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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Extra Credit: ONE Institute

I visited the ONE Institute at USC today, which houses the LGBTQ archives of many queer artists, activists, and organizations, including materials from the queer civil rights publication, ONE Magazine. Unfortunately, while archived items were available to the public, each item had to be pulled from shelves by staff upon request, so I did not see much of the archived items. The ONE Institute also has an art gallery at its library, however.

The current exhibit on display, Die Kraenke, hosts the artwork and protest done in remembrance of the police raid on the gay leather bar The Black Pipe in 1972. The artwork on display was mostly screen prints and alienish video reels of gay men kissing, in bondage, and posing; items from the live protest the artists did on the 43rd anniversary of the raid, and handkerchiefs, made as part of a series to "update The Hanky Code." Walking into the gallery was a bit eerie. The library it sits inside is full of books, study tables, and natural light, but the gallery itself is through a solid door to the side and is entirely black and quite dark. You're immediately confronted with the video occupying an entire end, an empty stern, black bar (complete with two leather-upholstered stools) occupying the other end, and the screen prints and a banner spotlighted on the walls. The gallery, of course, pays homage to the gay leather bar that was raided. One video screen shows the protest, in which men dressed in Halloween costume nurse uniforms march solemnly down a major boulevard bearing a man dressed in leather on a stretcher and grill sausages on the sidewalk while flirting at the camera. Another shows an interview with Troy Perry, one of the founders of the MCC, discussing the raid and the climate of the leather gay community at the time. The video occupying one end of the room shows the protesters (though not during the protest) and a man speaking at the viewer and caning another man.

I think it was meant to feel sort of alien, in reflection of how the gay leather community has felt in all of its spaces, attacked by the leather/biker community for being queer and attacked simultaneously by the queer community for being too openly sexual. The screen prints and videos were meant to be "too much" and to be openly transgressive. They were frank and unashamed in their sexuality. The protest in which the men dressed in nurse costumes, complete with white skirt and caps, bearing the stretcher in a mock funeral procession ridiculed the idea that the police raid could ever "kill" the queer leather community. The men in the video flirting with and talking to the viewer as well as the gallery's setting as the raided bar drop the viewer into their culture and implicate the viewer. If you walked into the gallery, into the Black Pipe bar, then you must be all in. This space does not belong to the shy or to the "vanilla."

The handkerchief series, displayed on the balcony above the archives, included a handkerchief to commemorate those lost to AIDS and one for the artist group Die Kraenken, but others were for "Bossy Bottoms," "PrEP Warriors," and "Butch Tears."

[below: me, in front of ONE Archive's wall of ONE Magazine covers]

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