McDermott and McGough, God Answers Your Prayers, 1984, 2016, oil on canvas and artist’s wooden frame, 18 x 18”.

“I’ve seen the future, and I’m not going,” says David McDermott, Peter McGough’s creative partner and fellow time-traveler for over thirty years. McDermott and McGough’s queer reimaginings of the past—from eighteenth-century America to the roaring twenties, all the way up to 1984, via painting, photography, film, and sculpture—reinvigorate one’s hopes, to paraphrase E. M. Forster, for better days ahead. Here, McGough discusses their first exhibition with James Fuentes Gallery in New York, “Velvet Rage, Flaming Youth, and the Gift of Desperation,” which opens on September 16 and runs through October 23, 2016, as well as their work in progress The Oscar Wilde Temple, which will make its debut during Frieze New York in 2017. In 2018, it will travel to the Dallas Contemporary for the pair’s retrospective, curated by Alison Gingeras, and then go to Studio Voltaire for Frieze London.

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, David and I had an idea to make a work about Oscar Wilde via the stations of the cross, based around his epic poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which he wrote about his time at the Reading Gaol prison in Berkshire county, England. Wilde, as we all know, was jailed for sodomy. Anyway, sometime during the summer of 2015, I was in my apartment, looking down at Christopher Street in the West Village and thinking about the state of the world around the time same-sex marriage was legalized in Ireland. Not too much later, marriage equality becomes the law in the United States, then the Stonewall Inn gets landmarked, and suddenly I’m witnessing Mario Cuomo marrying a same-sex couple in front of it—I mean, it’s unbelievable! The Wilde project came racing back to the forefront of my mind, and I thought, we have to make this happen, now.

Excerpt from Peter McGough’s interview for 500 Words

What I love about the Wilde project, which will be a transportable temple that same-sex couples can get married in, is that it’s so much bigger than “McDermott and McGough.” It is a temple to our god and martyr, Oscar Wilde, a place where unions of love can be celebrated without Christianity—or really, any fucking religion—frowning down upon anyone. Within the temple will be images of queer martyrs: Marsha P. Johnson, the black trans activist who participated in the Stonewall riots and was murdered in 1992; Harvey Milk; Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old lesbian who, in 2003, was stabbed in the chest and killed for being gay; Matthew Shepherd; Xulhaz Mannan, the founder of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, who was hacked to death in his own apartment; and others. Then we will make a side altar for people who died of AIDS. Anytime I talk about this, I start to weep. It really makes me think of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and ’70s as a gay kid. I have so much anger—I was always made to feel that I was “wrong.” My parents were very liberal Christians, and they thought, “Everyone’s God’s children: Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims…everyone’s equal in God’s eyes…except homosexuals.” Christ only preached love, forgiveness, and understanding: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow me.” That’s what Jesus said, that’s what he preached, not “hate faggots!”

I was such an obvious homosexual as a child. I liked to watch movies with Lana Turner or Marilyn Monroe; I looked at my sisters’ Vogue magazines; I didn’t play sports. I just wanted long, blonde, Prell-shampooed hair; Breck Girl hair. But I was mocked and beaten for who I was and who I wanted to be—tripped, spit on, called a faggot—since I was seven years old. So fuck everyone—if fucking Scientologists can have their tax-exempt religion, I can certainly have Oscar Wilde be the savior for all queers. I asked curator Alison Gingeras to help with an exhibition for the Wilde shrine in a castle’s chapel in Ireland; however, the people at this art institution got cold feet. It got canceled because the locals were upset about our work making this play on the Catholic Church.

For the James Fuentes show, there’s going to be a number of paintings and other kinds of objects based on a black-and-white cartoon from the 1930s with a “fairy” character in it. So it goes like this: A fairy, all rouged up, comes into a café that Betty Boop’s dog friend is running to order a chocolate soda. He’s trying to get the little dog’s attention by saying, “I want a chocolate soda, please” in this really soft fairy voice. The dog’s ignoring the fairy to flirt with a Mae West character. Eventually, he makes the fairy’s soda, but he puts in tacks, bug spray, and shoe polish. The fairy drinks it, gets sick, and starts pulling at his clothes—he starts destroying the diner because he’s turned into a monster. And God, I’m watching this, thinking, This is just like AIDS in the 1980s. So many gays murdered, so much horror and rage, and nobody’s doing anything about it because everyone’s terrified.

