One of my favorite aspects of art and performance is putting related pieces into conversation with one another, enriching the conversation surrounding a given topic. I'm so very happy with the way OUTsider Festival's programming is facilitating those sorts of conversations, and I only wish I had the opportunity to participate more fully this year.
I had been excited to see Jarman (All This Maddening Beauty)since I heard John Moletress speak about the work at Friday morning's “Conference on the Couch” discussion about HIV/AIDS.
Jarman is a meditation on the life and work of Derek Jarman, a queer British non-linear narrative filmmaker who died of AIDS complications in 1994. Though I'm not familiar with Jarman's work directly, Moletress' performance piece certainly embraces a non-linear worldview.
Moletress flows backwards and forwards between characters, sometimes playing Jarman himself, and other times a young artist who idolizes him. It would be easy to mistake Jarman for a solo autobiographical performance. Yet, while Moletress' life shares some connection to the narrative of the young artist he portrays, the play is not about him. Moletress said in some ways Jarman is about duplicit memory, and how the telling and retelling of narratives shapes and changes them.
The ambiguity of Jarman, however, can be seen as one of its strong points. In some ways, the performance is a meditation on what it means to be an artist in our culture. “This is the story of a boy,” Moletress states in the opening monologue. “Some say he was strange. A genius. An angel....Some don't know who he is now. Is that the way of an artist?”
The setting for Jarman is minimal – Moletress pulls costumes out of a suitcase (including a fake fur coat and pink high heels) and plastic flowers are hung from ropes descending from the ceiling throughout the performance. Jarman is also a multimedia performance, featuring clips from home movies, Jarman's own work, and other various images on a projection screen.
Jarman portrays a tortured man struggling to make art in a world which misunderstands him. “Fuck narrative. Fuck the rewrite,” Moletress-as-Jarman laments at one point in the performance. “There is no price on my dreaming.” Jarman is also a meditation on artistic legacy, and the ways in which those ahead of their time are sometimes lauded decades or generations after their deaths. “This artist who I've never met and who died in the late twentieth century has become a kind of friend,” the young artist explains, unsure how or why Jarman's films speak to him so deeply.
Jarman is also a testament to all the artists whose lives and legacies were cut short by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. “I will not fight this fight the way others may like,” Moletress-as-Jarman proclaims. “It this is my last film, it will be as it is. The fact of my life.”
Jarman doesn't live purely in the realm of reality, either. Moletress comes on stage at one point naked except for a rabbit head and the pink high heels. By the end of the performance, he is covered in fake blood dancing (or seizing perhaps) in his version of the white dress worn by Tilda in Last of England, a Jarman film the performance references heavily.
Jarman has been a work-in-progress since the summer of 2013, and the performance has moved through many iterations. “This is the first fucking time I felt satisfied with what happened,” Moletress said in the Q&A after the performance. “I am happy to do it here.”
Also in the Saturday line-up was Until Now a retrospective of some of the early works of transgender filmmaker Zackary Drucker who you may know from her recent work onTransparent. Four short collaborative films were screened: Fish, Lost Lake, At Least You Know You Exist, and She Gone Rogue.
Drucker said part of what she explores in her work is “locating myself through my close relationships,” including lovers, adopted family, and even her relationship with her biological mother. “Art-making can be a productive place to bond,” Drucker explained.
At Least You Know You Exist explores Drucker's relationship with Flawless Sabrina, an queer performer who toured the country in the late 1950s. The film is the result of a month Drucker spent with Sabrina, talking, writing, and shooting on 16mm. The film shows shots of Sabrina both as a bald man and in full drag face, a testament to the beauty and grace which can be found in the aging body.
“Flawless doesn't give a fuck,” Drucker asserted when questioned about the impetus for the film. “Flawless has a really fluid identity and has no shame really about any of it. It's easy to perceive the trans experience as a youth phenomenon,” Drucker added. “But it's not.” Drucker is currently working on an archival project of Sabrina's life and work, which will hopefully ultimately tour the nation as Sabrina once did.
When asked about her name choice, Drucker replied, “I thought about changing my name. But I would only be doing it to accommodate a culture that doesn't have a place for me.” She added, “What if in the future girls are named Zackary?”
In addition to all the performances, one of the things that's been really valuable are the conversations and connections generated amongst the festival participants themselves. Attendees gather at In.gredients or around the Lezbian Popcorn Cart in the Salvage Vanguard lobby before seating begins for each performance. OUTsider also includes purposefully interactive components like Queer Crafting or the “Conference on the Couch” series, which invites artists, academics, and festival-goers to engage in discussions around topics thematically present in the festival.
It's also sort of surreal to inhabit Manor Road and see it transformed into a queer Austin mecca. To see so many queer faces and to run into old friends or acquaintances between events. While there are plenty of gay bars in Austin, there isn't really an LGBTQ district or a place for us to congregate and coalesce. I hope the queer community which has been fostered over this long weekend won't completely disappear when the out-of-town guests head home. Is it possible to sustain the kind of queer family I see forming between the Vortex and SVT? Only time will tell, I suppose.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 2-22-15.