a handbook for social history museums' edited by Owain Rhys and Zelda Baveystock is out now. In it is an essay I contributed called 'Let's talk about sexuality: capturing, collecting and disseminating LGBTQ oral his- and her-stories'.



Here's the blurb about it from the editors' introduction:

Sean Curran assesses how LGBTQ history has been represented in the past, and how this is changing, especially through the collection of oral histories. He argues that although museums have recently been collecting and exhibiting LGBTQ associated objects, they have relied on stereotypical dimensions, such as "persecution, victimisation, visibility, sex and partying, without any physical record of the more domestic and every-day aspects of LGBTQ life". Oral histories, therefore, provide an invaluable opportunity for museums to capture the hidden elements of everyday life which objects cannot, and can be used to reinterpret objects already in the collection, or to inform future collecting. It is also, he suggests, an opportunity to experiment with presenting these stories in gallery contexts, through art installations, performance, or participatory interaction.

Request that your library buys the book, there's a huge range of very current essays and case studies.

Monday, 8 September 2014

A bold attack on a deeply flawed system: 'Eye of a needle' at Southwark Playhouse

A flurry of recent headlines and media reports about people seeking asylum in the UK based on their sexual orientation or gender identity have inspired the very current, very funny and very moving play at the Southwark Playhouse ‘Eye of a needle’.

The set is a familiar sight of waiting room chairs, ringing phones, and the wall of a men's urinal, and witty and powerful dialogue is delivered amidst disjointed movement interludes between scenes, conjuring the bustle of administrative headaches, slamming doors and crowded corridors. The play centres around Laurence, a newcomer to the world of UK Immigration Control, whose social life in nightclubs and Monday morning hangovers are interrupted by a new case involving Ugandan gay rights activist Natale Bamadi, which spur him to kick against the bureaucratic conveyor belt of refusal with a bright eyed idealism and a flicker of empathy.

With a cast of just 5, Eye of a needle captures the absurdity and barbarism of a system that demands and expects proof of someone's sexual orientation, the violent line of questioning that aims to seek such proof, and the futility of a process that relate to life or death matters for our queer sisters and brothers from (in this case) Uganda and Jamaica. The character of Natale, along with the discomfort of the power inherent in the roles of Laurence and case worker Caroline, offer a critique both of the system itself, and of the way the West condemns the 'savages' who perpetuate hatred for queer people, even though homophobia and transphobia are Western imports.

The acting is brilliant, and the script dense and meticulously researched, peppered with humour that holds a mirror up to the absurdity of the roles the staff at Immigration Control have in determining, ultimately, whether queer people live or die. Some of the dance interludes are a little heavy handed when the movement becomes more expressive, but it adds to the jarring shifts in tone that ensure the final lines delivered by Caroline hit you like a fist in the gut.

Aside from being a wildly challenging and exciting play, 'Eye of the needle' is ultimately an impassioned critique of a system that needs to be completely overhauled, favouring a focus on compassion and humanity, rather than paper work and box-ticking.

The play runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 20th September, for times and tickets go here.

Thanks to Surat from the Rainbow Jews for organising our trip there too, there is still time to donate to the crowd funding project, every penny counts to ensuring their great work continues.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Rainbow Jews: help to save a legacy

Just wanted to share a fundraising initiative from a really great project.














I've mentioned the Rainbow Jews project before, but for those of you who are not familiar, this project is pioneering, in that it records and showcases Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history from the 1950s to today. For the first time ever in British history, it captures the voices and experiences of Jewish LGBT people in the UK through oral histories and archive creation.

Like so many great queer heritage initiatives, it is volunteer-led, and the financial support from the Lottery Heritage Fund grant has now finished. Led by Surat Knan, the Rainbow Jews have done great things, they have launched an exhibition which is now set to travel the country, they have collected oral histories from a much overlooked community that otherwise would have been lost, and they have, with the support of the London Metropolitan Archives, began to gather material for an archive collection.

There is still so much to do though. Donations will work towards achieving the following:

  • covering staff costs for a part-time project manager, who will coordinate the volunteers, and continue to promote our key activities, such as: 
  • getting this wonderful exhibition around the country to further share these amazing stories and experiences, (already confirmed Leicester, Birmingham and Liverpool/Homotopia as from 31 August 2014; with more possibilities e.g. Belfast). 
  • creating over 5 events such as launch receptions, film screenings and talks while touring. 
  • disseminating education resources, and co-facilitating sessions at school, youth groups etc.
  • recording and processing of over 10 new oral histories, especially of Jewish LGBT pioneers in remoter UK regions. 
  • collecting more memorabilia and fostering our archive collection at LMA

The page to donate (and to find out more about the fundraising project) is here. Let's all ensure that this great heritage project doesn't join the long line of brilliant grassroots queer initiatives that have faded away due to a lack of funding.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

call for volunteers for LGBTQ exhibition

Following this year's Master-Mistress exhibition, the staff at Sutton House have invited me to curate a follow up exhibition in February 2015.

