Tuesday, 9 December 2014

2nd call for volunteers for '126' LGBTQ exhibition at Sutton House

[EDIT: thanks for the overwhelming response to this second call out- all sonnets have now been assigned!]

Hello all!

I am currently working on an exhibition for LGBT History Month (and beyond- it will be running until the end of March!) at Sutton House, a National Trust house in Hackney.

(the dates on the poster are wrong- they will be amended when the proper posters are made! It actually ends on the 29th March!)

I can now announce that the exhibition will be called '126'. It will be an audio visual exhibition featuring crowd sourced recordings of LGBTQ people reading one of Shakespeare's 126 Fair Youth sonnets, and short video portraits of the contributors.

I have been overwhelmed by the quality of the submissions so far, but alas- there are still between 20-30 sonnets to be assigned to volunteers!

If you wish to get involved, it only takes 5-10 minutes to record, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home, and it's a great chance to be involved in a huge community effort to raise the visibility of LGBTQ identities in historic houses, and in the National Trust, you will also receive an invite to the private view!

You can see some examples of the contributions so far here. And read the original call for volunteers here.

To get involved or for more information, contact SuttonHouseLGBTQ@gmail.com and I will assign you with a sonnet!

I need all of the sonnets and videos to be recorded by the end of December, so please share widely with your networks!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

'Queer homes, queer houses' workshop at 'Lines of Dissent', the 12th annual LMA LGBTQ History & Archives conference

Yesterday was London Metropolitan Archives' 12th annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference. The day was co-curated by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the theme was 'Lines of Dissent' and was focusing on queer genealogy. The key note from Daniel Monk, Birkbeck was 'The perils and pleasures of queer wills' and after that was a series of carousel workshops in which delegates got to play archive detective by looking at primary source documents and trying to gather what the material might say about the person, or people to whom they belonged.

In the afternoon, I facilitated a workshop called 'Queer homes, queer houses', in which I briefly spoke about my own research, and highlighted some examples of queer homes. I then asked the participants to create plans of a place they live, or have lived in, but instead of highlighting rooms or objects, to highlight moments and memories. We all did this on A3 tracing paper, and then we tied them all together to create a patchwork curtain (dubbed on the day, rather tongue-in-cheek, as a patchwork quilt of painful memories), which I then presented to all of the delegates. I'm delighted with how much effort everyone put in, and for sharing their memories, and I'm really grateful to Jan Pimblett, who organised the day, for inviting me to do a workshop. It has given me loads to think about for my research. You can view the work that was created here:

Created with flickr slideshow.

and I made a video of some highlights here:

'Queer homes, queer houses' : a workshop at the LMA LGBTQ History and Archives conference from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Here are a few pictures of the workshop in progress:

and a few of me presenting it, thanks to my glamorous assistants Jan and Gavin:

Another highlight of the day for me was when Surat Shaan Knan of Rainbow Jews told us his personal story and wonderful news, and announced the successful funding bid for Twilight People, a project about trans* people of faith, which I am delighted to announce I will be co-curating. I can't wait for us to work together, and I am sure this really important project will be a huge success!

Thanks again to Jan, to Gavin Baldwin, Matt Cook, Justin Bengry, Faridha Karim, Surat, and to everyone else who organised and contributed to make it such an inspiring day. Also, big thanks to Claire Hayward who ensured there was a lively twitter presence throughout the day, and who has storified the tweets here.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Sutton House LGBT History Month exhibition- updates!

Just thought I'd share a few updates about the LGBTQ sonnet project exhibition to be exhibited at Sutton House in February 2015.

The exhibition will open on the 4th February, which is also when the house reopens after the closed season. The private view will be the following evening, on the 5th, and we're toying with holding a second event to follow up on the success and interest of this year's panel discussion. I'll keep you posted!

Here is another teaser of the exhibition, featuring snippets from 5 of the contributions so far:

126 sonnets - teaser video [three] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I really can't express how pleased I am with all of the contributions so far! You can listen to the sonnets so far here.