The show’s also going to have a shrine to Onan the Masturbator, the biblical seed spiller. There’s going to be this amazing table, the shrine’s centerpiece, based on one Catherine the Great had made, where the top is held aloft by a bunch of large carved cocks. The cocks will be of different races—Black, Latino, white—and the balls will be tits. The cocks will be shooting billows of sperm—they’ll be supporting the tabletop. There’ll be a painting called The Circle Hermaphroditus, 1984, 2016, where a pair of women will be depicted turning into McDermott and myself. There will be Greek-style urns, painted with sex scenes and satyrs, filled with burning incense. And, oh my God, there’s going to be this great painting titled Hic Habitat Felicitas (Here Lives Happiness), 1984, 2016, done in the style of Seurat, with a masturbator on a rock and a pussy, an ass, and two cocks flying out of a cloud. It’ll be flanked by paintings of a white hand holding a black cock, and a black hand holding a white cock. Each painting will be set into an enormous gold frame. So tacky! It’s a paean to desire, sex, lust, joy, eroticism. No shame. Fuck Mike Pence and Trump and all those idiot asshole Christian bigots and perverts destroying children’s lives with conversion therapy. If the works aren’t sold, I’ll organize a huge orgy around them at home, with beautiful ephebes playing lyres and pan flutes. It’ll be exquisite, and so grand. Fuck everyone!

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Left: Cover of Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016). Right: A design by Elaine Gan for the exhibit “DUMP!” at Kunsthal Aarhus, 2015.

From her classic Cyborg Manifesto, first published three decades ago, to her latest arguments about the “Chthulucene,” multispecies feminist theorist Donna J. Haraway is one of our most daring thinkers. A distinguished professor emerita in the history of consciousness department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Haraway has recently published her latest book, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016), which urgently argues for a nonanthropocentric view of climate change and is driven metaphorically and theoretically by the signifier SF—for string figures, science fact, science fiction, speculative feminism, and speculative fabulation—as she discusses here.

IT’S NOT LIKE I have a vendetta against the word anthropocene—I understand the intentions of the scientists who initially proposed it in 2000 and the important work it does. But as with other big terms, it’s both too big and too small, and it proposes itself as a kind of universal in several senses, as if it’s humanity or man that did this thing, as opposed to situated human beings in complicated histories. Many people now—for example the Inuit of the circumpolar north—are acutely aware of deep and troubling changes in the world they live in. But calling it anthropocene does not gather them together, nor does it set up alliances that might be necessary. I have an allergy to the particular etymology of the anthropic: the one who looks up, the one who is not of the earth, the one whose feet are in the mud but his eyes are in the sky; the retelling, once again, of the stories that I think have done us dirt in Western cultures.

That all made me think: If we can only have one word, let’s use capitalocene. But of course the fact is that we need more than one word. Capitalocene is a term I thought I had invented, but it turns out I most certainly did not. (Andreas Malm first used it in 2009 and then Jason Moore picked it up.) Capitalocene refers to the complex networks that have transformed lives for everybody on this planet. Not in the same ways, but deeply still. Capitalism is obviously based on growth—but not just any kind of growth: the growth that depends on resourcing the earth for the kind of expansion and extraction that result in profit, which is, in turn, distributed unequally. This unleashing of the motors of endless growth, extraction, and the production of ever-new forms of inequality is intrinsic to capitalism. It’s a vastly destructive process, whether you’re talking about social systems or natural systems. Capitalocene at least captures that this is a few-hundred-year-old process of building wealth through exterminationist extraction. In comparison, anthropocene implies that this is somehow a species act; that it’s the separation of whatever it is that makes us human from all else, and that it’s another human exceptionalist move. But that’s just wrong. It’s empirically, morally, ethically, and emotionally wrong.

This book is about staying with all this trouble. It is about a becoming-with-each-other in another new term: what I’m calling the chthulucene. This can’t be done in the mode of critique, which is never enough. In the chthulucene, critique is one of many practices tempered by others that lead to an opening of what is still possible. Chthulu comes from chthonic—the earthly powers and processes—human too, but much more than human. But this isn’t some sort of ancient, destroyed-by-modernity story. It’s an ongoing and present story. These chthonic powers, forces, and entities are coupled with the suffix –cene, drawn from kainos, or the thick now, the present, which is not instantaneous but extends into many kinds of time, into presence. Into cultivating response-ability.

