Pina Vienna - Große Neugasse 40, 1040 Vienna
"Alfred Schmeller. The Museum as a Flashpoint" at mumok from Sept 27 to Feb 16
"Immer Morgen nach der Dämmerung", November 16 - December 9 at Fonda, Leipzig
Work Together Stay Alive @ EXILE, Vienna
Pina Vienna - Große Neugasse 40, 1040 Vienna
"Alfred Schmeller. The Museum as a Flashpoint" at mumok from Sept 27 to Feb 16
"Immer Morgen nach der Dämmerung", November 16 - December 9 at Fonda, Leipzig
Work Together Stay Alive @ EXILE, Vienna
Ryszard Kisiel, 1985-1986, photo from the QAI collection

Ryszard Kisiel, 1985-1986, photo from the QAI collection

Friedl Auer on Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute

Queerness is in demand. Since the dawn of the millennium, popular media and narrative agree on the value of a program of a queer aesthetic. Take the immensely successful „Queer Eye for the Straight Guy“, a reality show, that first ran from 2003-2007. It recently got picked up by Netflix and just now completed its fourth season, with more to come next year. Queerness on demand: please, Fab Five, brighten up my lowly existence and fix masculinity while you’re at it. Opinions on the show differ greatly and while some1 see in it a glimpse of how to successfully brand a politics of genuine socialism, others2 point out the very confused and confusing relationship to heterosexuality (being both the problem and the addressed viewing audience...) the show entertains.

But what about the Queer Archives? More queerness on demand? Karol Radziszewski curated the exhibition within HAU’s festival of performing arts „The Present is Not Enough“3. The Warsaw-based artist works across several media and disciplinary restrictions. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of DIK Fagazine, as well as founder of the Queer Archives Institute. This latter project describes itself as a “long term project”, “dedicated to research, collection, digitalisation, presentation, exhibition, analysis and artistic interpretation of queer archives”4. But what exactly are those? Radziszewski prides himself in having an almost complete collection of “all the queer zines, that were once produced”. The archive’s main focus lies within Eastern Europe’s queer culture and besides zines lists “photographs, slides, negatives, books, brochures, writings, tapes, handmade clothes, as well as artefacts such as drawings.”5 From this list, the displays at Schwules Museum Berlin assembled a bit of everything.

DIK Fagazine, No. 11, 2017

DIK Fagazine, No. 11, 2017

Thematically, the QAI has this interesting standing, working from within Eastern Europe on a topic usually connected with the Western World, especially the USA. The aim is to counter a narrative of queerness as yet another progress of western civilizations with evidence of various queer movements within the restrictions of real existing socialism. The whole project stems from Radziszewski’s long engagement with homosexuality and masculinity in Poland, which he eventually broadened into an exploration of other sorts of archives. At Schwules Museum Berlin, a few different topics are touched upon: gay and lesbian culture in the late 60s and early 70s are traced within pictures, clothing exhibits and loads of zines. The question of finding a community within restrictive structures, travelling to the right places abroad with the help of Polish Gay-Guide Ryszard Kisiel, getting hold of explicit material that fulfils your desire. One of the most intimate and in a comical way almost moving pieces are caricatures of gay graphic designers, who depict their desire for each other in crude little sketches, which in their simplicity honestly depict the banality of wanting one another. There is an undeniable bias for gay culture, which makes sense, given Radziszewski’s own history of engagement, but which nonetheless leaves one wondering about the working definition of Queerness, the QAI applies.

Fioletowy Puls, Polish lesbian magazine, issue No 2, 1995, from the QAI collection

Fioletowy Puls, Polish lesbian magazine, issue No 2, 1995, from the QAI collection

There is also a lack of text, accompanying the exhibit. Besides a short bio of Radziszewski and his project, not much else is given to the visitor, to guide the interest and the eye. Upon entering the room, one is greeted with the sort of display-boxes, we have now grown to expect from archive-exhibitions popularised in excessive style by the HKW Berlin, for example. Personally, I am not very keen on these sorts of displays, for once because they are just so uncomfortable to interact with. Then again, they don’t want to be interacted with. These are not interfaces; they are white boxes, where under a thick slate of glass lie neatly arranged the objects, accompanied only by another piece of white paper describing the content. And so you walk along the row of boxes at waist height, glancing down at undecipherable polish magazines with the occasional drawing or explicit picture. Your only choice of interaction is to get bent to get a closer look. It’s frustrating and familiar – in a “look at these interesting ancient coins” kind of way. In an interview for Texte zur Kunst with historian Vojin Sasa Vukadinovic, Radziszewski describes his practice of historicising and archiving as an “efficient strategy to combat the current political situation.”6 He refers to the prevailing violence against people who express desires, not in line with cis- and heteronormative standards. Although poorly covered by our media, from time to time, one hears of such hate crimes or of the gruesome “anti-gay purges” in Chechnya in 20177. One feels inclined to shake one’s head in disbelief – “and to think that in our times...”.