The exhibition will be taking place in the chapel, here are a few pictures of the space for those of you who have not visited yet (obviously it will look very different once the exhibition is in place):

I'm also delighted to say that the posters and promotional material will be designed by a super talented queer artist, more on this soon, but I'm really excited about it! In other great news, this year's Master-Mistress exhibition and the upcoming follow up will receive a brief mention in the National Trust magazine that goes out to members, a readership of approximately 4.5 million...

I'm also hoping to soon be able to reveal some other LGBTQ related things that will be taking place at Sutton House during February and beyond, it's really great that the success of this year's exhibition is increasing the visibility of LGBTQ identities and narratives more widely throughout the property, I can only hope that other National Trust properties follow the lead soon.

By November 30th I should know for sure exactly how many more contributors I will need as, for various reasons, some of the original contributors are no longer able to commit, so I will be posting a second call out in an attempt to fill the final few spaces by the end of December, so that I have plenty of time to experiment with how the audio and the videos will work in the exhibition space.

A huge warm thank you to those who have already contributed and those who are planning to, this exhibition would literally be nothing without you all!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Meet Tate Britain with Peter Tatchell

Given my own experience of delivering tours, and the (much more impressive) work of the likes of Andrea Fraser, Claire Robins and David Hoyle, I'm really interested in the potential the role of the tour guide in heritage sites can have in disrupting and subverting dominant narratives and canons, so when a friend told me about Peter Tatchell's tour of Tate Britain, I was interested to see how far the celebrated human rights activist could challenge the Tate Britain's largely white (supposedly straight) male chronology.

The event is part of a programme of alternative tours featuring the likes of Antiques expert Geoffrey Munn, gardener Alys Fowler and someone from the Hairy Bikers (no, I don't know what that is either).

The blurb on the Tate Britain website claimed the tour would be about 'unearthing hidden stories of LGBT subjects and artists. Who were they and how were they represented? How might we imagine their lives and experiences? What clues to the existence of LGBT individuals, communities and societies can be found in the works? What work has been done uncovering this knowledge? What do these images tell us about the development of the rights we enjoy today?'

I was a bit sceptical before hand that it would be more like 'Meet Peter Tatchell with the Tate Britain', but I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Tatchell seemed quite nervous for the first few exhibits he spoke about, speaking to his notes and the artworks rather than to the audience, but I can totally empathise with those nerves, especially when you're not an art historian and have only researched the works for the sake of the tour, but he soon loosened up and became more engaged and engaging. The works he had selected were largely because of the queer way in which they could be read, the ways in which they challenged masculinity, or because the artists were known to be, or could be easily read, as LGBTQ. Naturally, as with anything of this nature, the majority of the stories told were about gay men, but Tatchell apologised for this at the end of the tour, and rightly identified that the collections on display were mainly by men.

The tour included artworks by Simeon Solomon, Gilbert and George, Duncan Grant and various others. While Tatchell was a bit shaky on speaking about the artworks, or the stories behind the earlier classical stuff, his strength was in making links with contemporary issues and politics, particularly when recounting the OutRage! Kiss-in in 1990 in Piccadilly Circus to protest the arrest of gay couples for showing affection in public, the protest took place under the statue of Anteros, the god of requited love, he told us this story while standing by a small sculpture of Anteros in the same pose. The key here of course, is that if a people are willing to pay for a tour by a well known figure, they probably aren't expecting a typical museum tour and instead want to hear the anecdotes and interpretations unique to that person.

A glaringly tedious point for me, which is partially due to the layout of the Tate Britain, was that this tour was chronological. Surely the first, and easiest step to undoing conventions of a typical tour is to disobey the linear way in which museums encourage us to think.

While a bit too polite for my taste, the tour was an interesting experiment by Tate Britain and an enjoyable evening, and helped to tease out some of the 'hidden histories' (which is becoming such a tired phrase) that I hope will be made more apparent in the interpretation in the museum following events like this. Tatchell did a great job in what was clearly outside of his comfort zone, and his passion for justice and in recovering these suppressed stories was palpable.

An exciting aside; Tatchell has agreed in principle to contribute to my Sutton House LGBTQ sonnets project- I hope he finds the time to do it, as his voice will be a really interesting addition. I'm hoping to have some more exciting updates about the exhibition soon, so watch this space!


