Queer(er) squatting at Sutton House

Really excited for this event that I have co-organised with Milo Bettocchi on March 22nd at Sutton House.

In 1985, Sutton House was occupied by squatters and re-named ‘the Blue House’. Rock concerts were held in the barn, and an old copy of the 1979 edition of the Squatters’ Handbook featuring legendary squatter, British Black Panther and feminist activist Olive Morris on the cover was recently found in the attic. Much like Sutton House, squatting has a colourful history in London, and much like the word Queer, this history is varied and contested.

Squatting has been used as a tactic by many LGBTQ people not only to survive but also to experiment with creating spaces in which they could thrive. This discussion will feature three queer speakers with histories of squatting across London. Learn about London’s radical queer history, and how they disrupt conventional understandings of squatting!

There will also be a rare opportunity to explore Hackney’s oldest house at night, and visit our new exhibition about Clive Jenkins and the ASTMS trade union, the last residents of the house before it was squatted.

All proceeds from the evening help us to carry out the important community outreach and conservation work we do.


Caoimhe Mader McGuinness lived and organised events in squats in France and the United Kingdom in the early 2000s. After attending Queeruption 4 in London in 2002, she was part of a queer squatting collective in St Etienne (to her knowledge the first in France) before moving to London in 2004 to live in a queer squatted house which remained queer and squatted until 2010. She was involved in organising a series of queer parties and fundraising events in squatted social centres in the city including Behind Bars, Queers Against X-Mas, G8 defendant support, and more recently Queer Caff at The Field (urban commons space), a monthly queer café that ran for a little less than a year in 2015. In her unfree time she is a lecturer in Drama at Kingston University London and publishes work on performance and politics.

Zia is an ex-squat baby, from a time and place when such things were more readily possible. The modern presentations of Brixton’s historic squatting scene fail to chime with Zia’s experience. Recent stories of squatting in Brixton from the 1970s up until the 1990s, with a few exceptions, are often faded, overwhelmingly white, British, and middle-class. Zia’s experience of this scene was far from this. The community they grew up in was utopically communitarian in ideal, but tough practically. Disidentification and experimentation, especially in regards to sexuality, were the norm, and the notion of the family as a fixed unit was being actively destabilised. It was a scene of illegal immigrants, redbrick Marxists, black and mixed-race anarcha-punks, working-class leather queers, DIY hippies, slumming Romantic hipsters – all with their own histories of struggle, their own ideas about the perfect future and about how to live together in the present

Milo Bettocchi, formerly of the House of Brag (a south London queer squatting collective active between 2012 and 2014) is now a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, where his research focuses on histories of anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQIA squatting in Brixton. He has co-led walking tours of Brixton’s queer squatting histories along with members of the London Rebel Dykes.

Tickets are selling quickly! Please book your tickets here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/d82089d2-5d4e-4b02-bd57-354185c6adfb/pages/details

Speak up! Speak out!

I’m very pleased to share the programme for the 13th Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference at the London Metropolitan Archives. This year we’ll be hearing about the Speak Out! oral history project (about which I may have some very exciting news soon) and the Pride of Place project. There will also be an excerpt from All the nice girls.

The conference is a steal at just £10, and promises to be even better than last year’s! Hope to see many of you there. You can book here.

V&A Friday Late: Queer and Now

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at the V&A’s Friday Late ‘Queer and Now’ which takes place on Friday 27th February from 18.30 – 22.00

The event is free and consists of talks, music (from Amy Grimehouse), performance, food and drink and first come first served free haircuts from Open Barbers!

My talk is called ‘There’s no place like homo: the deconstruction of the queer country house’ and takes place in the beautiful National Art Library at 19.30.

Last year, the V&A celebrated the 40th anniversary of the influential and groundbreaking exhibition ‘The Destruction of the Country House, 1875-1975’. While the exhibition was concerned with the preservation of houses, this presentation will look at the idea of the preservation of homes, specifically the homes of those who could be considered queer figures. Domestic spaces have historically been some of the very few places where queer lives could be safely enacted and lived. Using a number of case studies, including National Trust properties, and other historic houses open to the public, I will make a case for activism in heritage sites to ensure that queer voices are heard in the spaces they called home. I will also showcase some of my own interventions, specifically my audiovisual exhibition at Sutton House in Hackney, and a multimedia protest based on Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire.

You can see the full programme of events here. Hope to see many of you there!

Sutton House LGBT History Month exhibition- updates!

Just thought I’d share a few updates about the LGBTQ sonnet project exhibition to be exhibited at Sutton House in February 2015.

The exhibition will open on the 4th February, which is also when the house reopens after the closed season. The private view will be the following evening, on the 5th, and we’re toying with holding a second event to follow up on the success and interest of this year’s panel discussion. I’ll keep you posted!

