‘126’ and ‘Queer Season’ at Sutton House

We’re less than a month away from the exhibition that I (and 125 volunteers) have been working on. I’m delighted to unveil the trailer here:


‘126’ LGBTQ exhibition trailer from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I’m also delighted to announce that owing to the success of last February’s exhibition Master Mistress, the staff at Sutton House have decided to eschew the confines of LGBT History Month by hosting a two month long Queer Season throughout February and March. Below is the exhibition blurb and more information about the other events taking place throughout Queer Season:

Queer Season at Sutton House

Starting in LGBT History Month, Sutton House is hosting its first Queer Season, a series of exhibitions and events celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities.

National Trust’s Sutton House presents:

126 
5th February to 29th March,
Weds to Sun 12pm to 5pm

Building on February 2014’s exhibition ‘Master-Mistress’, the first LGBT History Month event to be held in a National Trust property we think, ‘126’ is a crowd-sourced audiovisual experience featuring all 126 of Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sonnets as read by members of the LGBTQ community. Each sonnet is self-recorded and is accompanied by video portraits of the contributors.

Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1, Family £6.90, National Trust Members FREE.

The Amy Grimehouse and National Trust’s Sutton House present:

The Craft Valentine’s Massacre 
14 February 7pm to late

 Join The Amy Grimehouse for their special presentation of that 90s classic, The Craft. Explore Sutton House and participate in some anti-Valentine’s spells, Hex-Your-Ex, the Nancy Booth, The Craft Craft Room with binding and poison pen Valentine’s cards and more. All before the pre-screening show with the Bitches of Eastwick. The screening will make way for the ‘Invoking the Spirit of Manon Ball’ with Connie Francis on the jukebox and more til late. “Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power.” 

Nick Fox and National Trust’s Sutton House Present:

Bad Seed 
5th February to 29th March,
Weds to Sun 12pm to 5pm

 This will include the first comprehensive survey of work by South African-born artist Nick Fox. Arranged over seven rooms, the exhibition brings together artworks created over the last ten years, principally painting but also films, installations, cyanotype prints and intricately laboured object d’art from his celebrated Nightsong and Phantasieblume series. Fox has also chosen Sutton House to launch a new artistic project called Seedbank, which invites members of the public to select seeds linked to a veiled dictionary of floral meanings to give as long term and living tokens of love and loves loss. Bad Seed will be shown simultaneously with Fox’s International touring exhibition Nightsong, at Angus-Hughes Gallery (7th February – 7 March 2015), which is also located in Hackney.

Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1, Family £6.90, National Trust Members FREE.

2nd call for volunteers for ‘126’ LGBTQ exhibition at Sutton House

[EDIT: thanks for the overwhelming response to this second call out- all sonnets have now been assigned!]

Hello all!

I am currently working on an exhibition for LGBT History Month (and beyond- it will be running until the end of March!) at Sutton House, a National Trust house in Hackney.


(the dates on the poster are wrong- they will be amended when the proper posters are made! It actually ends on the 29th March!)

I can now announce that the exhibition will be called ‘126’. It will be an audio visual exhibition featuring crowd sourced recordings of LGBTQ people reading one of Shakespeare’s 126 Fair Youth sonnets, and short video portraits of the contributors.

I have been overwhelmed by the quality of the submissions so far, but alas- there are still between 20-30 sonnets to be assigned to volunteers!

If you wish to get involved, it only takes 5-10 minutes to record, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home, and it’s a great chance to be involved in a huge community effort to raise the visibility of LGBTQ identities in historic houses, and in the National Trust, you will also receive an invite to the private view!

You can see some examples of the contributions so far here. And read the original call for volunteers here.

To get involved or for more information, contact SuttonHouseLGBTQ@gmail.com and I will assign you with a sonnet!

I need all of the sonnets and videos to be recorded by the end of December, so please share widely with your networks!

