The public call out for the inaugural CIRCA x Dazed Class of 2021 initiative asked audiences to submit a 2.5 minute film in response to the theme ‘Communion’ set by interdisciplinary artist and lecturer, Angel Rose. After receiving 2,000 applications, we are proud to present the 30 finalists who will each receive access to the Dazed Space and have their work exhibited as part of the CIRCA programme, appearing across public screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul this September.
Expanding on their commitment to help support the talent of tomorrow, CIRCA and Dazed appointed a community of jurors including Cauleen Smith, Frank Lebon, Hugo Comte, Simone Rocha, Dexter Navy, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michele Lamy to select their top 5 submissions. From this, one lucky finalist will be selected by world renowned performance artist Marina Abramović to receive the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000.
With public art spaces diminishing, investment in arts education being cut and artist communities at risk, this joint initiative aims to empower the next generation of artists working in moving-image by platforming new voices and points of view from local communities on a global level, giving them unrivalled media exposure and the tools to help kick start their careers.
I am a queer artist, activist and drag performer, living amongst the eclectic East London queer scene. I have been documenting the people and places around me, amplifying their voices and celebrating their stories through art. I have had work premiered at BFI FLARE, FRINGE Queer Arts Festival as well as global video platform NOWNESS. Most recently I was selected as one of the FLAMIN (Film London Artists Moving Image Network) artists and have also had my work added to the archives and special documents department at The Bishopsgate Institute, London.
Isn’t It A Beautiful World is a film that through lipsyncing, depicts the traumatising stories of queer performers Soroya, Harry & Kenya. The film takes the audience on a journey through metaphorical locations to explore themes of loneliness, anxiety, addiction and recovery, all common affiliations within the LGBT+ community. The performers lip-sync to Delia Derbyshire’s “Falling”, a collection of reassembled interviews of people describing their dreams, arranged in a setting of pure electronic sounds. Locations depict a mix between childhood ideals + emulate loneliness/isolation including an abandoned school, an old police station and a dilapidated mobile home.
The film takes inspiration from Alexander McQueen’s show Voss and short film The Arbor directed by Clio Barnard which sees actors lip-syncing to real audio interviews with the family of playwright Andrea Dunbar. Dunbar’s struggle for acceptance resonates with the films narrative, and is a common LGBT+ experience.
“What’s wrong is not our sexuality but the damage done by growing up inside a cultural straight-jacket’ Matthew Todd - ‘Straight Jacket’.
As a gay man, I have suffered with extreme anxiety, depression and addiction throughout my 20’s. Art has played a huge role in helping me overcome these traumas and feeling less alone. I want to give others in my community the opportunity to see and experience art which relates to them, help them feel more connected and let them know that there is help out there. Through recovery, therapy and a worldwide lockdown, I have found beauty in the world, once again. Although there are so many different identities within the LGBTQQIP2SAA community, we all share that same lived experience as queer people, growing up within the restraints of a hetrosexual, mainstream society.
I have submitted a 2.5 minute cut of 'Isn’t It A Beautiful World' which has been cut especially for CIRCA. The full length film is still in production and due to be completed by the start of July.
How did you become an artist and what was your route to your current practice?
As a child I was always curious and looking at the world closely. I remember first being inspired and drawn to the work of Man Ray and during the course of my art foundation at Camberwell College of Art, I further explored and discovered the world of fine art. I was drawn first to found materials (postcards, memorabilia) and then to sound. This led me to moving-image and doing a subsequent degree in Print and Time Based Media at Wimbledon College of Art which set me on my path in London to where I am now. Living amongst a very loving and supporting queer community allows me to flouish within my art and live life as best I can. I believe that I have a unique way of looking at things and that is depicted in my films which I see as dreamlike, melancholic and heart-warming.
What inspires you to make your work?