In Master-Mistress, four brilliant volunteers contributed their voices by reading from Shakespeare's Fair Youth sonnets. For Master-Mistress Take 2, we're going to have all 126 of them read and recorded, and exhibited at Sutton House. This might sound very ambitious, but this is where you can help!

I'm looking for 126 people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer or intersex (or any combination of) who would like to take part in this.

What I will need from you:

  • a self recorded reading of a sonnet (I will assign the sonnets to make sure we have no duplicates), if you have a smart phone you will be able to do it on that, if you are unable to, or don't have a phone that can record sound, then I can help you record it. The sonnets all take approximately 1 minute to read.
  • a 10 second 'moving selfie', a video (again, just use your phone, and again if you don't have the technology, we can help you out) that serves as a portrait of you, of your face or your full body, or if you're not comfortable showing yourself, you can send a clip of something personal that captures an element of you, an object, an item of clothing, a place, or whatever you want (get in touch if you're short of ideas and I can help).
  • Your permission to use both the sound recording, and your videos in an exhibition, promotional material for the exhibition and online.

The sounds and clips will help to create an immersive audio-visual experience at Sutton House in LGBT History Month in 2015. Once the exhibition is over, there will be an online space to bring all of the material together, so that together we create a legacy that lasts beyond LGBT History Month.

Please email SuttonHouseLGBTQ@gmail.com If you want to contribute- get in touch and I can assign you with a sonnet to read, or if you want any more information, or have any questions, get in touch too.

We're aiming to have collected all 126 sonnets by November, so get in touch as soon as you can!

Also, please share this post widely with your networks, it's a really exciting opportunity to be involved in a ground breaking community sourced project and exhibition in a National Trust property!

Here is an example of one of the readings from last year:


Sonnet 93 from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

You can hear the other three here.

I visited the house today, and was shown around the new breakers yard, which is gorgeous, do go and visit, here are a few pictures from it:



Saturday, 23 August 2014

notes on Taipei

My Taipei trip feels like an age ago, I've been quite slow in blogging about it, it was such a brilliant (albeit exhausting experience), apologies for my tardiness.





















I attended the 'Museums and Education in the 21st century: local and global discourses' conference at the National Taiwan Normal University in June with fellow PhD student (and artist for my Master Mistress exhibition) Judith Brocklehurst, and three academics from my department.















I won't recount the conference proceedings, but the two days were varied and rich and truly international, there were papers from Taiwan, the UK, Australia, China and more. We met some really interesting people and made some really great connections for the future.














I wanted instead to share some of the pictures I took while I was there, Judith and I stayed for a few days following the conference, and visited several heritage sites which helped to contextualise some of the issues that we had been discussing and hearing about throughout the conference.

The first site we visited was the National Palace Museum in Shilin, which holds one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese artefacts in the world. The conference organisers kindly arranged for us to have a tour from an extremely knowledgable voluntary tour guide, though due to the size of the museum we only scratched the surface in the few hours we were there (also we were treated to a delicious meal in the roof top restaurant!)
















We then went to the Shihsanhang Museum of Archaeology, which, aside from being one of the most interesting museum buildings I've ever seen, seemed quite incoherent in terms of the odd dialogue happening between the jarring architecture and the rather archaic nature of the exhibits within it, including rather dated dioramas and model human architects aplenty.























The next day we visited the Lin Family Mansions and Gardens. I was really keen to see what historic houses in Taiwan looked like, and how they were as a visitor experience in comparison to UK historic houses. Unfortunately the tours were only conducted in Mandarin, and Judith and I felt our language skills weren't up to enough to join them, so we mainly spent time in the gardens. The rain was torrential, but this is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. It is one of the most complete surviving examples of traditional Chinese garden architecture and was structured around a series of ponds.






















It was beautifully crafted to accommodate the wet weather, as it was almost entirely under cover, you could walk almost all the way around it without getting wet. It was also great so see groups of teenagers using the space to just hang out, I can't imagine a group of teens here, spending their free times just chatting in a national trust garden (partially because they aren't free!). A really interesting thing was the interpretation sign at the front which was in Mandarin and English, the English one gave a brief overview of the entire history of the house (it was occupied by squatters at one point, a surprising parallel with Sutton House!), with the only unaccounted period being the 50 years (until 1945) that Taiwan was under Japanese rule, a really interesting omission in a country that seems to wear the Japanese legacy of architecture, food and subcultures quite proudly. The gardens had been built around, so closely that there were rather run down high rises with mesh screens in front of them looking over the gardens. A really striking juxtaposition.


















As an aside, we visited the gay area of Ximen, which was one of the only places that we encountered where there seemed to be any sort of bar culture that resembles our own, the stairway leading to a walkway around the top of the bars had its walls painted in rainbow striped and had a small photographic exhibition called Rainbow People.
























