artist in residence August 2015, Romania /
I went to Vienna and came back a new man
By: Simona and Ramona (aka Claude and Dersch)
What is Claude? A Catholic priest wannabe, the poetic centennial result of the generic liberations brought by the avant‐garde somewhere else, a moral being, a leaflet of queer feminist ethics propaganda found 50 years later in a vintage edition of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Claude was Cahun asking in Aveux non Avenus “Surely you are not claiming to be more homosexual than I?...” when meeting her postmodern multiples in the 90s. Confronted to the absence of history, Claude asks himself “Can I become a municipal legend, ready to wear my drag persona as repair of this absence and resistance against the local reproductive machine?”
What is Dersch? A found object. Contemporary militaria, a piece of cloth randomly retrieved from bric a brac. USA official Marine army jacket, size M with NATO identification label. A nametag. Dersch is/or was real, and is beyond gender, although probably male, their drag comes from war movies and possibly queer bashing in real life, from found footage leaked on youtube about helicopter snipers killing journalists and war‐time civilians, it comes from fear and the special bond acquired with their squadron after the first garrison flogging.
Stephen Whittle writes in their preface to Transgender Studies Reader (2006) that it can take up as little of your life as five minutes a week or as much as a life‐long commitment to reconfiguring the body to match the inner self.
While in residence in Vienna, we will use the time and money to work on reconfigurations and to build a drag king persona (Claude) & performance script + set, with Claude as builder and Dersch as assessor. Claude will come back to Bucharest from Vienna a new man, with Dersch on his side and with his lines written, performed and even translated from English into his sweet mother tongue, with prosthetics protruding from each corner of his new culturally constructed body.
The process of building/becoming a drag persona is one of inner suspension of disbelief.
Conventionally, suspension of disbelief is the effect of the humanizing apparatus of fiction: by engaging in the intimacy of a character, viewers or readers suspend their disbelief in the real, actual existence of what they watch/read and therefore, for a moment in time, the fiction is embodied through them, becomes part of their autobiography.
Dianne Torr and Stephen Bottoms use the expression conventionalized suspension of disbelief in their book Sex, Drag and Male Roles; Investigating Gender as Performance when referring to drag, in order to differentiate its theatrical component from male‐related constructions of identity which are and have been historically oppressed, such as butch lesbians, studs or trans persons. Classical stage drag can be considered to be an appropriation, and as such not sensitive to transgendered experiences (see Kate Bornstein).
Claude is being built not as appropriation but as embodiment, from words and experiences which can be embedded, from fragments of identities; he will be lived and performed daily in public space for the duration of the residency, while being built, in a sort of cultural autotrophic manner.
This performative method is inner suspension of disbelief – or autobiographical suspension of disbelief: by finding the right words and body actions we aim to situate Claude in the interval between conventions of gender representation and lived experiences of identity and of alterity.
We have begun working collaboratively from February 2014 because we share a common interest in poetry as political tool and we wanted to research, assemble and perform a collection of queer and feminist ideas and affects as expressed in 20th and late 19th Century poetry. We have developed this collection into Word Body, an 8 hours intensive reading performance in public space, in English, which we have presented this year as part of 2 important queer festivals (Punkurica in Budapest and KVIR Feminist Actziya in Vienna). We are also translating the poems for a shorter 2 hours public reading in Bucharest, and have started to write other performative texts (fill in the blanks exercises) and image books.
The Drag King project that we are working on is at the intersection between poetry and activism, and while we see Claude (and his partner Dersch) as more of an activist manifesto, we are interested in the textual development of their personas as well.
As Simona and Ramona (or as our drag personas Claude and Dersch) our duo work started and evolved from our life partnership and from our joint experiences as queer/LGBTQAI activists, and as out and visible queer identities living in the Romanian oppressive, homophobe, heteronormative context.
Our cultural background intersects queer and gender theory, Simona working on related topics from within the contemporary art field and Ramona mixing literary studies with an extensive experience of working/volunteering in feminist groups and anti‐discrimination associations.
We have had experiences of using drag king actions in activist situations, and we aim (during our stay at MuseumsQuartier AiR Vienna) to develop our drag personas, Claude and Dersch more towards the intersection between language‐based performances, camp and cabaret theatricality, and studies of body posture within a critique of gender normativity.
We are also currently researching on connected issues, such as Romanian queer culture (Ramona) and local lesbian lost herstories from before 1989 (Simona).
In parallel with Claude&Dersch, Simona is mixing teaching, artistic and collective curatorship as part of the curatorial group at Platforma space in Bucharest (artist-run project space started in 2011 within MNAC Annex, www.platformaspace.wordpress.com and Ramona studies Romanian queer identities in media and litterature for her PhD at University of Bucharest.
The local focus of our general work and research on these topics is both a limit that we understand and a vital need, because it is within known and lived homophobia that we need to build up our voices, through actions that are lived politics, embodied daily.