Before occupying their own spaces, queer communities would gather at ‘gay nights’ in establishments where drinks prices were raised for punters with no alternative. Subverting previous migratory notions, Ian Giles presented ‘Trojan Horse / Rainbow Flag’ at the queer-run Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. The event featured a screening of his new film by the same name, alongside video works by five other artists that discuss the past, present and future of queer spaces.
In a room where gold fringe curtains help tick every gay cliché, ‘Chariots Slide Show’ (2019) by Prem Sahib opened the event. The images feature Chariots Shoreditch, the UK’s largest gay sauna that was torn down in 2016 for new housing. While glory holes outline the sexual intentions of the venue, the images are a walkthrough of a space where sex was just one layer of a multifaceted queer communication. Likewise, ‘Pink Rooms’ (2017) by Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings provides a sense of progression as Tina Turner’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ moves in and out of clarity over an empty dance floor. The audio evokes a pulsation similar to what is heard in a club’s smoking area or toilet, allowing viewers to consider the themes of queer permanency through the familiarity of a club setting. Despite the venue still existing, Quinlan, Hastings and Sahib’s works trace the need to document spaces while they still stand.
Moving away from documentary, ‘Trojan Horse/Rainbow Flag’ (2019) by Ian Giles evokes the memory of the late Joiners Arms through role-play. Script in hand, participants re-enact the artist’s conversations with activist group Friends of the Joiners Arms, who campaigned against the closure of the iconic venue. While the site closed in 2016, conversations seem far more historical – actors phase in and out of character, expressing wishes to have attended the pub or seen the area pre-gentrification. Nostalgic sentiment paired with the recent nature of the film’s events echo the fast-paced nature of queer displacement.
Not all films touched upon a loss of space; ‘LHB’ (2017) by Charlotte Prodger confronts a lack of queer territory and kin through clips of urinating onto the countryside she traces. There is a literal intention to the act, which claims the land where an LGBTQ+ existence is undoubtedly solitary. Similarly, ‘Weed Killer’ (2017) by Patrick Staff tackles the loneliness produced by exclusion in safe spaces. One particular scene presents artist Jamie Crewe lip-synching in a bar, and while some initial interest is shown, the on-lookers grow dismissive, provoking thoughts around the exclusion of Trans bodies in spaces thought to be welcoming.
A panel discussion ended the evening, which quickly turned to the topic of inclusion. Bernice Mulenga and Mahta Hassanzadeh from club night Pxssy Palace, highlighted their initiative to provide a free taxi service to and from the venue for Trans attendees. While the preservation of spaces proves important, my lasting thoughts centred on the changes still to be made in providing a safe space for those still marginalised under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.