A gay monument 1998


This article was for an exhibition concerning the idea of a Gay monumnet, forst staged in Sydney during the Mardi Gras of 1998, and later in Amsterdam. Again it was a comples combination of materials from artists ranging from Rainer Fetting to Cary Leibovitz. ‘Long live our love, long live our happiness’…

To wake up in the morning, to stir in your bed, to arouse your lover(s) and yourself, to walk out onto some great balcony overhanging a vast piazza, and proclaim to the attendant millions that ‘I am what I am’ and that ‘I shall be what I shall be’. To invite them back into the chamber, so that they will see what they will see, accept what they do see and learn to love it, even? To seek out some memento for this moment? Or to go back to bed, curl up out of view for evermore, to be forgotten? But to remember that it could be done, have been done, perhaps for once and for all. ‘Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive’…(Adjust the emphasis to suit yourself)

Constant visibility is a terrible price to pay for freedom. If we were to make a monument, how should it look? Chiselled is one way it could look, like a proper monument, Trajan’s column or a first world war memorial, with fine, male figures, and not just a smooth pyramid or a featureless, limestone cenotaph whose lines meet just before infinity. Here; now; flesh. This would be a good way to get in the act with all the others, the rulers and the oppressed of history, the war dead, holocaust victims and sundry great achievers. But chiselled like what? Perhaps like a gym body in a gay gym, which is after all an achievement in its kind, a very gay achievement. For the chiselling of a gay body does not have quite the same finality or quality as the chiselling of a straight body; we all know it’s done more for sex and less for some pitiful delusion of mortal glory; for the sexual, that is, and not for the erotic; and that acting out desire so openly is itself a gift to general culture, an allegory of some vital capacity that we should all have for freedom. But if we decide on this metaphor, then we will have to have one monument for Los Angeles or Sydney, one for London and another for Paris, where men are often of quite different sizes and surface finish, and so on and so on, just to make sure that we all understand that this is quite what it is, and not the wrong kind of sign, the wrong form of body; as if the body of some Other embodied in the monumentalising of the Same. So perhaps the other might be plainly better if underlined, a Marianne or a Minerva or Diana, for example, a female sign for men, a male for women, black for white and white for black. Here we have no choice, if each ‘I’ is not be an exclusion. ‘We must love another or die’. Not to mention an altogether different kind of chiselling for men not so chiselled, wasting away and dying, or who just don’t happen to care about the achievement of a way of looking, or who just don’t want to be remembered. And anyway, so many of those old memorials of naked soldiers with guns and swords and ideally tight butts got there long ago and have long since been outed as gay icons. In that respect we can save ourselves the effort. With a little more parasitism or subversive recognition, we could settle for precisely the heritage of repression and rename past monuments as always and already gay. So depending on your politics or your ideal, it could be chiselled like any other already chiselled body, like the childishly brutal, fascist idealisations of the Foro Italico in Rome, or Michelangelo’s gloomy slaves, or Donatello’s aesthetic rhetoric of ephebic beauty in its judeo-christian & classical guises, or Breker’s inaccessible ambivalence.

This will work, any of it, it depends on the emphasis, on your personal emphatics, so as to speak; or it won’t work at all if you don’t like the more nightmarish to side freedom, the freedom to consume, to be your ‘I’ in and for whatever object your eye decides to fancy. This is, normally speaking, somewhat out of our control. ‘A monument holds what is represented in it in a specific state of presentness which is obviously something quite different from that of aesthetic consciousness.’ (p129) So the monument might best be a chiselling of desire itself, Oscar Wilde in a leather skirt or Lot’s wife in the Hollywood movie, at the point where she does look back. After all, it was a heroic gesture, and her turning into salt is a special effect of such a decisive fragility that you wonder what will happen when it rains. Long live Sodom and the desire for knowledge.

But if not chiselled in stone, it, the monument, might be argued rather like a theory, such as Freud’s theory of ‘after the event’. This is the irretrievable character of the trauma as such, and its restaging as endless deferral of that which cannot exactly be known but which nonetheless makes us what we are. Such an argument might might at least help to solve a generational problem, one that places all monumentality under the threat of almost instant erasure and it’s reduction to a matter of size, pure and simple – we could all agree on the size of a really big dick. For no one goes through quite the same traumatic processes as another, and if the very idea of gay is founded on the assumption, even in the assuming, of a common history of trauma – out of which we come, when we do one day come out, it’s already puzzling for many among the new generations who have not emerged this way. A monument to clones? I’d like one well enough. But better, a restaging of the traumatic excitation, which is actually an irreparable loss, of not having been able to be what one is, of being it and therefore suffering, of being it and not suffering, but in a radical inequality to all those who did, or whatever; and this reenactement is not to replicate suffering or even an empathy with it, but to restage the pleasures of emergence from it, of the newly determined constitution of the self. That is, a monument to reinvent the pleasure of a being-in-difference, without for all that coming to believe that this difference we call gay is anything other than a vast heterogeneity, of often ill-and often well-matched individuals. A monument to deny community even as community is is most desired and, at the same time, to stand in for it. Think of Saint Sebastian tied to his tree in Pollaiuolo’s famous painting. He is a suffering individual, a gay saint for his historical anguish and the agonized beauty of his place in art. Think of the archers, clones and individuals all at once, bent and stretching to their pleasure, excited, erect under their brilliant fabric, and sense the charge of their discharge into the body of the saint. Theirs and his very contrariety is what makes a subject, suspended in all the effects of its historical production. Sebastian is no icon without his archers, and if he is to be one, then they too, together with him and no less than he, are heroes for us. This can’t be a problem, any more than other materials of sight or other sense that might make a monument. Should it smell of CK One or of poppers, should it feel as smooth as an alpaca sweater or like the reddened edge of flesh scored by a knotted rawhide? The past gives no clue to this other than that there is no clue, only a subject which is an archive, which, in turn, is many subjects. ‘…history is that which turns documents into monuments…’ Perhaps, then, it is altogether best to think that this monument might be one dedicated to a future of which the outlines are the unpredictable formation of a new subject, of new individuals who will never fully coincide with it, even though they claim it as their own. A future for which both the occasion and the resolve of the monument must refuse to impose themselves as a model or a guide. And for this reason too, were it to be chiefly a monument to AIDS, it would only expropriate those profound mementos for a hecatomb of gay men that are the quilts, precisely in mistaking those dead and grieving individuals for the subject of history; the gay subject, that is an entire archive of the history of the world, before during and after AIDS. It might be just as well to decide, now, right now, that there is no originating model for our monument and that we cannot forsee one either. That’s one good reason for an art exhibition, for letting meanings slide, compete and loose themselves in making, looking, reading, listening.

Remember, when the rain does come, Lot’s wife will be everywhere as she dissolves, flowing, interstitial, deposited on plains and merging with the sea. We cannot again conjoin what she might have known at that very moment with the source of her desire to know it. But we can dream each one our own Sodom..’here’s a toast to happiness, long live our love, long live our love, long live our happiness, here’s a……..’

Texts marked ‘’ are, in order, approximations from the Shangri Las, William Wordsworth, W H Auden, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Michel Foucault and the Shangri Las, and should not be taken to imply a theoretical alleigance to any of these authors. 20 January 1998.