‘Queer homes, queer houses’ workshop at ‘Lines of Dissent’, the 12th annual LMA LGBTQ History & Archives conference

Yesterday was London Metropolitan Archives’ 12th annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference. The day was co-curated by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the theme was ‘Lines of Dissent’ and was focusing on queer genealogy. The key note from Daniel Monk, Birkbeck was ‘The perils and pleasures of queer wills’ and after that was a series of carousel workshops in which delegates got to play archive detective by looking at primary source documents and trying to gather what the material might say about the person, or people to whom they belonged.

In the afternoon, I facilitated a workshop called ‘Queer homes, queer houses’, in which I briefly spoke about my own research, and highlighted some examples of queer homes. I then asked the participants to create plans of a place they live, or have lived in, but instead of highlighting rooms or objects, to highlight moments and memories. We all did this on A3 tracing paper, and then we tied them all together to create a patchwork curtain (dubbed on the day, rather tongue-in-cheek, as a patchwork quilt of painful memories), which I then presented to all of the delegates. I’m delighted with how much effort everyone put in, and for sharing their memories, and I’m really grateful to Jan Pimblett, who organised the day, for inviting me to do a workshop. It has given me loads to think about for my research. You can view the work that was created here:


Created with flickr slideshow.

and I made a video of some highlights here:


‘Queer homes, queer houses’ : a workshop at the LMA LGBTQ History and Archives conference from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Here are a few pictures of the workshop in progress:

and a few of me presenting it, thanks to my glamorous assistants Jan and Gavin:

Another highlight of the day for me was when Surat Shaan Knan of Rainbow Jews told us his personal story and wonderful news, and announced the successful funding bid for Twilight People, a project about trans* people of faith, which I am delighted to announce I will be co-curating. I can’t wait for us to work together, and I am sure this really important project will be a huge success!

Thanks again to Jan, to Gavin Baldwin, Matt Cook, Justin Bengry, Faridha Karim, Surat, and to everyone else who organised and contributed to make it such an inspiring day. Also, big thanks to Claire Hayward who ensured there was a lively twitter presence throughout the day, and who has storified the tweets here.

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!

  

Lines of Dissent – 12th Annual LGBTQ History & Archives Conference

I’m really pleased to share the flyer for the London Metropolitan Archives’ 12 Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference, run in partnership with the Raphael Samuel History Centre this year. I’ve been part of the conference steering committee for the last two years along with a great team, and this year I’ve been asked to host a practical workshop about queer homes. The focus this year is on LGBTQ genealogy and family history.

The conference takes place at the London Metropolitan Archives on December 6th, tickets are just £10, or £7.50 for concessions. You can book tickets here.

I hope to see many of you there!

LGBTQ sonnets exhibition

When I first suggested collecting all 126 sonnets read by LGBTQ people to the staff at Sutton House I was half hoping for them to suggest it was a bit too ambitious. However, with almost all of the sonnets now assigned to willing volunteers (there are still a handful left!), and the contributions coming in thick and fast, I’m delighted that they had faith in me!

Here are two little teaser videos of two of the contributions, I’ll be posting more in the build up to the – as yet unnamed (I have a few ideas) – exhibition, which will take place in February 2015. As well as the recordings of the sonnets, I am also asking contributors to record a ten second video portrait, or a moving “selfie”. In the exhibition, I don’t think the sonnets will be matched with the videos, but rather will all run into each other, but I will have to wait until I have received them all before I experiment with the best ways to exhibit them all.


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


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

I can’t tell you how overwhelming I am finding the generosity and creativity of the contributors so far, and it’s a real treat every time I receive a new submission, it really strengthens the love I have for a community I’m so proud to be a part of, and it feels like we’re all part of something really big and meaningful!

I’ll continue to document the progress of the exhibition, and in the next few days I’ll blog about my experience of volunteering at the Balfron Tower with the National Trust.

Sutton House LGBTQ exhibition update

I’ve been really moved and delighted by the number and quality of submissions from volunteers to the LGBTQ exhibition I’m working on for LGBT History Month 2015 at Sutton House, Hackney. I thought I’d share a few examples of some of the contributions I’ve received so far.

