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Queer Ways Of Being: Challenging boundaries and binaries

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John Paul Javal with his work 'St Sebastien I, II, III'

A new exhibition exploring "the varying aspects of contemporary identity" has opened at the 35 Chapel Walk gallery. Now Then spoke to artists Ric Stott, Mitchell Vernals and John Paul Javal, about what 'queer' means in 2019.

Has the word queer been reclaimed?

John Paul: It's still problematic for a lot of people, but for many it's very positive. It's a new identity and it's reclaiming something that was a very bad word.

Ric Stott: The problematic nature of it is also part of it. There's something about queerness that's always on the edge, always unfolding, always tentative, always challenging boundaries and binaries. It will always find an edge, and when it becomes tamed and domesticated the nature of its energy will find the next stage.

There's something about queerness that's grounded in bodies

Mitchell Vernals: LGBT has become a bit sanitised, without necessarily getting to the point of how people feel different. I think that's where queerness comes from.

JP: Now is important more than ever because of what's happening in Brazil, Chechnya and Venezuela. It's time to reclaim and bring back the energy we had in the eighties, with Thatcherism and people like Derek Jarman who rebelled against her.

RS: If you look at what trans people experience in this country there's a lot that needs challenging.

Is queerness a reaction to getting subsumed into the middle classes?

RS: One of the things I'm interested in is that there doesn't have to be an angry reaction. Actually there's a gentleness, a beauty, a joy, a celebration of diversity of identity.

MV: And that in itself is rebellion. You can celebrate your identity with the opposite of anger, but I think the main issue is that a lot of people feel very silent, and then you become complacent to it all.

Some of the work here is very physical.

RS: There's something about queerness that's grounded in bodies. The piece made with blood is from a trans person's experience of their own body. There's the photos by Jack Rabbit. He took a photo every time he cried, whether it was through anxiety or grief or whatever. It's just that kind of honesty about what our bodies do, and his work touches on the importance of mental health.

JP: One of mine is inspired by Saint Sebastian. But in a modern way, with Black Lives Matter, and looking at how people of colour are represented. I still wanted to get the heavily symbolic gestures.

Is art a way of subverting homophobia?

MV: The theme I go for in my poem is this hellish imagery, but subverting it so it becomes this community place for queer people. You get told that a punishment for what you are is that you're going to hell so often that you subvert hell into this place that sounds like a party. Sending all the gays to one place - we'll all have a great time.

JP: We're family, we know each other.

Actually, Jesus is one of the queerest characters in history

MV: I think social media has helped in taking these images and subverting them into something positive or something you can laugh at in spite of. It's quite powerful, and I think in the twenty-first century queer people have been doing that really well.

RS: One of the things that interests me, because I'm a Christian minister and a gay man, is to break down those ideas that Christianity is opposed to LGBT identity. Actually, Jesus is one of the queerest characters in history. You can read the gospels through a queer lens and so much interesting stuff emerges from it. You read some of the medieval mystics, and there's a real queer sensuality in the way they engage with the body of Christ. It's all there, we just need to reveal it again.

Sam Gregory

Queer Ways Of Being runs until 21 February at 35 Chapel Walk. Entry is free.

12 February 7pm: An open and friendly conversation about queer spiritual experience

19 February 7:30pm: An evening of spoken word and performance art

20 February 6:30pm: Celebrating the life of Edward Carpenter: Queer Pioneer

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The opening night of Queer Ways Of Being

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