Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flagging, Quilting, Coding, Fun!

In the grand fashion of my habitual procrastination, I have been letting a project simmer in the nether regions of my brain for the past couple of months.  Ok, that might not be a completely accurate description of this project: having successfully roped Nellie into collaborating on it, we've been sort of working on it to varying degrees since about september of last year with the intentions of submitting it for Rachel Faller's Blanket Statements show this spring.  I was supposed to submit a description of the piece along with hanging instructions, etc., on the 10th of March... which should have been totally easy since we had been working on it for so long, right??!?  Apparently wrong.  I still haven't sent anything to Rachel.  (But hopefully, since she's a friend and has been listening to Nell and I ramble about it intermittently for months, she'll let us in the show anyway.  Eh, Rachel?  Please??)  Anyway... seeing the date, I started trying to fumble out a short description of the piece and again, quite characteristically, found myself completely incapable of writing less than 3 pages.    So instead of starting with a blurb... here's the whole low-down... and hopefully I'll be able to pull something out of this for the show.

Over the past few months I have been reading a book called "Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad."   The book unveils intricate codes that were sewn into quilts by slaves.  Different patterns would communicate a different message such as what to bring, when to leave, even specific directions in which to travel and the locations of safe-houses. 
(This is a sample quilt that shows a number of the patterns used in the quilts.)

The story is fascinating and as I was reading an undeniable comparison between the codes used by the Underground Railroad and those used by historically closeted Gays and Lesbians began to cement itself in my mind.  Although the experiences of the slaves are by no means the same as those of a hidden queer community, the similarities are startling.  For example, fabric based codes were used for silent communication in both cultures.  Slaves used recycled fabric, often their discarded clothing, to create the quilts mentioned above.  When the appropriate time came, these quilts would be hung on a fence, window sill or clothes line to "air out" signaling to knowing eyes an intentional message.  Similarly, gay men historically (and more recently gay women and gender queer individuals) utilized a nuanced "hanky code" to indicate both sexual preference and intimate details of sexual taste.  

(Literally the only decent photo I could find for flagging.  Apparently this guy wants it all but doesn't know that there's actually a single hanky for wanting it all.  Orange, duh.) 

We propose to make a quilt that combines the quilt code used by the Underground Railroad and the Hanky Code used by the queer community in an attempt to jumpstart a conversation between two minorities that have both endured oppression and been forced to use alternative methods of communication.  By combining the information contained in the colors of the hankies and the structural patterns of the quilt blocks We propose to build a sort of personal ad- sampler for hypothetical queer individuals.

(Maybe this is where the rainbow stereotype comes from?  And each color represents a different sexual taste!  The rainbow has never been sexier.)

Ok, I would be lying if I didn't say that some of the impetus for this piece stems from an experience I had last summer while assisting an anti-racism training session at a quaker summer camp.  During the session I was frustrated by the amount of comparison and judgement that was present between minorities.  The people who identified themselves as a racial minority and therefore identified with a history of American racial oppression were startlingly hesitant to discuss instances of queer oppression.  Throughout the exercises and conversations I consistently used my own experiences as a queer woman (and the knowledge I have of the queer historical struggle) as a tool for understanding the racial issues at hand.  As the session in question was designed specifically to battle racism however, voicing this comparison was met with a certain amount of contempt.  This impass is apparently not unusual and on many levels understandable, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating and it's commonness didn't leave me feeling any less marginalized.  I am not attempting any sort of grand reconciliation with this quilt; it is only a small gesture of recontextualization that expresses my own reactions to learning about the history of the Underground Railroad quilts.  Hopefully, when finished, the piece will contain as much humor and fun as I've had while working on it.

Whew!  Ok, so that was really long.  Now all I have to do is make it!  Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Homocore: A History

I've recently started reading a book called "Homocore: The Loud and Raucous Rise of Queer Rock."  It's mostly the history of specific bands, fronted by or made up entirely of queer members singing queer lyrics, that were popular within this subcultural movement during the 80's, 90's and the early 2000's.  It's kind of gotten me thinking about a bunch of stuff.  (All right, I know it's not fibers... but thinking is good, right?  And I'll throw in some pictures along the way to break up my mental meandering.  )

(Team Dresch, the awesome dyke band.  This album title is based on a 80's lesbian movie about two lady runners who fall in love.  Also Kaia Wilson is hot.)

I think the first thing that really hit me is the seemingly impossible contradiction of how much happens in the world and how ridiculously little "History" there is.  I find this more as a read non-fiction.  I mean, I know we can't learn or know about everything that has ever happened but the more reading and researching I do on my own, the more suspicious I am about how History gets chosen; and also that there is an utter truth to the existence of multiple Histories, some of which are contradictory.  Specifically in the case of the Homocore movement, I'm incredibly surprised that I don't know more of this... especially because I was alive for most of it.  I mean, I was (fairly) punk in high school... and yet I had still only ever heard of the bands that Homocore bands were opening for: Green Day, No Doubt and others.  I guess the movement didn't really hit the East Coast in the way it did on the West, but... still. 
(These guys are Extra Fancy.  In more ways than the one.)

I was also thinking about why Gay (male) lyrics are so much more... in your face than straight and even lesbian lyrics.  Singing about women in a sexually explicit way is NOT  a new phenomenon.  Straight men have been doing it for years in what is apparently a totally socially acceptable way.  (Eh?)  So, hearing the words coming from the mouths of women might have been jarring at first, but essentially recognizable.  But watching a dude, like Brian Grillo (the lead singer from the band Extra Fancy) get up onstage and talk about balls and dicks and fucking other guys is, like.... kind of a cultural mind fuck.  The band Pansy Division (similar themes with a nice sense of humor) went on tour with Green Day and got harrassed a fuck-load.   This is one of the VERY FEW situations that i can think of where it might actually be worse to be a gay dude than a lez.  (Y'know what?  After thinking that one through I still might not agree with myself, but I'll let it fly 'cause it's late and I'm practically incoherent already.)

(Brian Grillo is in your face.  Also, his balls must be very cold.)

The other thing that startled me (actually, it more like made me chuckle.  Out loud.  On the trolley.) is how many of the people and groups (bands?) who are lauded as being the front-runners  and faces of Homocore... don't actually identify with the movement.  In fact, a lot of them are pretty outspoken (pun totally intended) about disliking the term because they feel it is too limiting.  Most people interviewed for the book claim that their primary goal had nothing to do with the movement but everything to do with punk rock:  yes, they wanted to make the music that nobody else was making but because it was what they wanted to do, not because it didn't already exist.  They wanted to do it their way and they wanted to have fun with it.  And if it helped some people along the way, great.  And if it got a laugh, even better.   I like this about punk rock.  They're so worried about exclusivity and about not "being a movement"... but movements (and their labels) grow up around them like weeds in a healthy garden.  You can spend all your time weeding, or you can shrug and say "it's the meadow look."

("Against all odds, we appear./ Grew up brainwashed, / but we turned out queer." -Smells Like Queer Spirit.)

The other great thing, which I might have already mentioned:  Kaia Wilson.  And her being hot.

(The Butchies are so hot they get two photos.  Clearly.)

Anyway, seeing as my music collection actually contains NONE of the afore mentioned bands, anyone who would be able to hook me up with any of their cds would get not only my gratitude, love and affection, but possibly also baked goods.

Just saying.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Weekend Fun Pages

I swear that at some point in the near future I'll actually write intelligent and intellectual blog entries about art and knitting and whatnot... but in the meantime:

My parents came to visit last weekend!

My mother sorted fabric and

My dad did my taxes!  Yay!

And I reconnected with my history:

my love of sheep started young and burned strong.