Nearly every page of the book grows out of connections among art, science, and activism. Artists who are engaging in this overlap especially drew me. For example, the cover is an untitled print by Geraldine Javier. Rooted in a bony pelvis that mimes the shape of a butterfly, the image rises through a skeletal vertebral column made with vibrant filaments that ends in a butterfly with delicate coloration, constructed from dry leaves. The image has human feet—sort of—and a human pelvis—sort of. The whole thing is living and dying, insectoid and humanoid, fibrous and bony, plant and animal. It is a transformationally metamorphic piece, both disturbing and reassuring. It is also an invitation to stay with the trouble. Fiber arts recur in the book repeatedly—from the crochet coral reef project of Margaret and Christine Wertheim to old and contemporary Navajo weaving, and from cat’s cradling to string figuring. The latter is a theoretical apparatus for visual, verbal, and theoretical metaphors I use throughout the book. String figuring, one of the many “SF”s in the book, involves making patterns with others. The various partners engaging in string figuring are active and passive; in their relaying patterns to each other, threads get dropped and things become unraveled or a new pattern emerges that is a source of possibility and joy. String figuring is also akin to the way I write. Perhaps the first things that folks like me think of when they see the signifier SF are science fiction and science fantasy. But quickly come more terms: science fact, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, so far… SF keeps ramifying into many terms that are pulled together in this signifier.

One of the most urgent tasks that we mortal critters have is making kin, not babies. This making kin, both with and among other humans and not humans, should happen in an enduring fashion that can sustain through generations. I propose making kin nongenealogically, which will be an absolute need for the eleven-plus billion humans by the end of this century—and is already terribly important. I’m interested in taking care of the earth in a way that makes multispecies environmental justice the means and not just the goal. So I think of making kin as a way of being really, truly prochild—making babies rare and precious—as opposed to the crazy pronatalist but actually antichild world in which we live. It’s making present the powers of mortal critters on earth in resistance to the anthropocene and capitalocene. That’s really what the book is about.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Andrew Norman Wilson, Ode to Seekers 2012, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 30 seconds.

Andrew Norman Wilson is an artist and curator based in Los Angeles whose videos and installations address a heady rush of images, technology, and bodies caught in the streams of circulation and representation that our era demands. He has recently had work featured in the seventh Bucharest Biennale, the ninth Berlin Biennale, and will have a new video installation as part of the eleventh edition of the Gwangju Biennale, curated by Maria Lind, which opens on September 2, 2016.

ODE TO SEEKERS 2012 is a looped video that celebrates mosquitoes, syringes, and oil derricks. Not only are they symbols of some of the most significant threats to human life—mosquito borne illnesses, drug addiction, and the petroleum industry—but they are also the causes of three of my most significant personal traumas.

In 2012 I received psychological testing at Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, New York, which had been a pioneer of the “therapeutic suburb” model for mental institutions when it was built in 1927. I realized that a large portion of the campus had become abandoned, and not only hadn’t been cleaned out, but carried a history of sporadic reactivation by junkies, homeless people, teens, and artists. I began bringing friends there to explore and shoot video, and on my last trip I shot footage in which I misused a Steadicam to create what seems to me like a mosquito’s point of view.

Like Steadicam footage, which is meant to transport the viewer to the perspective of someone—or something—else, CGI is a technique based in seeking. It illustrates objects hidden from view or movements too small for the naked eye, with the potential for a cartoon physics beyond the laws of our physical universe. I worked with the Romanian animator Vlad Maftei on this video because of his range of experience—from hyperreal renderings of vital organs for the health care industry and architectural renderings of buildings-to-be to Spongebob Squarepants advertisements. Much of my thinking about the composition of Ode to Seekers 2012 is based on John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” wherein the titular art object is treated as eternal, intensifying the speaker’s sense of mortality. In keeping with the structure of an ode, my work consists of three movements. In the first—to the sound of an exploratory house track by Marcellis—the broken camera roves through the abandoned children’s ward corridors of Rockland. Second, highly saturated computer-generated 3-D models of the mosquito, syringe, and oil derrick appear under magic-hour lighting, slipping in and out of an ecstatic trance of liquid extraction—or injection—from a surface that looks at once like desert salt flats, skin under a microscope, and potato casserole. In sequences that are edited like a music video, these objects joyously thrust, pierce, and pump to my remix of Icona Pop’s 2012 banger “I Love It.” Third, each model and its pumping functions are co-opted by an assembly line apparatus, at once medical and industrial, that sucks the color out of everything that comes down a pipe.

Making this piece has been a process of grasping for a fantasy that I see when I’m jogging in a new city or under some kinds of influences. I can’t describe what the fantasy is, and I will probably never reach it. The similarities between my behavior and that of these three forces suggest a sense of camaraderie, but they also provoke a fear that, like those objects, I may just be a puppet of algorithms or economic networks or genetic coding. Still, I work my way through a neural reward system in pursuit of something fleeting, or perhaps even unattainable.

— As told to Paige K. Bradley

Steve Bishop, Deliquescing, 2015, Lion's Mane mushroom grow block on stainless-steel trolley, Polaroid on aluminium shelf. Installation view, Lock Up International, London, 2015.