There was a theatre next to the gay bars called the Red House Theatre, most of which operated as an artists market, and there was a small exhibition about the history of the building and the area, including a small exhibit of material relating to queer culture. I gather Taipei is quite Westernised in terms of its approach to visibility of queerness, which was lovely to see.





















Our next trip was to Tamsui, which was at the end of one of the MRT lines (the metro system). It was one of my favourite days, even though we were still in Taipei, because it was at the mouth of a river and felt quite seasidey, the climate was completely different, the skies were blue, and the humidity was slightly more bearable because of the sea breeze.























We visited Tamsui Historical Museum, a former British Consular residence, which felt very much like an English country house (apart from the humidity), and oddly enough they had an exhibition there called 'Everlasting vision of William Morris', including various Morris pieces of furniture, the focus was on the preservation of historic buildings, and the origins of SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings). It was very unusual to see an exhibition in a historic house that was about the process of protecting historic houses, a really refreshing approach.




















Next day we went to the Taipei Fine Art Museum, which had a very Tate Modern feel about it, but more coherent, and MUCH cheaper. We went to three exhibitions, but my favourite was a retrospective of the work of Dean-E Mei, who I was unfamiliar with before. Due to the time he lived, studied and practiced in New York, Dean-E Mei has a really interesting perspective on Taiwan, and his own national identity.



























Right by the Fine Art Museum was the Taipei Story House, which was a really weird faux Tudor building built in the early 1900s. The house was used in a really interesting way, as apart from the first room, which gave a brief history of the building, the rest of the house was devoted to temporary exhibitions, telling a single story, in this case, it was the history of fortune telling. There were walls filled with Tarot cards, and various ways for the visitor to learn various elements of fortune telling, a woman helped us to tell our fortunes using numerology, by drawing out three numbers from a little velvet bag, my fortune was something along the lines of 'pretty face' and Judith's elicited shrieks of horror and fear from the woman, who had to ask someone else to try and translate it sensitively...






















Then we headed to the Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum, which was odd as it claimed to be the oldest historic house in Taipei, but had been deconstructed and relocated in order to make room for a new road. We only had half an hour or so to see the house as it was about to close, but it was great to see the interior of a traditional Chinese house as we hadn't seen the inside of the Lin Family Mansion.























On our final full day, we visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and were just in time for the changing of the guards, which was a gloriously camp choreographed affair, because the building was so open, there was no air condition, it was so insanely hot in there as we were watching the guards change I could feel sweat running down my legs, the guards must have been suffocating. There was a very nice moment where a security man mopped the sweat from their brows and the back of their necks, a weirdly tender moment between men with massive guns.






















It was such a great trip, an honour to be able to talk about my Sutton House exhibition to an international audience and meet so many people doing really great work in museums around the globe. It was also a brilliant opportunity to see so many amazing sights (and sites) in a country that otherwise hadn't really been on my radar of places to visit.

I also made a little video of some of the moments I captured while I was there, including the changing of the guards at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and the torrential rain at the Lin Family Mansion and Gardens:

 
Taipei from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A trans* icon at the Museum of Liverpool







































Last week I visited Liverpool and finally got to see the April Ashley: portrait of a lady exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool. The year long exhibition (running until 21st September 2014 update: extended until 7th December) was co-curated by Homotopia and funded by HLF. It's focus is on the life of April Ashley, but is shaped around a timeline that charts the developments nationally and in the US for trans* people more generally.

April, who is now 79, was born in Liverpool and moved to Paris in the 1950s where she started transitioning. She is one of the first people from the UK to undergo gender reassignment surgery, and was famously 'outed' by the Sunday People in 1961 with the headline ''Her' secret is out', after which she struggled to work again in the UK, where formerly she had modelled for such publications as Vogue. A mainstay in British headlines since then, Ashley has become a highly regarded activist for trans* issues.


The exhibition is quite small, and occupies an interesting space overlooking the rather ugly sweeping staircase, but as such, it attracts visitors who might otherwise have avoided or not been interested in it, as it is not really a separate space from the main flow of the museum. There were a surprising number of families with young children at the exhibition when I was there.

Alongside the ephemera from Ashley's life and some original artworks, is an interactive screen from which you can listen to oral histories from a variety of trans* people. I only listened to snippets from two of them (I wasn't overly keen on the interactive thing), but you can read them here, and listen to a few here.

The most interesting part of the exhibition for me, was the recreated cabaret stage area, which was paying homage to Le Carousel in Paris, where many gender variant people found refuge and worked as performers in the 50s and 60s. The screen on the stage showed short films from and about trans* people, and was a really nice feature.

It's a respectfully done exhibition, the language and pronouns used are all refreshingly appropriate, and the balance between a singular narrative, and a wider social and legal landscape is just right. Not long left to visit if you haven't already.





















'Miss April' by Ben Youdan (2012)





















(It was tricky to take a picture of this one without it being a "selfie")