Here is another teaser of the exhibition, featuring snippets from 5 of the contributions so far:

126 sonnets – teaser video [three] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I really can’t express how pleased I am with all of the contributions so far! You can listen to the sonnets so far here.

The exhibition will be taking place in the chapel, here are a few pictures of the space for those of you who have not visited yet (obviously it will look very different once the exhibition is in place):

I’m also delighted to say that the posters and promotional material will be designed by a super talented queer artist, more on this soon, but I’m really excited about it! In other great news, this year’s Master-Mistress exhibition and the upcoming follow up will receive a brief mention in the National Trust magazine that goes out to members, a readership of approximately 4.5 million…

I’m also hoping to soon be able to reveal some other LGBTQ related things that will be taking place at Sutton House during February and beyond, it’s really great that the success of this year’s exhibition is increasing the visibility of LGBTQ identities and narratives more widely throughout the property, I can only hope that other National Trust properties follow the lead soon.

By November 30th I should know for sure exactly how many more contributors I will need as, for various reasons, some of the original contributors are no longer able to commit, so I will be posting a second call out in an attempt to fill the final few spaces by the end of December, so that I have plenty of time to experiment with how the audio and the videos will work in the exhibition space.

A huge warm thank you to those who have already contributed and those who are planning to, this exhibition would literally be nothing without you all!

Meet Tate Britain with Peter Tatchell

Given my own experience of delivering tours, and the (much more impressive) work of the likes of Andrea Fraser, Claire Robins and David Hoyle, I’m really interested in the potential the role of the tour guide in heritage sites can have in disrupting and subverting dominant narratives and canons, so when a friend told me about Peter Tatchell’s tour of Tate Britain, I was interested to see how far the celebrated human rights activist could challenge the Tate Britain’s largely white (supposedly straight) male chronology.

The event is part of a programme of alternative tours featuring the likes of Antiques expert Geoffrey Munn, gardener Alys Fowler and someone from the Hairy Bikers (no, I don’t know what that is either).

The blurb on the Tate Britain website claimed the tour would be about ‘unearthing hidden stories of LGBT subjects and artists. Who were they and how were they represented? How might we imagine their lives and experiences? What clues to the existence of LGBT individuals, communities and societies can be found in the works? What work has been done uncovering this knowledge? What do these images tell us about the development of the rights we enjoy today?’

I was a bit sceptical before hand that it would be more like ‘Meet Peter Tatchell with the Tate Britain’, but I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Tatchell seemed quite nervous for the first few exhibits he spoke about, speaking to his notes and the artworks rather than to the audience, but I can totally empathise with those nerves, especially when you’re not an art historian and have only researched the works for the sake of the tour, but he soon loosened up and became more engaged and engaging. The works he had selected were largely because of the queer way in which they could be read, the ways in which they challenged masculinity, or because the artists were known to be, or could be easily read, as LGBTQ. Naturally, as with anything of this nature, the majority of the stories told were about gay men, but Tatchell apologised for this at the end of the tour, and rightly identified that the collections on display were mainly by men.

The tour included artworks by Simeon Solomon, Gilbert and George, Duncan Grant and various others. While Tatchell was a bit shaky on speaking about the artworks, or the stories behind the earlier classical stuff, his strength was in making links with contemporary issues and politics, particularly when recounting the OutRage! Kiss-in in 1990 in Piccadilly Circus to protest the arrest of gay couples for showing affection in public, the protest took place under the statue of Anteros, the god of requited love, he told us this story while standing by a small sculpture of Anteros in the same pose. The key here of course, is that if a people are willing to pay for a tour by a well known figure, they probably aren’t expecting a typical museum tour and instead want to hear the anecdotes and interpretations unique to that person.

A glaringly tedious point for me, which is partially due to the layout of the Tate Britain, was that this tour was chronological. Surely the first, and easiest step to undoing conventions of a typical tour is to disobey the linear way in which museums encourage us to think.

While a bit too polite for my taste, the tour was an interesting experiment by Tate Britain and an enjoyable evening, and helped to tease out some of the ‘hidden histories’ (which is becoming such a tired phrase) that I hope will be made more apparent in the interpretation in the museum following events like this. Tatchell did a great job in what was clearly outside of his comfort zone, and his passion for justice and in recovering these suppressed stories was palpable.

An exciting aside; Tatchell has agreed in principle to contribute to my Sutton House LGBTQ sonnets project– I hope he finds the time to do it, as his voice will be a really interesting addition. I’m hoping to have some more exciting updates about the exhibition soon, so watch this space!


Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations 
Half-day International Symposium 

Monday 8th December 2014, 12 noon – 7:30pm, followed by a drinks reception

Room 802, Institute of Education (IOE), 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL 

This half-day international symposium brings together queer theorisations of higher education and academia that are currently developing within discipline-specific contexts. At this symposium, we will explore the ways that academia and higher education are being queerly theorised, and discuss how these theorisations are situated within and yet pushing against disciplinary settings. With an emphasis on conversation and discussion, the event will provide a platform for the collaborative development of ideas over the course of the day. Contributors to the round table and discussion-presentations range from established scholars to doctoral students, and are from a variety of disciplinary locations and institutional settings.

Round table participants: 
Oliver Davis – University of Warwick
Michael O’Rourke – ISSH, Macedonia & Global Center for Advanced Studies
Nick Rumens – Middlesex University
Yvette Taylor – Weeks Centre, London South Bank University
Kathryn Medien – University of Warwick (Chair)

James Burford – University of Auckland, New Zealand/Aotearoa
Jennifer Fraser – Birkbeck
Vicky Gunn – University of Glasgow
Emily F. Henderson – Institute of Education
Genine Hook – Monash University, Australia
Z Nicolazzo – Miami University, Ohio, US
Sean Curran – Institute of Education (Chair)
Emma Jones – Institute of Education (Chair)

Elliot Evans – King’s College London

The event will be hosted by CHES (Centre for Higher Education Studies) and is funded by the Bloomsbury ESRC Doctoral Training Centre.

Registration is free, but places are limited so booking is essential.

To book, or for further information, contact Emily Henderson:ehenderson01@ioe.ac.uk

RSVP by 14th November 2014.

“Anthem for doomed youth”?: exploring conflict and resolution through archives

Join us on Tuesday, March 25th 2014, for our annual ‘Friends of Newsam Library & Archives’ (FNLA) Study Day. This year’s event, “Anthem for doomed youth”?: exploring conflict and resolution through archives, considers the concepts of war, conflict and peace through the lense of learning and education.

Document Reference: BDN/64

The day’s programme:

9.45-10.00 Welcome and Introductions (Sean Curran)
10.00-10.30 Activities in the Library and Archives (Sarah Aitchison)
10.30-11.30 Professor Stuart Foster Centenary First World War Battlefields Project
11.30-12.30 Dr Barry Blades, Teachers and the Great War, 1914-1919
12.30-13.30 Lunch (please bring your own). Tea and coffee will be provided.
13.30- 14.30 Walter Lewis, Educating Service Children in the 20th Century
14.30-15.30 Alix Hall, Thinking Outside the Box: Using Archives to Teach Perspectives on Wartime
15.30-16.00 Archive showcase of relevant collections from the Library Special Collections and Archives

Where: Newsam Library & Archives, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London

When: Tuesday, 25 March 2014 from 09:30 to 16:00

Register for free tickets here.

Find out more about the Friends of Newsam Library & Archives, including how to become a member, here.

“Challenging histories” at Sutton House

On Thursday 13th, we celebrated LGBT History Month at Sutton House, Hackney, in an event to support the ‘Master-Mistress’ exhibition, which runs until 7th March. The event was called ‘Challenging Histories: what place do LGBTQ identities have in museums and historic houses’ and was so well attended that people had to sit on the window-sills in the beautiful Great Chamber.

The discussion raised many interesting ideas and questions, and we could have run for longer than we did- but hopefully we have peaked people’s interests for future events.

 Below is the podcast of the evening, I’m hoping to put it on iTunes at some point- but it’s beyond my technical capabilities, so this will have to suffice for now.

I’d also like to thank again the four speakers for the event; Jan, Claire, Naomi and Oliver, and of course to the team at Sutton House for being such great hosts!

I hope this is a conversation that will continue amongst everyone who attended, and amongst other National Trust properties.

Coverage of ‘Master-Mistress’

Just thought I’d share some of the coverage we’ve had for ‘Master-Mistress‘.

I’ve been delighted in the interest in the exhibition so far, it’s appeared on various listing sites, but I’ll highlight a few:

Elle UK have listed the exhibition as one of their ‘Alternative Valentine’s Day’ recommendations here.

We were featured on the homepage of Destination Hackney for a few days, though I can’t find the link to the feature itself anymore!

We’re also mentioned on the Hackney Gazette page here. (although they have misquoted me saying the sonnets are “suggestive”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never said!

I had a short interview with Laura Raphael who wrote these great pieces on East London Lines and Shades of Noir.

We appeared in a feature about LGBT History Month events in the Hackney Today newspaper (on two separate days!) (apologies for the blurry pictures)

and we also had a tweet from Diane Abbott Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (hopefully not all of her 62.3K followers will visit at once)

Shakespeare’s Fair Youth Sonnets being read at Sutton House for LGBT History Month #lgbtsmallsteps http://t.co/whewIKq4PF
— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) February 6, 2014

It’s really promising that the exhibition, and LGBT History Month more broadly is stirring up interest, hopefully the coverage will help persuade people to come to the panel event at Sutton House tomorrow ‘Challenging Histories: what place do LGBTQ identities have in historic houses?’ you can find more information here.

