The term ‘community’ conjures images of disparate individuals joined by shared interests, experiences, cultures, or religion. But the term also groups unquestioningly, disregarding an acknowledgement that frictions can - and do - exist. Jamie Crewe’s ‘Love & Solidarity’ at Grand Union, Birmingham, the sister exhibition of ‘Solidarity & Love’ at Humber Street Gallery, Hull, offers a conflictual understanding of kinship, and parameters for queer love and disdain.
Crewe draws from Radclyffe Hall’s ‘The Well of Loneliness’ (1928) - a novel tracing the life of Stephen Gordon, a “masculine lover of women” who could be recognised as a trans man. The first of two commissioned videos, “The Ideal Bar” - “Le Narcisse” - “Alec’s” (2020), presents a staged altercation between two individuals in a Glasgow nightclub, referencing a scene where Gordon glances at their reflection in the mirror of a gay bar and grapples with feelings of disgust. In Crewe’s interpretation, a space associated with queer intimacy becomes embittered, questioning the assumed solidarities among those with shared experiences. An accompanying video, “Morton! - “Beedles” - “An abyss” (2020), documents the fabrication of well dressings with the artist’s family, friends, and colleagues, prompting conversations around village gossip and transphobia that further evidence cross-communal moments of scorn.
Well dressings are used to decorate natural springs throughout church communities in Derbyshire before withering within weeks of fabrication. Yet, Crewe’s collaborative relics have been fired, offering a lasting insight into what queerness once resembled and could grow to become. One dressing contains a quote by activist Randy Wicker describing Sylvia Rivera, a transgender activist whose work at the forefront of the Gay Liberation Movement is often erased:
“[With] all of these awful experiences that went on in her life you would have thought as she got older she would have got uglier and more twisted. And instead somehow she went through this rollercoaster ride of tragedy and suddenly bloomed like a new rose of spring or something - I should say an opium poppy!” (Randy Wicker)
Following a well-documented feud and decades of criticising Rivera’s assertive approach against his assimilationist policies, this quote suggests Wicker’s appreciation of her work and perhaps an understanding of the disparities between their experiences - his as a cisgender gay man and that of Rivera, a transgender woman of colour.
The fact remains that queerness is fractured. In the past year, we have witnessed a backlash against the inclusion of black and brown stripes on the pride flag, the platforming of TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) narratives in the media, and the growth of anti-trans organisations. ‘Love & Solidarity’ is a compelling reminder of the potential for queerness to become more inclusive through an understanding and recognition of our different existences.