Friday, 7 November 2014

Lines of Dissent - 12th Annual LGBTQ History & Archives Conference

I'm really pleased to share the flyer for the London Metropolitan Archives' 12 Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference, run in partnership with the Raphael Samuel History Centre this year. I've been part of the conference steering committee for the last two years along with a great team, and this year I've been asked to host a practical workshop about queer homes. The focus this year is on LGBTQ genealogy and family history.

The conference takes place at the London Metropolitan Archives on December 6th, tickets are just £10, or £7.50 for concessions. You can book tickets here.

I hope to see many of you there!

Monday, 3 November 2014

The National Trust at the Balfron Tower

In September last year I was involved as a tour guide in the National Trust London Project's Big Brother takeover. It was such an interesting experience that when I heard about their pop-up opening of Flat 130 in Balfron Tower I was eager to be involved.

I had, unknowingly, known about Balfron Tower from 28 Days Later, being a huge zombie film enthusiast (arguably it's not a zombie film, as the 'infected' aren't dead, but yadda yadda), as Cillian Murphy's character takes refuge there with other survivors. Interesting that I knew a building originally envisioned as a socialist utopia as the refuge from complete nightmarish dystopia. It also turns out that my good friend currently lives in the tower as a property guardian, albeit 21 floors below the flat that the National Trust temporally opened.

The experience was quite different to the Big Brother opening, partially because of the considerable amount of research that was required before the tours (the Big Brother tours were quite small in comparison, and as a fan of the programme I didn't really need to learn much), as well as the anxieties that many, including me, had about the project. I was uncomfortable in the direction that the building was going, as it is being developed and sold as luxury apartments, the original social housing residents having, mostly, been "decanted" (i.e.: booted out) since 2010. I was also uncomfortable at how the tours could be read as voyeurism- touring largely white, middle class people around an area that is mostly social housing, not to mention the potential for disturbances that could be caused to the current residents (a few remaining social housing tenants, property guardians and artists from Bow Arts Trust), however, my initial concerns quickly vanished once the project got underway, as the Trust had taken great steps to ensure limited disturbance to the residents and local communities, they offered free community group tours to ensure that those who lived and went to school locally had the opportunity to see the flat and experience the tour, and part of the income from the tickets will be donated to the Residents Association.

The enthusiastic visitors on the tours, and the other volunteers I worked with shared my discomfort with the direction the building was being taken in, and by being reflective about that in our conversations, it became clear that everyone was there out of an interest in modernist architecture and the socialist values imbued in it by Ernő Goldfinger. The conversations we had on the tours about our own experiences of social housing, high rise living and East London meant that the tours were more self aware and critical than perhaps your average National Trust tour. I tried to make sure that the tone of the tours was not one of fetishising the building as an icon, but instead getting to the core of the social values that Goldfinger intended to be enacted by such a building, and how it has been, and is being, undone.

Flat 130 is the one in which Goldfinger and his wife Ursula briefly lived in in 1968. Part publicity stunt, part "empirical" research, the Goldfinger's used their time there to inform the future Trellick Tower, by finding out what residents thought about living there. They only occupied the flat for two months, so the Trust decided to go down a more fantastical route rather than trying to recreate what would have been a very sparse flat. Instead, Wayne and Tilly Hemingway were invited to create a 1968 flat for the imagined family that moved in after the Goldfingers. The idea was that all furniture was from 1968 or earlier, assuming that families would have inherited furniture from earlier to bring with them. There were, however, a few anachronisms, and perhaps the furniture would not have been reflective of a family in social housing, but my questions about the logic of presenting well researched fiction rather than, say, the empty flat, were soon challenged when I saw how much visitors enjoyed the flat, mostly because of the nostalgia it triggered. One woman said it was strange seeing somewhere that looked so much like an old flat of hers being presented as a museum piece.

