“I MADE THIS WITH LUNCH MONEY AND THAT IS SAYING A LOT, BECAUSE I COULDN’T ALWAYS BUY LUNCH.”
Can you talk us through what we can expect to see at the show?
I’m exhibiting a 26-minute video adaptation of Booker Prize-winner Alan Hollinghurst’s debut novel, The Swimming-Pool Library, which plays on a loop inside a pink, neoclassical folly. I first installed the work this way for my degree show at CSM, but for the exhibition at the ICA I found a sponsor to rebuild the structure, because I was in New York until shortly before the opening. The novel is set in London during the summer of 1983, and it’s about a beautiful, young, rich gay man who experiences an elderly gay man’s life through his diaries. So there are these flashbacks to Winchester College during WWI, the British colonies in the South Sudan in the 1920s, and London through WWII and the 1950s. I think at the time of the novel’s release there was this concern about very privileged people fetishising people of colour and working-class men, so the novel kind of traces these class divides, as well as the changing circumstances for gay men before Gay Lib. Stylistically, the novel pays homage to E.M. Forster, Ronald Firbank, Brideshead Revisited, and all of these things that are examples of classic gay literature. It’s highly aestheticized and there are all of these references to neoclassical architecture and classical music, which I felt was in contrast to the political undertones of the novel, and so I wanted to uncover that a little bit more. On a personal level I am really interested in architecture and architectural theory, particularly neoclassical architecture, and how architecture can be read from a socio-political standpoint.
What in particular were you trying to tease out from the novel? What additional considerations do you have to make when working with the text?
During my final year I saw this talk at the ICA which was led by Gavin Butt, with Daniel Sinsel, Ellen Feiss, and Chris Sharp. It was all about Camp and Neo-Camp, and was really a turning point for me in my research. My understanding of Camp is, and a lot of people would probably disagree with me, that it is a set of politicised aesthetics used as a tactic by a group of marginalised people to subvert dominant, i.e. white, heteronormative culture. At the time that ideas around Camp were forming in the 60s, I think a lot of people identified Camp and historically have always identified Camp, as kind of trash aesthetics, like John Waters used in his films. At the time that was a radical way of using trash aesthetics to deviate from the mainstream. Whereas now I would argue that trash aesthetics are the mainstream in popular culture. So I got really interested in going back to these aesthetics of neoclassical architecture and classical music, and layering them in a humourous way, contrasting light and dark and high and low, as a way of tackling these political subjects like class and race historically, and also in the present.
This whole thing started for me when a dear friend gave me the book back in Brooklyn – I’d never read anything that so frankly portrayed gay life. It’s this kind of sexy, summery, coming-of-age story. It doesn’t feel like it’s a big, heavy, weighty piece of literature, but you know when you’re reading it that there is a lot of deeply political subtext. When I came to London to start the MA at CSM I already knew I wanted to work with it, but there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand in the text. So I spent roughly the first year doing pretty intensive research not only into the historical context of the novel, but also into current streams of queer and feminist theory in order to contextualize the novel in the present. I think this novel is the main source of inspiration for me in my practice, in a way to me it’s almost like an academic text or a bible for how I want to be working.