Queer Correspondence #7
Delivered to your home for the last time, the seventh and final Queer Correspondence commission, by Frankfurt-based artist Atiéna, culminates the mail-art initiative that we’ve been running at Cell Project Space since June this year. Harnessing the conflicting feelings of completion brought forward by the end the project, Atiéna has produced a playful mail artwork; a simple gift that is usually distributed and passed on in the same way that you’re now receiving it. Taking the form of a musical greeting card, Atiéna’s commission reaches its subscribers at a moment when we’re reflecting on the meaning and value of the community of recipients that we have formed throughout this project –during a time that has been marked by separation, distance and longing.
Pulling from bell hooks’ definition of queerness as “the self which is constantly at odds with everything else”, in this commission Atiéna thinks through the structures and intricacies of moments of celebration, activating the greeting card’s semiotic relationship to events such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, religious holidays, and manifold other rituals of passage that seemingly facilitate communal experiences of affinity. Potentially able to fulfil all of these functions and none, the artist’s own greeting card conveys an unease with its purpose, highlighting how these moments of sociality also create situations in which hook’s definition of ‘being at odds’ can at times be most palpably felt, facilitating spaces of unbelonging.
This oddness is initially explored by the artist through the minimal printed artwork on the greeting card’s cover. Using symbols as carriers of their literal semantic functions, Atiéna creates an image that places exaggeration, questioning, confusion and celebration as emotions or actions that arise in moments of collective speech and gathering. Featuring an exclamation and question marks, as well as a warped spiral and star, Atiéna plays with avoiding any clear meaning on this card to question legibility as being a condition necessary for recognition.
Visually empty once opened, the artist has sonically filled the card with sound from a live performance of Lesley Gore’s infamous feminist anthem, You don’t own me (1963). The 50 second clip subtly invokes the song’s memorable lyrics –its cry for defiance and emancipation–, citing the second wave feminist movement of the 60s. However, here the artist has edited and slowed down the track, which is further distorted by the poor quality of the in-built greeting card speakers, presenting the song as being ‘broken’. It is within this brokenness that Atiéna shares with us this work, recalling the many ways in which the experience of being made strange –and the making of others as ‘strangers’– is still weightily present.
Symbolically and conceptually, Atiéna’s greeting card holds further weight in the context of a month of celebrations in many parts of the world that are proving to be particularly difficult under a global pandemic –a pretext for the need for togetherness and family regardless of the possible danger, and in spite of the communities whose own moments of gathering and celebration (Eid, Diwali, Notting Hill Carnival and Pride, to mention a few of those that were cancelled in the UK this year) have previously been curtailed; politically deemed unnecessary or superfluous when measured against the risks of contagion.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has in any way served as a time for others to become acquainted with the feeling and experience of being strange, it is yet to be seen to what extent it will fuel any potential for change at large; particularly outside the very communities from where that strangeness has previously propelled an engagement with the world as always being ‘at odds’ with oneself. The reclaiming of the word ‘queer’ from slander to anthem is itself proof of the ways in which queerness asserts itself not in opposition to something else, but in the re-imagining of what is possible; a world-making process that is propelled by the experience of being ‘outside’. This is an orientation –sexual, gendered, racial, classed, bodily– that is by definition determined by our residence, as Sara Ahmed theorises, at the margins, and about our inhabiting, communing and belonging with and alongside the struggles of the marginalised. It is a residence that is necessarily always elsewhere: as José Estaban Muñoz professes, queerness is “not yet here [...] but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.”
Queer Correspondence was born out of a desire to establish correspondence between queer families; those who are already “in a queer time and place”. It has sought to breach a distance, to keep us connected while being disconnected, and to create a porous, loose and displaced community of kin. Let us continue to place hope in the future as a horizon –a landscape of possibility that has helped many of us to survive until now.
Associate Curator, Cell Project Space
Queer Correspondence is a mail-art initiative at Cell Project Space consisting of monthly commissions, artists and writers have been invited to begin correspondences by mail that will establish connections between queer families: those who are already “in a queer time and place” (following the title of Jack Halberstam’s seminal book). By exchanging with peers, friends, loved ones and close community members—as well as with themselves, nature and absent addressees—, through writing, poetry, photographs and other 2D forms, these responses will hope to invoke the intimate and invisible gaps of this moment.
In January 2021, we will be conducting an evaluation of Queer Correspondence with our community of recipients. A special limited edition is being produced in collaboration with fluent (Santander, Spain), and it will be offered to the first 100 participants of the survey. More details to be announced in the new year.
Atiéna (b. France, 1990), formally known as Atiéna Lansade Riollet, is currently based in Frankfurt, Germany. She first exhibited works in the group exhibition No,No,No,No,No at Cell Project Space in 2018. Recent solo exhibitions include The Cycle of Three Tails, Zaza, Naples in 2019; Shanaynay, Paris; and Postures of 'Aliennation', Almanac, Turin (both in 2018). Selected group exhibitions in 2019 include Milk, Edouart Montassut, Paris; Cinders, Sinuous and Supple, curated by Deborah Joyce Holman for Les Urbaines, Espace Arlaud, Lausanne; and Le Colt est Jeune & Haine, curated by Cédric Fauq, Doc, Paris.
Recently, Atiéna presented Nevermind (Screen Test I), a moving billboard that drove through locations neighbouring Cell as part of Cellular, our programme of experimental Live Art and Media-based commissions. In 2021, Atiéna will stage her first solo exhibition in the UK at Cell, originally due to have opened earlier this year, and postponed due to Covid-19.
For any programme and press enquiries, please contact Eliel Jones, Associate Curator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Made possible with the generous support of an Emergency Grant by Arts Council England. Atiéna’s Queer Correspondence commission has been further supported by Fluxus Art Projects.