I started making videos as I became more involved and inspired by the community around me. My first film Drag is my Ecstasy, which premiered at the BFI Flare in 2014, drew me into the world of drag and the East London queer scene. I would define myself (without pretension!)as a rebel artist who doesn’t adhere to the traditional route of how to make it in film. I develop my practice by keeping working, taking my camera everywhere and saying yes to everything. My work comes from that position of an outsider and I am documenting a rebel community full of kindness which I try to emulate. I have very particular habits and structures to the way that I work. I can find inspiration anywhere… From early morning car boots, to 70’s thriller movies to travelling to a new city on my own. In 2019 I did a room swap with a guy from Tokyo and had my own apartment in Shimokitazawa for 2 months. This led me to meeting and filming Biun , a trans opera singer who worked at a karaoke bar in Shinjuku.
Can you identify any elements of your community or collaborators that have had a strong influence?
I have collaborated with many creatives across different mediums who I know and trust and can bring my vision to life. I have such talented friends who are incredible artists and so it is about the right formula and the right mindset. Chester Hayes who is a phenomenal choreographer, Mikey Woodbridge a performer who I collaborated with early on in my career and would not be who I am without them. I have also worked a lot with set designer Tony Hornecker who creates large scale installations around the theme of childhood. I hosted various nights alongside international drag superstar A Man To Pet (aka my drag Mum) at The Pale Blue Door. It is here I blossomed into the proud queer person I am today.
My biggest inspiration has to have been my friend Shannon Pat, who sadly passed away last month. I met Shannon in 2015 in San Francisco when I moved there on a wim. I met her outside The Stud gay bar in the Tenderloin and was so intruiged by her, I asked if I could make a film about her. She taught me about self acceptance, your rite of passage and common courtesy. It was this film that gave me my first NOWNESS premiere in 2015 titled ‘What do I look like, a girl or a boy?’
Music without a doubt powers the nightlife scene of the queer community and music has always been really important to me as it was music that got me to switch from photography to moving image. The beauty of capturing a drag queen performing in all their fine plumery set to a different soundtrack can make you see them in a totally different light, and that’s something that really excites me. I think that is a really good way of showing how I see things, what I see in them. Drag is my Ecstasy represents that and has in many ways stood the test of time. At the point that I made that film, I was an outsider and then it physically drew me in, into the world of drag and changed my life as an artist . Drag and film have gone hand in hand for me, they have complimented each other and I believe I could not have done one without the other.
Would you consider your practice to have a positive social impact, and if so in what way?
I see the social impact in many ways. Firstly, there is the process of storytelling for myself and those that I collaborate with and represent as we get a chance to cathartically tell our stories. Secondly there is the representation within the film as we show queer people their selves on screen and thirdly there is the impact in the audience as they hopefully learn and evolve through understanding a different life experience.
In this film in particular, there is a catharsis within this process of meditation, reflection and release. I want to depict the loneliness, hope and beauty that lies at the end of the rainbow. I want queer people to see themselves on screen and to feel seen and heard. I also believe there is a massive positive impact in helping to explain queer identity to a mainstream audience. In Isn’t it a Beautiful World we show the opposite of the loneliness, isolation and ultimately death that was depicted in my earlier work Shannon (featured on NOWNESS in 2015). She was from an older generation and is an example of what can happen to you if you don’t get the help and support you need growing up queer. Our community, our communion is our lifeline. ‘I can’t, we can,’ we all strive to help one another to thrive and become our fullest selves.
Queer identity is at the centre of my work. It was lacking from anything that I was consuming as I grew up. As a queer artist I believe it is my calling to document my community and bring them to the screen. I would hope that my work helps older, current and younger generations and offers them a sense of belonging, which I found lacking as I grew up. I also feel that in showcasing a variety of diverse faces within this film, I am presenting a version of queer community and identity which recognises intersectionality. Our fight for our human rights as queer people includes recognition that, as a white artist, I have relative privilege. I believe that this projects shows how queer spaces and platforms have a duty to recognise the most vulnerable amongst us, namely our black and trans siblings and to come together to show our support for social movements particularly regarding trans and black rights.