Don’t forget to check out the LGBT History Month calendar for other great events.

Notes on ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’

Last night I attended a panel discussion called ‘Notes on Camp’ at the ICA, which aimed to ‘interrogate the term camp and consider its relevance to contemporary art’. Oddly enough, it seemed that the focus of the discussion was actually the term neo-camp – a rather muddy term coined by curator of ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’, Chris Sharp. It was this confusion over the attempt to revise, reclaim or reimagine the already heavily contested term camp that caused a lot of discomfort for me.

The panel was chaired by the brilliant Gavin Butt, whose work I find really challenging and interesting. The panellists were: Chris Sharp, who, following a rather exhausting article about so called neo-camp, curated the exhibition ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’; Daniel Sinsel, whose artworks were included in the exhibition; and Ellen Feiss, who had reviewed the exhibition.

In homage to Sontag’s Notes on Camp (and through laziness) I’ll put my thoughts about the event in note form.

1. Gavin Butt’s interpretation of camp was the only one that echoed my own, he said that camp was an answer to “straight seriousness”, for when sincerity was not enough. He highlighted three key changes that have occurred post-Sontag’s seminal essay; when written, pop culture as we now know it was in its infancy, now sincere speech is not taken at face value in the age of political spin, ideologies are no longer so readily believed or unchallenged; he referred to “come dine with me” syndrome- i.e.: the way that “trashy consumerist taste” now dominates in ways that it didn’t in the early to mid 1960s; and finally, LGBT political and legal developments- meaning that (arguably) LGBT people no longer need to find a place in society solely through irony and aestheticism.

2. Both Chris and Dan’s interpretation of ‘neo-camp’ was to do with the covert, the unspoken, the euphemism and the suggestive gesture; some sort of coded language. They both seemed to identify camp as solely the territory of the gay male- which I find quite a difficult thing to get on board with. Ellen criticised the exhibition as being under-theorised in the context of camp, and Sontag’s essay- which all three seemed to be quite dismissive of, and Chris in particular seemed to suggest was not relevant anymore.

3. While I agreed with a lot of Ellen’s critique of the term ‘neo-camp’, the examples she gave to endorse her own reading of camp were equally troubling, there were a lot of erect penises and imagery of queer activism. The heavy focus on (homo)erotica I found quite unusual, it’s not camp. Likewise, the political elements of camp (which Sontag refutes by suggesting that camp is apolitical – presumably in the sense that its aim is never to be political, regardless of whether the outcome is or not) for me, are only a small part of what camp is, and the focus on queerness (read “white gay men”) was completely misguided. Women, queer or otherwise, were barely a footnote in this discussion.

4. Ellen highlighted an image of an object (if memory serves it was a ladder) that was rendered functionless because of the way it was arranged – she identified this as camp. This is one of many examples where queer (or queered) art works were misdiagnosed as camp (or neo-camp).

5. There was a lot of talk about us living in a “post-marriage” queer time. And a post queers in the military time. Chris identified neo-camp as being post-closet, but it seems to be that neo-camp is indeed post-camp, in other words, a product of assimilation. Assimilation that I feel is thoroughly un-queer and the realm of a tediously homonormative approach to LGBT politics.

6. Dan and Chris both suggested that, the very fact that ICA was having this discussion showed that camp has become institutionalised, I think this talk proved quite the opposite- that camp has been tamed, sanitised and diluted into a completely different, less exciting (/comprehensible) beast, for the purpose of academia and visual art.

7. The strongest comment, for me, came from a woman in the audience, who said that ‘camp is female’. This comment aside, there was no mention of the role women have played in the story of camp. (I recommend Pamela Robertson’s Guilty Pleasures: feminist camp from Mae West to Madonna as a good counter to this).

8. While a very interesting discussion, the fact that Chris Sharp’s exhibition (and thus, by proxy, Daniel Sinsel’s work) had been framed as ‘neo-camp’, made it difficult to engage wholly with any aspect of it, as a great deal of their images seemed to me, the very antithesis of camp. Thankfully, Gavin Butt in his closing remarks, admitted that many of the images shown throughout the talk had prompted the reaction ‘I don’t think that’s camp at all’ from himself.

9. Without having seen the exhibition, it’s unfair to be dismissive of it, but based on this discussion, Neo-Camp seems to me to be straight, highbrow, abstract and thoroughly un-camp. I’m not sure I can even imagine what a “new” camp might look like, or even if this body of work could be called post-camp- it seems to me that ‘anti-camp’ is a more appropriate term.

10. As my friend Judith, who I attended the talk with, said; perhaps once you start theorising camp, you kill it. However, I’m sure that won’t stop us trying…