Alastair Walker

"Moments of Resilience Sculpting Queer Narratives in Flux"

Section MS4, Mirna Pedalo

Keywords: queer studies, archive

Since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, queer spaces including clubs, bars, and bookstores opened across London. A recent report by Ben Campkin and Laura Marshall from the UCL Urban Laboratory reported that between 2006–2017 there was “a net loss of 58% of [LGBTQ+] venues, from 125 to 53” in London (Campkin and Marshall, pp. 5–11), which has since been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic (McCormack and Measham, pp. 9-10), highlighting the changing landscape for the community. The project engages archival materials to delve into the social and physical borders that have shaped the LGBTQ+ experiences in London.

By plaster casting etchings into three-dimensional sculptural forms, the project creates a series of pieces that celebrate the diverse identities, narratives, and resilience of queer communities in London. In October 2023, the Office for National Statistics revealed an alarming spike in hate crimes, with transphobia rising by 11% in a year and an astonishing 186% over five years. Similarly, homophobic hate crimes increased by 112% over the same five-year period (Stonewall). This resurgence underscores the persistent struggle for equality in London’s LGBTQ+ community. Whilst cherished venues have historically provided safe havens, their relevance has diminished due to apparent increased societal acceptance. This prompts the crucial question: where do queer individuals find belonging in contemporary London?

By conducting an in-depth investigation of London’s queer archives and museums such as Queer Britain and the Bishopsgate Institute, this project thoroughly scrutinises primary source materials, encompassing personal archives, protest ephemera, pamphlets and photo archives. The objective was to delve into the historical records of resistant movements and organisations that campaigned for the preservation of queer spaces. Consequently, it seeks to develop a greater understanding of the contemporary social and physical borders within London’s LGBTQ+ community.

Inspired by contemporary collage and print works by artists including Greyson Perry, David Hockney and Gilbert and George, the project responds to the imagery of protest movements’ ephemera while engaging with the theme of reproductions by using text and imagery from archival material. For centuries, print media has provided a method for reproducing images and texts, chronicling histories, cultures, and artistic endeavours, and disseminating them widely with remarkable ease. In parallel, plaster casting adds a timeless dimension, evoking the language of classical art from the legacy of marble sculptures by the likes of Bernini and Michelangelo.

This project disrupts the conventional media paradigms by transposing printed media onto a sculptural surface. This bold departure from the norms of both print and cast media monumentalises queer resistance iconography and narratives, transcending the traditional confines of both and fostering a dynamic intersection of artistic expression and historical documentation. For many, these queer spaces have functioned as essential safe havens for marginalised communities. This project explores how these spaces’ walls have acted as borders for individuals to find refuge from the discrimination and bigotry that persisted beyond. By carefully selecting and weaving together historical narratives through the reproduction of source print material, the project engages with the theme of multiples.