By EO Gill
As COVID-19 corrodes our creative industries, I find myself scrambling to identify anything that might signal a brighter future. At the same time, I am wary of pandemic-born states of panic, since rapid-response initiatives often work to further disenfranchise already vulnerable members of the arts community. The queer community has faced down a pandemic before. Forty years after AIDS disseminated the international art scene, the queer art and art-activism of that era stands as testimony to the power of creativity in adversity. Contemporary queer artists are also trained in the arts of survival.
Following queer practitioners that have come before me, this text advocates for TransAuto practices which are not about planning ahead, they calibrate nothing about how to embrace the future. They are about the action of living, a way of passing time and engaging non-normative forms of sensuality, pleasure and connection.
I was born and grew up on the unceded territories of the Ngunnawal country, in a working-class suburb. I now live and work as a video artist and researcher on Gadigal land. I come from a line of convicts and settlers of predominately English and Scottish heritage, and I speak from the position of a 34-year-old transgender, non-binary person. Though I have been through name and pronoun changes, top surgery and hormone replacement therapy, I consider my history of femaleness, lesbianism and ongoing femininity important aspects of my identity. In my video and research practice, I am trying to find a visual and performative grammar that conveys all the complexity that this body harbours and all the relationships that constitute my sense of self.
In Ecstatic Resistance, Every Ocean Hughes writes that to be trans is “to believe in a body outside the limits of the intelligible” (14-25). Trans bodies are a set of practices and processes without set destination. They exist beyond our grasp and realisation. Trans embodiment involves the affective, performative, and relational dynamics of a body that cannot be known.
Video artist and scholar Paul B. Preciado theorises the transgender figure through his own embodied experience of self-administering testosterone. Specifically, Preciado understands the media, pornography and pharmaceutical industries as exemplary in the way they produce and govern biopolitical subjectivity. Gender, Preciado writes, “is reproduced and reinforced socially by its transformation into entertainment, moving images, digital data, pharmacological molecules, [and] cybercodes” (2008: 118). Like Preciado, my take-up of “trans” as a video artist relates to a performative and agential kind of “doing” or “acting” that foregrounds the continuous reassembly of the politicised body.
Importantly, Preciado frames his mode of writing as autotheoretical and a literal engagement of the biological self. Recently, “autotheory” has emerged as a term to describe broadly experimental works of literature and art that integrate autobiography with modes of philosophy and theory. This autotheoretical corpus has emerged largely in association with the identity-focused work undertaken by minority and subculture groups, including women, queers, trans, Indigenous and people of colour.
Autotheoretical modes that combine the personal and the impersonal are imperative in understanding queer and specifically trans identity. In Autotheory As Feminist Practice in Art, Writing and Criticism (2021), Lauren Fournier extends the term beyond its literary origins to include other kinds of creative practices, including video art and filmmaking, that are concerned with “the integration of the auto or ‘self’ with philosophy or theory, often in ways that are direct, performative or self-aware” (2021: 8).
The practice of video artist and filmmaker Harry Dodge is one example of an autotheoretical style, which explores transgender embodiment and experience. In the context of TransAuto Dodge and others use their practices to prevent the possibility of coherent identities by collapsing perspective and challenging what is considered intact and valuable. The camera often becomes an explicit element of the plot. Dodge refers to his mode of camera operation as the voyeur-cum-documentarian, drawing attention to formal mechanics while paradoxically immersing the viewer in the “authenticity” of the work. My works similarly play with aesthetic realisations of reality, like documentary style, handheld camera, “real life” scenarios, improvisation and unscripted scenes, and preference for “real life” personas over fictional characters. They prioritise process and relation over constructed, polished images.
The lesson of TransAuto is not exclusively about gender, sexuality or physicality but, rather, about a potentially reparative, collective experience of making and theorising that complicates normative notions of authenticity and representation, collaboration and authorship. It takes the viral qualities of contemporary moving-image – its ability to spread, tether and fracture temporalities – and creates an alternative economy of images. In the face of a pandemic, perhaps what we all need is an imperfect cinema to keep us real and connected.
Dodge, Harry – www.harrydodge.com
Fournier, Lauren. Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2021.
Hughes, Every Ocean “Ecstatic Resistance.” C Mag 104, 2009, 14 – 25.
Preciado, Paul B. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Parmacopornographic Era. Translated by Bruce Benderson. New York: The Feminist Press, 2013.
EO Gill is a video artist whose work interrogates gender, class and intimacy using self-reflexive documentary style. They were the 2018 recipient of the Create NSW Visual Arts (Emerging) Fellowship and have recently exhibited at Bundoora Homestead (VIC), Alaska Projects and Artspace (NSW). Gill has completed residencies with BaiR Emerging, Banff Centre (CA), National Film & Sound Archive (AU) NES (IS) and Bundanon Trust (AU). They are currently undergoing a practice-led PhD at the University of Sydney in the Gender and Cultural Studies Department. Gill graduated with a BA (Hons Class 1) from UNSW and an MFA at UNSW Art & Design. They work at the Australian, Film, Television and Radio School in the First Nations and Outreach Department.