Since 2015, Lewis Teague Wright has been running Lock Up International, a transient project space that houses itself in storage units worldwide. The project typically mounts a series of three weeklong solo shows in each location it chooses. Visitors must make an appointment to be personally guided to a show. This fall, two nearly simultaneous series of exhibitions will open in Istanbul and Tokyo, with the Istanbul series featuring Isabel Yellin (September 19–25), Sarah McMenimen (September 26–October 2), and Bahar Yürükoğlu (October 3–9), while the Tokyo series will comprise shows by Yuri Pattison (September 26–October 2), Martin Kohout (October 3–9), and Russell Maurice (October 10–16).

I LIKE THE IDEA OF GOING BEYOND what is normal for an art viewer. It’s a commitment to come and experience a Lock Up International show. The fact that these storage facilities we use are such large complexes means that they are often located on the periphery of cities—in London, for example, you had to take a train and a bus to get to the exhibition. It was quite inconvenient, but I’m very interested in the idea of access and thinking about the mechanics surrounding art viewing.

In a way, this project’s setup is exclusive, but many of the works I show represent the beginning of an artist’s journey, with a specific body of work that’s still in an experimental state, and so with that exclusivity it’s possible to have this very intimate interaction with art in a germinal form—almost like a crit, but with an asynchronous group of anonymous people. At most galleries you can go in and out without talking to anyone, but since I walk visitors in and guide them to see the work, I end up meeting everyone who sees the shows. I’ve had to let people in as early as 6 AM—and it was fantastic, we talked about the work for an hour, went for a walk afterward. I am aware, though, that some people don’t like having that kind of intense interaction, but on the other hand, every visitor to Lock Up International gets personal treatment. I’m there with you to talk about the work directly. By being based in storage spaces, we’ve bypassed the art dealer, the gallery, the collector’s house, and gone straight to the end point where so many pieces of work are immediately stored. The project enables a way of talking about that barrier between audiences and this destiny for most artworks.

What’s fascinating about storage units is that they are almost exactly the same everywhere you go. Through conversations with the artists I can also tailor the size of the space to their work. Artists drive the choice of locations as well—we’re doing shows in Istanbul because Bahar Yurukoglu lives and works there and we’d been discussing doing a project together for a year or so. Yuri Pattison initiated the Tokyo show based on his fascination with the collector marts in Akihabara and Nakano Broadway. These are little stores in malls that provide rentable glass lockers where people can sell their collections of items range from die-cast figurines to more vintage items. Then my challenge became choosing artists that could work within the dimensions of that small space, but also would have some sort of connection to the niche society of Japanese collectors.

The beauty of Lock Up International is that there’s such low overhead for me that I can open shows for as little as a dollar, since the initiatives these facilities offer to get people into the units give heavy discounts for the first month. It’s about finding the loopholes in the world as it is. We don’t need to have perfect white walls; we don’t need to have the perfect lighting; sculpture doesn’t need to be presented in such sterile environments. We can show work in spaces that inform and create conversation instead.

— As told to Steve Kado

Caption: Ate9, EXHIBIT b, 2015. Performance view, April 2015, Los Angeles Dance Festival. Photo: Denise Leitner.

In 2010, after five years of performing with the Batsheva Dance Company, Danielle Agami left her native Israel and made her way to New York, where she introduced American students to “Gaga,” an improvised form of dance created by Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin. Two years later, she changed gears once again, this time making her way west, where she formed the Los Angeles–based dance company Ate9. Below, Agami discusses her choreographic process and ethos, including an embrace of both struggle and awkwardness, all of which may find its way into Ate9’s collaboration with the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 2016.

I LIKE TO MAKE DECISIONS QUICKLY. I’ll start a story and then drop it, then start one again. This gives a boost of energy to my brain, and it creates dynamism in the work that keeps both my dancers and my audience engaged. You can have all the good ideas but it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually do something.

We need to gamble way more than we do—in dance and in life. With time and age we gamble less and less—less with our money, less with our hearts, because we’ve known pain. With improvisation you seek out pleasure, and with that comes discovery. And often what you discover is what you don’t know. There is a great freedom in feeling that you don’t know everything. I keep a very nice percentage of not knowing in my life.

With my students and my dancers, I try to keep the body and mind fresh so we have the ability to look at ourselves from outside. We train ourselves to know our habits—to recognize them and say: I don’t have to be subject to these. We learn to break our habits.

You can try to change. Even that trying is a workout for your brain, for your heart. Often our habits change us. They sit on us. But what if we changed our habits? It’s part of my motto to push ourselves, and to keep pushing and pushing. We don’t want to feel stagnant. You do an experiment and maybe that experiment fails. But you get more information from it.

