- Space 7 Gallery, Folkestone
- South East England
On a sweaty Folkestone night, Benjamin Sebastian strides naked into the midst of their own private view, dragging a curious tail-like addendum of rough rope and antlers – a motif they have used before. They seem to prowl around the room, laying claim to space. The tail scrapes across the concrete and the weight of the thing, rooted inside Sebastian, becomes viscerally evident. “I’m interested in repetition, ritual…” they have told me previously and we watch as they squat to carefully conduct their own practised ritual of transformation. The animal nature is subdued as they cover themselves in glitter and gold, pulled from every orifice, embodying the seduction of the ‘other’. And so, as the forbidding intro to Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams kicks in, I find myself fixated as this gilded Apollo mounts his pole.
This performance, with all its grace, sinew and gentle gender fuckery, is the thumping heart of a collaborative exhibition. Curated by Sebastian, it is a staging post in BECOMING CONSTELLATION, a complex and multi-layered period of research and development during which they are exploring “queer narrative production – or – what it feels like to live through queerness and make new worlds”. Sebastian’s process brings together the experience of non-normative gender identities and sexualities with a wider concept of otherness under the umbrella of queerness. He says: “Queerness is not and can never be an identity. It is a current, or imperative. Moving through and between our bodies; it is an intersubjective process of becoming.” The ten collaborations initiated by Sebastian emerge out of these currents, engendering deeper conversations within existing relationships.
Significantly, each collaborator is an artist whose practice is concerned with “extending the limits of body/gender/sexuality/emotions” (e.g. through the breaking of the skin, the external (re)production of the internal, testing the limits of endurance) in their pursuit of an expression of their own queer narrative. “We are more than our bodies. We are relations in time & space” says Sebastian and, to this end, BECOMING CONSTELLATION creates a space in which the artists’ work can co-exist and interrelate. Each artist has donated three of their own artworks (performances are represented in photographic, video or text format) to be exhibited. I can’t help but imagine, as I stand in the middle of them all, that perhaps Andre Braga Verissimo’s talking arsehole is in fact reciting the sensuous text of Bean’s poem across the room. Meanwhile, the powerful image of Dani D’Emilia presenting her womb in front the stitched wound from which it had just been cut brings new potency to Sebastian’s machine-stitched photographic collages of their collaborators’ bodies.
As well as platforming the work of artists living through queerness, the collaborative process goes a step further in THE HUMAN CONSTELLATION. Each artist is working with Sebastian to create a shared sigil. Along the lines of cosmic ordering or meditative affirmations, the sigil is a graphic symbol produced from a statement of intent and through a ritualistic process of casting, imbued with “magickal” power. In this case, the ritual takes the form of tattooing the sigil onto the body of both Sebastian and the artist, meaning Sebastian will ultimately become the holder of all ten sigils, creating a shared space of expression between him and each of his collaborators. They have, in effect, offered up their skin as a canvas for the inscription of multiple queer narratives. Currently three tattoos into this journey, the completed sigil designs have also been printed onto translucent nylon flags and hung around the exhibition space like political emblems. “They have a strangely fascist feel to them.” says Sebastian, and I agree. It seems satisfyingly apposite in these peculiar times to reclaim more than just language through queer narrative.
The difficulty of authoring narratives of one’s own whilst simultaneously holding space for other marginalised voices has become a focal challenge for Benjamin Sebastian. Acutely aware of the privilege associated with their own white, male-appearing body, Sebastian has found themselves constantly re-examining the problematics of centering and speaking for/alongside others. The answer seems to lie in the model of the ‘Constellation’ which is rhizomatic, rather than hierarchical and does not have a single centre. Instead, BECOMING CONSTELLATION is shining a light on a fragment of an extant cartographic system in which Sebastian is embodying a node. “We are all centres of our own experience.” he explains and from these centres (or nodes) connectivity and multiplicity is possible. In navigating the complex waters of privilege and marginalisation, the idea of placing oneself in the centre of debate appear as an alluringly dangerous big red button, surrounded by signs exclaiming “DO NOT TOUCH”. As they swing upside in gold hotpants around their pole, Benjamin Sebastian is doing what artists have done gloriously for millennia by hitting that forbidden button with all their might (all sexual connotations work just fine here). Amidst the resulting glitter explosion (and what exhibition wouldn’t benefit from a bit of glitter?), the centrifugal force of Sebastian’s captivating and powerful pole-dance spins our gaze outwards and as the music gives way to an audio collage of verbatim recordings, our focus settles once more on the fascinating work around the perimeter of the space.
The final exhibition for BECOMING CONSTELLATION will take place at Lubomirov/Angus-Hughes Gallery (26 Lower Clapton Rd, London, E5 0PD) – 26th May to the 18th June 2017
Full list of collaborators:
Andre Braga Verissimo