30 July 2012
Talking Tabloid Trans
I popped round Fox’s printing studio in Brighton in early July. He showed me around the various equipment and we looked at some of his work that he had left around as most of his finished pieces are stored elsewhere. Earlier that day we had fleshed out a little our project on trash aesthetics (and in specific relation to trans narratives) over a cheesy baked bean sandwich in some cool café in the Lanes.
The sense of inner tension and string of contradictions when engaging with the mass media was shared by both of us. We are both aware of the experiences dealing with the press, of their patronizing, pseudo-sensitive crappy performances assuring us that it will all be done in the best possible taste; more often than not representations of trans subjects, from our perspectives, are exploitative, ridiculous and spectacular.And yet, that wide reach to the millions of readers and viewers in just one swoop is somehow seductive when our projects centre around making trans visible. Our motivations are checked against the bourgeois mission of ‘educating the masses’, but then again, what’s so bad about ‘learning’ to be nicer to trans people?
More importantly, mass media products and performances are accessed by trans people, who therefore come to know what it means to be trans and in turn what it means to be themselves. In particular, it makes me think about other trans people who are not necessarily so hooked into predominantly urban and metropolitan trans cultures or indeed the online networks that are so important for information about our communities to flow. Fox himself shared with me the dozens of correspondences he’s had from trans folk thanking him for going all out and sharing himself with the wider world. This relationship between the elite and the masses, the high and the low art forms came up strongly when we were discussing the history of printmaking.
“Screen printing was invented during the Crusades, when they wanted to have the uniform flag on their shield” says Fox. Repetition and uniformity are is both good and bad: it de-individualises and homogenizes, but also in doing that produces an ideology of there being something more important and bigger than self hood. Similarly, the process of production for the masses historically has been to break the tasks into separate jobs carried out by different people. In this way no individual is fully responsible or can take ownership of the (art) work. Andy Warhol’s factory was an explicit critique of the authentic and the ‘masterliness’ of the artist.
I like this photo as you can see all the factory-lot perusing magazines and the dailys.
Fast forwarding to the early nineties, ‘tabloid feminist’ Sarah Lucas spoke back trash aesthetics to the art world with her big pin ups of representations of women
Sarah Lucas, Sod You Gits, 1991. Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/P/P78/P78205_10.jpg
To read more go here: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lucas-sod-you-gits-p78205
Discourses of authenticity are not only embedded in printing and the art world – that which Warhol wanted to challenge through his factory; they also run through Trans Studies. Stories in mainstream culture position trans as essential, authentic and real. More often than not trans people who wish to be taken up as the ‘real’ thing must adhere to an essentialised, fixed and permanent identity that is authentically either ‘male’ or ‘female’. Of course the ‘reality’ aspect of tabloid stories is crucial to its success. Each tabloid stories announces: “Look this is a real trans person”. In order to be real and authentic (the tabloids haven’t made it up), the reader/viewer must believe it. Being real is performed, but such performances must go unnoticed in order to be deemed as such. Perhaps making explicit these strategies challenges notions of the authentic. And such tactics, as employed by both Lucas and Warhol, might be useful here in our project of Talking Tabloid Trans. After all, it’s all performance isn’t it? Being trans… making prints…. our question, however, is: what is its potential?