Boredom is the dominating affect, I encountered viewing this exhibition. The boredom within queer groups facing an impenetrable regime of norms and objectified structures of repression is mirrored here by the choice of display. The dangerous objects are musealised, made unreachable. You can not touch them, some you cannot even read. This show is not interested in you, the visitor, to prove your own openness and tolerance, your feminism and philosophy of queer- and wokeness in a place of simulated experience. One feels inclined to frown at these static displays, to call them old fashioned, to try and critique a practice of genealogy, of paranoia, of archives and the collective singular. Aren’t we beyond these in their carefulness almost patronising measures? I, for one, do not think so, and instead find Radziszewski’s choice for this show in a crucial way of actual interest. I will try to explain, why.

Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute. Foto: Paul Sleev/Schwules Museum

Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute. Foto: Paul Sleev/Schwules Museum

Another exhibit in one of Schwules Museum’s many rooms is a video work by Vika Kirchenbauer from 2015. The Berlin based video artist addresses the issue of a popularized aesthetic of queerness as a phenomenon closely related to recent economic practice.8 In an unbearably patronising tone, different characters in this video work address the spectator as a boring person that desperately needs to comply with the new standards, demanded by an economy of experience. The idea is that the recent demand for queer culture within art and popular media is not to be read as part of a story of cultural sublimation and tolerance, but much rather as a symptom of a changing economy. The queer complex of experience seems to be one that is of interest to a broad audience. Performing, never really being off stage, always struggling with the role, the norm and so on: All this is a popular feeling, experienced increasingly not only by queer folk, but by many non-queer-identifying people too. Think of issues of unstable relations at the workplace, an increasing amount of people already call their everyday and the desire for something other than what an objective system of norms demands of a subject becomes very familiar. Kirchenbauer suggests, that in order to anticipate and address this feeling, that could very well lead to a class consciousness, an imaginary is created, by attempts to recreate the aesthetics of a past queer subculture that can now be experienced by everyone, for your amusement and for the creators’ profit.

"Here you can experience, here you can be part of us. Without the inconveniences of being spat upon in the street or the unpleasant smells of darkroom – YOU ARE BORING!" 9

This, then, is how exploitative structures stay hidden to those experiencing them. Desire is the task of a hero of desire, a genius trickster, an ideal person. You will fail - so just take the provided experience on demand. The illusion works by radically individualizing the pursue of desire. But desire is not individual – it at the very least involves two parties, oftentimes a lot more. This is what Radziszewski’s ‘boring’ objects in their neat display boxes demonstrate.

Pandora Slovenian lesbian magazine, issue 3, 1993, from the QAI collection

Pandora Slovenian lesbian magazine, issue 3, 1993, from the QAI collection

With his strategies of genealogy, originally imagined as a “soft method” for the exhibition of his material in Eastern Europe, Radziszewski inadvertently points to recent practices of producing experiences of immersion, that sell the feeling of queerness to individuals, and that oftentimes do not reflect on the kind of structures, such a spectacle helps to sustain. The archived artefacts do not relate to you, personally – the way they are displayed is strategically chosen, so that they relate to a first person plural, “a queer nation”10, a collective utopia. The lack of a definition of an “essence of queerness” is intended by Radziszewski, in order for him to explore archives that are unheard of and that challenge an academic determination usually provided by western scholars. Queer simply is a stand-in for desire. In opening up the archives of desire, one is confronted with the banality of desire’s everyday, expressed in stirring honesty by those crude sketches, mentioned above. The archives give insight into the resistive and historic aspect of desire that withstands narrative and ideology. The path that desire needed to take especially in Eastern European countries before 1989 in order to reach pleasure was tedious and demanded persistence of whoever had to walk it. Contrary to what an illusion of the always-performing has you believe, there are no indications that a technologically advanced world will change any of that. Desire works in irrational ways, sideways to what efficient structures demand. Its definition is to not be satisfied and in constant search for an imagined object at the place of this original lack. This makes it a historic force: to desire is anyone‘s right and the force by which new ways of community may evolve. Radziszewski succeeds in reminding us, how this historic force evolves foremost from the trivial practices of building communities of solidarity. And by smuggling a lot of porn.

Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute. Foto: Paul Sleev/Schwules Museum

Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute. Foto: Paul Sleev/Schwules Museum

"Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute", Schwules Museum Berlin, 20th of June – 23rd of September 2019. A cooperation between Hebbel am Ufer and Schwules Museum Berlin alongside the festival „The Present Is Not Enough – Performing Queer Histories and Futures” by HAU, June 20-30, 2019.

  1. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/08/queer-eye-reboot-fab-five-socialism

  2. https://paperview.substack.com/p/man-down

  3. https://www.hebbel-am-ufer.de/the-present-is-not-enough/

  4. http://queerarchivesinstitute.org/

  5. https://www.textezurkunst.de/articles/vukadinovic-queer-archives-institute/

  6. Ibid.

  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-gay_purges_in_Chechnya

  8. http://www.vk0ms.com/you_are_boring.html

  9. Ibid.

  10. Same as [5]