I gave tours on three days, and was asked to Duty Manage the volunteers on three more. The tours were such a success that the initial run was extended. The tour guides were all volunteers, and the turnover of recruitment and training was a lot quicker than usual National Trust endeavours- and definitely the better for it. The dynamic and diverse range of guides and styles of tours made the project feel fresh and exciting, and it proved, to me at least, that being a Tour Guide is not necessarily something you get better at with experience...

A huge thank you to Roshan and Katherine, and many others, for making the project such a great pleasure to be a part of it, and I really wish it was a happier story for what happens to the tower next.

I made a little video of the flat:

Flat 130, Balfron Tower from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

LGBTQ sonnets exhibition

When I first suggested collecting all 126 sonnets read by LGBTQ people to the staff at Sutton House I was half hoping for them to suggest it was a bit too ambitious. However, with almost all of the sonnets now assigned to willing volunteers (there are still a handful left!), and the contributions coming in thick and fast, I'm delighted that they had faith in me!

Here are two little teaser videos of two of the contributions, I'll be posting more in the build up to the - as yet unnamed (I have a few ideas) - exhibition, which will take place in February 2015. As well as the recordings of the sonnets, I am also asking contributors to record a ten second video portrait, or a moving "selfie". In the exhibition, I don't think the sonnets will be matched with the videos, but rather will all run into each other, but I will have to wait until I have received them all before I experiment with the best ways to exhibit them all.

126 sonnets - teaser video [one] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

126 sonnets - teaser video [two] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I can't tell you how overwhelming I am finding the generosity and creativity of the contributors so far, and it's a real treat every time I receive a new submission, it really strengthens the love I have for a community I'm so proud to be a part of, and it feels like we're all part of something really big and meaningful!

I'll continue to document the progress of the exhibition, and in the next few days I'll blog about my experience of volunteering at the Balfron Tower with the National Trust.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations 
Half-day International Symposium 

Monday 8th December 2014, 12 noon – 7:30pm, followed by a drinks reception

Room 802, Institute of Education (IOE), 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL 

This half-day international symposium brings together queer theorisations of higher education and academia that are currently developing within discipline-specific contexts. At this symposium, we will explore the ways that academia and higher education are being queerly theorised, and discuss how these theorisations are situated within and yet pushing against disciplinary settings. With an emphasis on conversation and discussion, the event will provide a platform for the collaborative development of ideas over the course of the day. Contributors to the round table and discussion-presentations range from established scholars to doctoral students, and are from a variety of disciplinary locations and institutional settings.

Round table participants: 
Oliver Davis - University of Warwick
Michael O’Rourke - ISSH, Macedonia & Global Center for Advanced Studies
Nick Rumens - Middlesex University
Yvette Taylor - Weeks Centre, London South Bank University
Kathryn Medien - University of Warwick (Chair)

James Burford - University of Auckland, New Zealand/Aotearoa
Jennifer Fraser - Birkbeck
Vicky Gunn - University of Glasgow
Emily F. Henderson - Institute of Education
Genine Hook - Monash University, Australia
Z Nicolazzo - Miami University, Ohio, US
Sean Curran - Institute of Education (Chair)
Emma Jones - Institute of Education (Chair)

Elliot Evans - King’s College London

The event will be hosted by CHES (Centre for Higher Education Studies) and is funded by the Bloomsbury ESRC Doctoral Training Centre.

Registration is free, but places are limited so booking is essential.

To book, or for further information, contact Emily Henderson:ehenderson01@ioe.ac.uk

RSVP by 14th November 2014.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Balfron Tower

I'm so excited to be part of the upcoming National Trust tours of the Balfron Tower, which is becoming a 'pop up' property much like the Big Brother house did this time last year. I will be one of many volunteers guiding the tours, which run for two weeks from 1st October.

While I did not expect the project to attract the sort of vitriol in the media as the Big Brother takeover did, I've been surprised at the largely positive response so far, though perhaps more scathing comment pieces are being saved for while the tours are running. This is a controversial project, in many ways much more so than the Big Brother tours, as aside from continuing debates about what heritage is, there are issues around gentrification, and the "decanting" of those who lived there in the manner it was originally conceived by architect Ernő Goldfinger, as social housing. I'm hoping the tours will be a part of this debate, though no matter how much I might roll my eyes at the gentrification of a tower block that will soon be luxury apartments and that is currently occupied by artists, I have to accept that as a National Trust tour guide, I am part of that gentrification.