How is your project tied to the Circa x Dazed Class of 20:21 theme of ‘Communion’?:
Within Isn’t it a Beautiful World even though there is such a diverse group of people in our community, we all have the shared experience of growing up as a non-straight person. We are othered and we don’t grow up with the normal constructs that straight people have. Whether what identity you associate with as a queer person we all have a deeply shared, communal experience. Communion implies collective worship, often at an altar. In It’s a Beautiful World, the altar from which communion is received offers self acceptance and pride. In the film this communion is most demonstrated in a climactic moment where Kenya, a black trans man, is shown on stage before a dancing and exalting audience. He is celebrated and accepted in a moment of shared ecstasy in which he, himself, becomes the altar. Offering the congregation their communion.
Once we are seen and heard. Once we are truly accepted and understood. Then we become proud of who we truly are. Then we reach nirvana.
Has your work been recognised by any public bodies or organisations in the past?
I am really excited that Isn’t it A Beautiful World will be screened at this year’s London BFI Film Festival thus reaching a more mainstream audience. The film was supported by Arts Council England, Film London and Pink Noise, an LGBT+ public art fund. Through my work I hope to bring a different audience to consider how they perceive and treat the LGBTQ+ community. I have also premiered at BFI Flare and Fringe Queer Arts Festival . In 2020 I was selected as one of the FLAMIN artists and have had 3 pieces of my work premiered on global arts channel NOWNESS.
What would you do with the money?
I would use this money to help me as I develop my work from moving-image to installation. Firstly, I would use the money to help transform Isn’t It a Beautiful World into a live immersive video installation. I aim to rebuild the metaphorical worlds in which the films take place, invoking a visceral sense of loneliness, isolation and rejection. I would recreate a derelict school classroom and feature desks, old chairs and notebooks strewn around as if a tidal wave had hit. The space would also include alienating features of gendered spaces like boys’ and girls’ toilet signage. Aspects from the film will also be used including the old theatre curtains, the child’s swing and the red sand hourglass. I see this installation being presented in a mainstream gallery setting, lying unexpectedly and bringing in new audiences.
Secondly, I want to bring the world of Shannon: Who do I look like? A girl, or a boy? (NOWNESS, 2015) to life.
How would the #CIRCAECONOMY prize of £30,000 impact your future practice?
As an artist working with moving-image, I have always worked in 2D media, so my audience have only been able to experience my work via the screen. While I believe in the power of social commentary in film, developing my practice from AMI to installation is an exciting movement for my work, as it will allow the audience to physically immerse themselves into the world of the characters and give them a more visceral experience.
Although I have produced various AMI screenings, I have never curated a large-scale solo installation, especially one that requires such extensive planning and attention to detail. Curating these installations provides an excellent opportunity for professional development and will empower me to develop from moving image artist to multi-disciplinary artist.
The professional development opportunity is not just for me personally, but for all of the creative network involved in the project. Both installations will allow me to widen my creative network and work with different artists from a mix of disciplines. I also aim to give space to the associated artists to bring new approaches to their existing disciplines by encouraging collaboration and experimentation. I also intend for these exhibitions to form the beginning of a multi-disciplinary art collective for all those involved, which will ultimately strengthen my practice in the long run.
If you are awarded the #CIRCAECONOMY prize, how might this affect your community?
The optics of Isn’t it a Beautiful World winning the #CIRCAECONOMY prize would show that our narratives are valued and inspiring, that we are being finally heard and seen. It will send a message to the next generation of queer and outsider artists that we have a platform and that our queer church is being invited and included onto an elevated artistic platform. Like with all my work, I always ensure that both cast and crew are as diverse as possible. Winning the #CIRCAECONOMY money will allow me to continue to support people from my community both creatively and financially.