If you look at our projects—where we perform and how often we perform—every month there is a new production, every month there’s something different that is happening, in different spaces and in different ways. That’s the rhythm that I wish for my dancers. That’s how fresh I want it to be. You get bored from anything that you do a lot, you know?

Ate9 Dance Company, 2016.

A lot of my work features struggle. Struggle is constant and everywhere—we will always need to deal with something. But if we aim to have 50 percent struggle and 50 percent pleasure, then we can handle the struggle better. So I use struggle as a theme—struggle as a goal, struggle as comfort, struggle with humor—to just have it. Own your struggle, don’t push it away and be afraid of it. I think struggle creates beauty and that nothing is created without a struggle.

I also like to work with awkwardness, embarrassment, and weakness. These are things we must visit, ideally on a daily basis. We all go through times of awkwardness, and I am not afraid of that—not in movement, not in relationship with my dancers, and not in relationship with my audience. It’s OK to have an awkward moment.

We’re working on many new projects in the coming months—with the furniture company HD Buttercup at their new store in downtown Los Angeles, with the Chicago-based drummer Glenn Kotche, and with the LA Philharmonic, which is an exciting commission—it’s a very different stage and a very different setup than we’re used to.

And I feel hungry to do more. My brain is producing a new idea every week. It doesn’t feel like ambition, I’m just very fertile. I feel pregnant all the time. And it gives me something to protect. It makes me care. Ate9 feels like an ongoing pregnancy. I never said that before! Maybe that’s why I don’t have children.

— As told to Miriam Katz

Lee Kit


View of “Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly,” 2016.

Lee Kit is a Hong Kong–born, Taipei-based multimedia artist who represented Hong Kong at the 2013 Venice Biennale. His first solo museum exhibition in the US, “Hold your breath, dance slowly,” is currently showing at the Walker Art Center and features a selection of recent works. Here, Lee discusses his three-week residency in Minneapolis, the politics of his practice, and Every Colour You Are, 2016, the site-specific video and painting installation that he produced for the exhibition, which is on view through October 9, 2016.

HONESTLY, I COULDN’T FEEL AMERICA. Of course I’ve read the news. I know a lot of things about America. I know they are very racist. For example, in Minneapolis, I was only walking on the street and people called me a Chinese pig. But I knew about their racism already so I wasn’t surprised. Apart from that, I liked Minneapolis. It was quiet and I lived by the river.

When I created the show at the Walker, I was thinking about something called impersonal love. I am much more interested in politics than in art, but I usually don’t show my political stance in my artworks. I try not to. I don’t believe in political art, but I believe the practice of art can be political. Art cannot change everything. It’s very simple.

Why is it that nobody talks about love, but they usually talk about hate? Politics is a constellation of feelings for me. For example, I hate CY Leung. I want to kill him. He betrayed Hong Kong. He’s selling out. If we remain under the rule of this current government, there can be no better future for Hong Kong. I tend to be very pessimistic. Some people get me really angry, but I can still talk about it so causally. I want to grab that distance, to understand what I’m feeling. That’s why I make art.

Taipei is like a cocoon from which I can see Hong Kong more clearly. So I can see what I should contribute as a citizen and as an artist.

The first thing I did was design a space for the Walker. It’s a white cube, no walls. All the entrances are exactly the same size and same height—thirty-five inches wide—like an entrance to a small apartment. It can be quite dark, because I didn’t use any spotlights. I hate spotlights.

The rhythm of the exhibition is mellow, brainwashing. With all the projectors, people can’t escape their shadows. When they try to escape, it looks like they’re dancing slowly. This is love. I think about my first love in this way, so the mood of the show is nostalgic.

A new work, Every Colour You Are, presents two videos projections that overlap, along with four so-called paintings that spell out the title of the work, which is also a song by David Sylvian. I replaced the “You” with a black piece of paper I picked up on the street in Minneapolis, so now the canvases read “Every Colour [blank] Are.” The video projections are constantly changing because the films are not synchronized, so every day will be different and random. I shot the footage in New York years ago. The museum said they could synchronize the videos, but I said no. Coincidences are important to me.

I’m a painter and I’m not a painter. I’m always something in between. I’m a painter because I care about color, I care about texture and composition. If I use video projection, I need to finish the installation in the exhibition space, because the whole space is a canvas for me. I’m not calculated, but I’m always calculating. I’m a control freak, but the best way to control is not to control.

Don’t be a star. No spotlight. No hero. That’s my philosophy.

— As told to Samantha Kuok Leese