Knowledge Burial

Knowledge Burial, timed artwork (2h20), torn paper, graphite pencil, recitation.Naming of queer protagonists in history and culture, till memory fails you.

This began as a work ostensibly about queer celebration (today, coincidentally, is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia), and as it progressed became about knowledge failure, specifically my failure.

KuBa KulturBanhof artist residency, where I am for the month of May, informally celebrates two cultural figures, Hubert Fichte, writer and ethnologist, and Ana Mendieta, artist. The former was new to me. My first failure. He hasn’t really impacted on Anglo Saxon culture in a major way, which is a massive oversight. His extensive writing is only sporadically translated into English. His death from Aids-related illness in 1986 also cut this short. Mendieta meanwhile is a fiercely contested figure in the art world, even now, as a beacon of performative art, feminism, and ethnic visibility in a stubbornly white, male art world.

As part of my practice during this residency, I seek to develop new means of expression, where writing and (performative) installation have come forward. I’ve been exploring paper as a building tool, rather than a blank surface. A medium to occupy space with, not decorate, or prettify it.

This work came to me in a flash. It didn’t exist in any form even five minutes before. I wrote Mendieta’s and Fichte’s names on torn paper strips, and placed them on the wooden floor, centrally, in this decommissioned train station which once created an effective border between East and West Germany.

I recited the names, and in a brief moment, tried to connect with that person.

I then added a further name, someone who I cannot separate myself from, who will always be there.

Timer set, I began to reflect, contemplate, write and recite names of figures that have been relevant to queer (high and low) culture, that I have felt myself rise upon, or even repel, from antiquity to the present. I wanted to fill the entire space, and was confident I could, being just 2 metres square thereabouts.

The work had to have density, also. Mendieta and Fichte were to disappear. Person #3 had to disappear. I wanted this. It was (feather)weight ephemerality - but undeniable - it was comforting solidarity, it was empathy, but it was also sadness, as they were submerged and distanced from me.

I began to lose clarity after the first hour. I didn’t want to cheat by going to Google. The pitfalls in my knowledge began to reveal themselves. There was practically no one from Latin American culture. Or Asian. I believe no one from African queerness. I embraced my failure, I wanted it to be visible.

After 2 hours 20 minutes I felt dry and empty. I had no more to give to this work. I felt anguished, but I was also levitating. The room yelled its names, telling me it wasn’t enough.

We all fail. We all need to be better. There is never enough knowledge.

Once it is clear when this work has to be erased (the end of the residency?) I’ll publish a list of the names.