Janet Carter creates a party to celebrate queer culture

A work in development by Perth-based artist Janet Carter, Transmission is a place to explore queer desire and culture, under the banner of a fabulous dance party.

A counter-response to loss and the failure to transmit, with reference to the AIDS epidemic and the generational loss of the ’80s and ’90s, this work recognises the potential of each body to be a transmitter of knowledge and history.

On Saturday afternoon at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) a diverse range of people gathered, sat in a circle and began sharing stories and experiences.

The author Armistead Maupin, who wrote the classic Tales of the City series of books, said queer people have two families, the one we’re born with, and the one we find.

One by one people shared stories of how they discovered the LGBTIQ community, for some it was a via YouTube videos or Tumblr accounts, for others it was heading out to nightclubs, and for some older attendees they shared how they had no connection to other queer people in their youth – in a world prior to the internet, they were alone, until they fled their country towns and moved to the city.

The attendees discuss their experiences of a first kiss, for some it was a magical moment, for others a complete disappointment. The conversation moves on to how family members reacted to the news that they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Stories of shock, despair, comedy and blaise responses – everyone’s family is different.

All of these tales and experiences are the ingredients for artist Janet Carters work, Transmission is a work-in-progress, and it’s next stage happens this weekend on Saturday night.

“This is a a project I’ve been sitting on for a least a year, it came out of a couple of things. I’ve been sitting with this question for a while about queer kisses. Which is, if straight kisses can turned frogs into princes and wake comatose princesses, then what is the radical transformative power of a queer kiss” Carter shared as she outlined her creative project.

“Those of us who are part of the queer community understands the power of a kiss, but to so many others it’s invisible, until that moment when it becomes visible, and then it becomes a moment of violence. Whether is micro aggressions, or actually what we saw last year with the two women on the London bus.

“So I wanted to look at the transformative power of a queer kiss, because it is transformative for us, its when you go from that moment of ‘I think I am, I think I am’ to ‘Yes, I’m sure I am.'” Carter said.

Her exploration has involved lots of conversations, alongside the collaborative meeting that brought a wide range of people to the Saturday afternoon session, Carter has also been having one on one conversations with people invited into her studio space.

“I’ve been having conversations with people about queer kisses. When we make our desires visible we become targeted, when we keep them invisible – we prevent connection, how do we move through that and navigate the world. So we are talking about safety and the importance of safe spaces and connection.

“We don’t grow up with each other, we don’t grow up in our culture, we actually have to go out and find it, and it’s a very lonely pathway.

Carter’s fascination with queer kisses is teamed up with an equal interest in storytelling, history and creating connections within the LGBTIQ+ communities.

“The second part of what I’m looking at comes from an article from the USA that asked where do our queer artists go to be mentored when we lost a generation to HIV? I was reading at that, and although we lost many people, I’m still here, I’m still alive. I mentor young queer artists.

“That made me think about what kind of history are we sharing, what kind of stories are we telling about the epidemic, and people who survived the epidemic. Particularly as I’m getting older I’m interested in how we share stories about people who lose from our community, and the history that we lose with them.” Carter said.

Combining her interest in queer kisses and queer history lead Carter to create a new work that is at its core an intergenerational history project, at its heart if the discussion about kisses.

Queer history can be hard to lock down, while there are lots of archives, many resources disappear and the stories people have about the community disappear.

“Archives are incredible valuable, but as queer people we need to recognise the value of exchange, we need to encourage young people to get together with older people and share stories.” Carter said.

It’s a transaction that works both ways, Carter argues the older members of the community have a lot to learn from the people who have come after them, and maybe some sage advice to offer too.

“In the world of social media we’re becoming less connected and more siloed. this is a work about connecting generations, bringing them together in a space and starting conversations.”

The artist has spent two weeks in residency at PICA. On Saturday night Transmission will be an event to bring the queer community together. It’s styled like a classic 90’s dance party, anchored in Carter’s experience of working at Mardi Gras parties and Pride celebrations.

“It’s a two-hour queer dance party, all hinged around getting different generations to come together in the same space.”

Head along to Transmission at PICA on Saturday. Tickets on sale now.

Graeme Watson, image: Nicolee Fox