That aside, I visited the tower on Friday for training and I can promise a really fascinating visit for those with tickets, the tower is filled with great stories and the view from Flat 130, which has been recreated in 1968 style by Wayne and Tilly Hemingway, is phenomenal. I hope this venture generates a healthy discussion about heritage and about what happens when a once reviled building used as social housing becomes a revered icon, at the expense of its residents, it's a very timely discussion too, and I'm really pleased to have the opportunity, and the privilege to see this beautiful building up close, and to share its stories with others.

I'll blog more thoroughly about this once I've done the tours!

You can get tickets here (looks like they're almost gone).

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

'The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience' conference at Bowes Museum

At the end of last week I attended the Period Room conference at Bowes Museum (home to the brilliant and bonkers Silver Swan) in Barnard Castle. I hadn't visited the Bowes since I was a child on a school trip, so it was great to have a good excuse to visit the imposing French Chateau once again.

This conference, was jointly organised by the University of Leeds and The Bowes Museum, and was supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art,  and aimed to 'consider the Period Room, and the historic interior, from a wide variety of perspectives in order to address some key questions about the history and practice of Period Room displays in Museums'.

I had attended the conference on the recommendation of my supervisor, and thought that it would be interesting but rather tangential to my research, but given my focus on historic houses it served as a very useful alternative way into thinking about how domestic spaces are displayed, both in and out of museum contexts.

Rather than describe the whole conference, I will instead highlight a few of the ideas/themes I found most interesting/thought provoking.
  • Does a Period Room cease to be a "room" because of its context in a museum? Does it become a memorial, a shrine, a mausoleum? Is it just a fictional stage for unrelated objects, or otherwise tenuously linked objects from the same era. Is an IKEA store just a collection of period rooms? Are we being sold Good Taste when we visit a period room in a museum?
  • Is the period room aiming for historical accuracy, or aesthetic pleasure? Does authenticity really matter (I'd argue definitely not, though I overheard two other delegates discussing this "what's the point of a period room if not all of the furniture is authentic?" "I know, it's more like a playroom"...)? To what extent is a curator relying on imagination as much as historical fervour? One speaker pointed out that no room consists of only furniture, decor and objects from the particular snapshot it might be recorded in, there might be a piece of furniture belonging to granny that's already 50 years old, etc. The presentation of a period room can only ever be in line with research/recreation and conservation techniques of the time in which it is assembled.
  • How do you people a period room? Where are the humans? Are period rooms too often sanitised as places of inactivity? A room only lives because of how people use and interact with it. Period rooms, perhaps, become about production, design, furniture, rather than the social. Where does taste fit in to this? and class? these are inherently human phenomenons, and inherently visible in domestic spaces. How can people be introduced into a period room? Often curators will leave a period-appropriate newspaper draped over the arm of a chair, a pair of reading glasses on a side table, a pair of slippers by the bed, is this any better than leaving them unpeopled? Is it too staged?
  • What parallels does the period room have with the theatre? or with stage sets? what skills could be harvested between period room curators, stage and set designers? does one value authenticity and historical accuracy/aesthetic appearance more than the other?
  • One point that had never occurred to me was to do with ambience and the room being situated in a wider context, through lighting and windows. What time of day/night is the period room being presented? does it matter? in windowless museum spaces, should windows be replicated? If the curtains or shutters are always closed it immediately lessens the room-ness of the room, it isolates it from any broader context.
  • For me, the most interesting discussion was about the potential role of artists in period rooms, which chimes with my own exhibition at Sutton House with artist Judith Brocklehurst. Do audiences more readily accept more radical approaches to story telling from artists than from curators? Can artists take more risks? Will visitors accept fiction and inauthenticity from artists, but not from curators? and is the root of this problem that curators, and museums more broadly are seen to be authoritative and definitive? how can we challenge this?

I'll leave you with a few links to some examples that struck me as particularly interesting:

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


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.