Lesbian parties and clubs in the 1960s and early 1970s
By exploring young lesbians’ enjoyment of dancing and music, this chapter
introduces some new perspectives on youth cultures of the 1960s and early
1970s. Sexual relationships between women were still socially stigmatised in
this period and lesbians had a very limited choice of venues in which to
meet other women. On the one hand there were a few commercial clubs and
pubs, including the famous Gateways in Chelsea with its packed dance floor,
where women could enjoy music and meet sexual partners. On the other hand,
there were private parties organised among friends and by the nationwide
lesbian network the Minorities Research Group (MRG), at least in some cities
and towns. Young gay women needed knowledge, persistence and luck to
overcome the social barriers of shame and exclusion and find their way to
lesbian and gay venues. By the time they discovered these places, lesbians
were often significantly older than their heterosexual peers in mainstream
youth cultures, often well into their twenties or thirties. To discuss the
interplay of same-sex desires, music and socialising, this chapter draws on
some underused stories from a range of oral history collections. It seeks to
move beyond London’s lesbian bar and club culture, and uses accounts from
the north of England and from the gay south coast party town of Brighton.
Highlighting the same-sex delights experienced in the past, even in
otherwise difficult social contexts, adds to the ludic turn, the turn to
playfulness in queer history.
This chapter elaborates a key analogy between performance art and revolution: the struggle faced by both for a place in historical memory. It adapts the notion of the ‘survival’, linked to the ‘ghost-dance’, a term drawn from Native American rituals, and applied by Brisley to explain the links between a cultural understanding of performance and its use as a term of art. It discusses three films: Being and Doing (1984), notable for its focus on East European performance artists, Ghost-Dance (1983) and Resistance (1976). The chapter concludes by showing how performance behaviours can be used to recover not simply the past that was but also the past that was not, including the unfulfilled pasts of revolution.
This chapter contextualises Brisley’s performance art within the artistic and political ferment of the 1960s. It focuses on how his early performances were conceived as a type of tabula rasa, both artistically and politically. It then considers how the ten-day week of the French Republican calendar has framed a number of Brisley’s long-durational works from the 1970s to the 2010s, linking together the themes of republicanism, atheism and equality that run through Brisley’s oeuvre.
This chapter situates Stuart Brisley as a ground-breaking figure in the development of performance art in Britain. It sets out the striking homologies between performance and the revolutionary process as suggested by Brisley’s own artistic practice. It then shows how Brisley’s performances also address the question of what is to be done with the remains of revolution, including the remains of his own previous performances, in a context where revolution has supposedly died, and collective transformation is no longer deemed possible. Beyond Brisley’s work, the chapter also reflects on the impact of multiple layers of time in how we understand and write the histories of both performance art and revolution. It concludes by situating the book’s own approach within the more general rapprochement between performance and historical studies, evident across a range of domains.
This chapter considers the Cenotaph Project (1987–91), Brisley’s last public art project, made in collaboration with Maya Balcioglu. The Cenotaph Project involved exhibiting six small-scale models of the Whitehall Cenotaph, erected in London in 1919 to commemorate the end of the First World War, at six locations around the country, to instigate a public discussion about history. Expanding on this notion, this chapter shows how world revolution – and not just British imperial history – is an important discursive frame for examining the Cenotaph Project and, by extension, the Whitehall Cenotaph. It then adopts a wider trans-historical lens to consider how similar models were used during both the Russian and French Revolutions to express emergent ideas of public art and history.
Stuart Brisley is a pioneering English multimedia and performance artist who developed performance as a form of social action in the 1960s and 1970s. This book assesses Brisley’s seminal influence on British art through a focus on his lifelong engagement with the histories and imaginaries of revolution. It links together key aspects of revolutionary history with material gathered from a critical dialogue established between the author and Brisley over many years. Viewing revolution as a rupture in time, this book uses the ‘trope’ of the French Revolution to investigate Brisley’s own engagement with the idea of revolution as an ongoing, potentially permanent, process. Brisley’s work thus becomes a fascinating stage for addressing the relations between art, politics and historical discourse today. This book shows how to value political art even when the idea of revolution has supposedly died or is no longer deemed possible. It also provides a new historical model for situating the ‘afterlives’ of performance art, demonstrating how they can used to reveal latent aspects of the past, including the historical experience of revolution.
This chapter considers Brisley’s use of mise en abîme, increasingly prominent in his late works, which cover performances, installations, photography, painting and film. By nesting references to prior works in new works, Brisley reactivates past performances, making them come alive once more in some way. Expanding on the implications of this practice, this chapter shows how mise-en-abîme can be used to reveal a past excluded from officially sanctioned representations of sovereignty. Parallels are drawn between Brisley’s late work and the use of mise en abîme in Velásquez’ Las Meninas and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This chapter concludes by returning to the guiding questions of this book. Is there a way to re-experience the revolutionary past as an event with as yet undetermined outcomes? And what can performance art tell us about the debris left behind in the absence of collective transformation?
This chapter considers Brisley’s pioneering Peterlee Project: History Within Living Memory (1976–77). Peterlee is a town that was built after the second world war in the former mining region of the North East of England. As part of his placement with the Peterlee Development Corporation, Brisley helped the town’s inhabitants to document their own collective history in the effort to create a platform for future political action. This chapter evaluates the project’s successes and failures to recover the point at which performance ceases to be a ‘live proposal’ and becomes instead a collectible or archivable object.
This chapter asks what happens in the aftermath of an incomplete or failed attempt at revolutionary rupture, when the past has been declared dead yet continues to survive, either as detritus to be disregarded or as remains to be collected and preserved. The Georgiana Collection and the Museum of Ordure are Stuart Brisley’s longest durational works, consisting solely of detritus and waste. This chapter considers how Brisley’s self-instituted collections can shed new light on the aftermath of the French Revolution, when revolutionary rupture also gave rise to new institutions, including the Louvre, the world’s first museum established in the name of the people. For a cut in time does not just destroy an old past, it also creates a new one, a dynamic still reflected in art collections and practices today.
Chapter 7 argues that in addition to kinship, a key driver of humanitarian efforts are affinity ties (Ho 2017). These are commonalities between those offering support and those whom it is aimed at. Recognising such affinities challenges the trope of the ‘white saviour’ (Cole 2012), which reiterates the importance of interventions by those from the Global North, making others invisible. This chapter nuances the ‘white saviour’ narrative and makes visible the wealth of aid relations that derive from affinity ties, based on similarity and shared biographies. Such commonalities can be shared experiences of deprivation while growing up; experiences of abandonment, displacement or bereavement. It surfaces in notions of a pan-‘Asian-ness’, shared by everyday humanitarians from other Asian countries. Even as supporters from the Global North are foregrounded on websites of their aid projects, this often serves the purposes of fundraising, and networking with potential donors. This feeds into a ‘white saviour’ narrative, but obscures the often fundamentally cooperative nature of such initiatives. Everyday humanitarian ventures often rely on close collaborations between Cambodians and foreigners from other parts of Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, and are by no means the prerogative of those from the Global North. The chapter argues that the figure of the ‘white saviour’ needs to not only be critiqued, but the mechanisms through which it is continuously reinvigorated, to be made visible. This recognises the complexity of interactions at stake, and understand who is offering support to whom, how, and with what consequences.