In ‘Who was that man? A present for Mr Oscar Wilde’, Neil Bartlett recalls his experience, as a young gay man, of obsessively retracing Wilde’s footsteps in London. He describes how a queer consciousness and sense of identity perpetuate through time and space as new generations hunt for a shared ‘secret history’ and dwellings of illustrious predecessors become places of pilgrimage, until ‘the individual voice can hardly be separated from the historic text which it repeats and adapts.’ United by a shared culture and history, with hotspots and landmarks scattered worldwide but linked through the movements of artists, intellectuals and activists, the queer community experience a form of diaspora, nicknamed ‘Homintern’ by those suspicious of this loose and shifting international network (Gregory Woods).
I propose semi-randomised video simulating the process described by Neil Bartlett of collective creation of a shared identity through the “assemblage of fragments of history” and the “misinterpretation and reinterpretation of images”. Videos sequences would show places where historical queer artists lived, worked, loved or suffered while the disembodied voices of contemporary queer artists would narrate historical texts relating the former inhabitants’ experience of space, place and identity from a queer perspective.
By leveraging the power of moving image to blur the line between physical and screen reality, the work would invite the audience to experience the places shown in the video through the subjective vision and experience of their previous inhabitants, with further blurring between the dead artists who wrote the texts and the contemporary people voicing the soundtracks. This installation would give a physical reality of Neil Bartlett’s concept of ‘the individual voice [hardly separated] from the historic text which it repeats and adapts.’
By using the power of moving image to reach people on an intuitive, sensory level, I aim to bypass possible intellectual objections to ‘labels’ and invite non-LGBT audience to experience that there is “far more that unites us than divides us”, but also LGBT people previously uninterested in history to see how past experience may relate to their own direct, intimate experience. This project would highlight and celebrate the contribution of queer people to culture just in time for the 50th anniversary of partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England. The graphical representation of transnational movements would also highlight how national cultures are enriched by the movements of artists, intellectual and activists who ‘import and export’ ideas across borders.
Shortlisted filming locations include (subject to filming autorisation): Monks House (Virginia Woolf, Sussex, already filmed), Charleston Farmhouse (Bloomsbury Group, Sussex), Sissinghurst and Knole Castles (Vita Sackville West, Kent), Prospect Cottage (Derek Jarman, Kent), Red House (Benjamin Britten, Suffolk, already filmed), Reading Jail (Oscar Wilde, already filmed), Alan Turing Office (Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes), Jean Cocteau House (Paris, France).