Just a reminder, I’m aiming to collect recordings of all 126 of Shakespeare’s fair youth sonnets, in a crowd-sourced collecting project where contributors record their own readings on their phone. I’m also asking for each of the readers to submit a 10 second video “selfie” clip too, and both sound and video will be used as part of an audiovisual experience at Sutton House in February 2015.
Here are a handful of the sonnets that I’ve received:

and here is a small selection of the video clips I’ve received so far:


126 Sonnets – video teasers from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they will whet your appetite for the exhibition, or even better- inspire you to get involved, there are still spaces for contributors! If you want to get involved, email SuttonhouseLGBTQ@gmail.com. There’s more info available here.

LGBTQ oral his- and her-stories essay

‘Collecting the contemporary: a handbook for social history museums’ edited by Owain Rhys and Zelda Baveystock is out now. In it is an essay I contributed called ‘Let’s talk about sexuality: capturing, collecting and disseminating LGBTQ oral his- and her-stories’.

Here’s the blurb about it from the editors’ introduction:
Sean Curran assesses how LGBTQ history has been represented in the past, and how this is changing, especially through the collection of oral histories. He argues that although museums have recently been collecting and exhibiting LGBTQ associated objects, they have relied on stereotypical dimensions, such as “persecution, victimisation, visibility, sex and partying, without any physical record of the more domestic and every-day aspects of LGBTQ life”. Oral histories, therefore, provide an invaluable opportunity for museums to capture the hidden elements of everyday life which objects cannot, and can be used to reinterpret objects already in the collection, or to inform future collecting. It is also, he suggests, an opportunity to experiment with presenting these stories in gallery contexts, through art installations, performance, or participatory interaction.
Request that your library buys the book, there’s a huge range of very current essays and case studies.

A bold attack on a deeply flawed system: ‘Eye of a needle’ at Southwark Playhouse

A flurry of recent headlines and media reports about people seeking asylum in the UK based on their sexual orientation or gender identity have inspired the very current, very funny and very moving play at the Southwark Playhouse ‘Eye of a needle’.

The set is a familiar sight of waiting room chairs, ringing phones, and the wall of a men’s urinal, and witty and powerful dialogue is delivered amidst disjointed movement interludes between scenes, conjuring the bustle of administrative headaches, slamming doors and crowded corridors. The play centres around Laurence, a newcomer to the world of UK Immigration Control, whose social life in nightclubs and Monday morning hangovers are interrupted by a new case involving Ugandan gay rights activist Natale Bamadi, which spur him to kick against the bureaucratic conveyor belt of refusal with a bright eyed idealism and a flicker of empathy.

With a cast of just 5, Eye of a needle captures the absurdity and barbarism of a system that demands and expects proof of someone’s sexual orientation, the violent line of questioning that aims to seek such proof, and the futility of a process that relate to life or death matters for our queer sisters and brothers from (in this case) Uganda and Jamaica. The character of Natale, along with the discomfort of the power inherent in the roles of Laurence and case worker Caroline, offer a critique both of the system itself, and of the way the West condemns the ‘savages’ who perpetuate hatred for queer people, even though homophobia and transphobia are Western imports.

The acting is brilliant, and the script dense and meticulously researched, peppered with humour that holds a mirror up to the absurdity of the roles the staff at Immigration Control have in determining, ultimately, whether queer people live or die. Some of the dance interludes are a little heavy handed when the movement becomes more expressive, but it adds to the jarring shifts in tone that ensure the final lines delivered by Caroline hit you like a fist in the gut.

Aside from being a wildly challenging and exciting play, ‘Eye of the needle’ is ultimately an impassioned critique of a system that needs to be completely overhauled, favouring a focus on compassion and humanity, rather than paper work and box-ticking.

The play runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 20th September, for times and tickets go here.

Thanks to Surat from the Rainbow Jews for organising our trip there too, there is still time to donate to the crowd funding project, every penny counts to ensuring their great work continues.