Martyrdom has long been used to position queerness within the respectable realm of Christianity. The patron saint of the homo-erotic, Sebastian, mirrors the queer experience; executed by the Romans due to his religious beliefs, he draws links between queerness, the pornographic delight found within his arrow-penetrated form and the plight of the LGBTQ+ community during instances of stigmatisation and disease.
Referring to martyrdom’s queer capacity, McDermott & McGough’s ambitious installation ‘The Oscar Wilde Temple’ at Studio Voltaire promotes an awareness of cross-generational queer activism. Upon being led through gold-tassel curtains, the gallery space is unrecognisable: its concrete floor replaced by wood panelling, rows of chairs provide a means of worship and the pungent aroma of frankincense evokes recollections of Catholic mass. Symbols of religious significance are found throughout. Wilde is adorned with golden halos in ‘The Stations of Reading Gaol’ (2017), twelve paintings which narrate his imprisonment for sexual deviance and seize the familiarity of Christ’s crucifixion. Through a vehicle of Christian acquaintance, the viewer is presented with an understanding of the writer’s demise from beloved figure to pervert.
At the centre of the gallery’s back wall lies the focal point of the exhibition. The ‘Oscar Wilde Altarpiece’ (2017) takes the form of a raised wooden platform, an effigy of the writer and several candles which make a heart, recalling street-side forms of commemoration. The permanent and make-shift memorial is blended, reflecting the frequency of queer deaths and the need for their remembrance within the public sphere.
In using tools of Christian dominance, McDermott & McGough provide exposure for lesser-known martyrs. To each side of the space appear twelve studies of queer torchbearers and victims of hate-crimes; among those included are American revolutionary Marsha P. Johnson and Jody Dobrowski, who was killed at a cruising spot in Clapham Common in 2005, moments away from the gallery space. Resting on side-altars beneath each study are texts – or funeral cards – outlining the life and times of each individual.
Sitting on a pulpit towards the end of the exhibition lies ‘Book of Remembrance’ (2017), which continues from the installation’s previous display at New York City’s The Church of the Village in 2017. In its pages, visitors are encouraged to write the names of partners, family members and queer-kin who have suffered at the hands of marginalisation and disease. The invitation embodies the exhibition’s communal purpose; the LGBTQ+ are called to engage collective reflection and mourning, a right which is so often denied and is only reclaimed through the display’s explicit appropriation of the religious.