Queer Renderings: Rewriting Identity in Experimental Video
Patrick Santoro

          beautiful pain
                    that says I exist

                    —Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis (232)

As a gay man, I view the childhood, adolescent, and young adult struggles of personally accepting and publicly navigating my queer sexuality as steeped in loss. While no longer paralyzed by the anxiety and paranoia of identity and its construction that plagued me earlier in life, there are—still—the looming aftereffects of fragmentation, of attempting to locate and mend a whole self amidst a history of cultural, social, and personal disconnection, to say nothing of a present of political uncertainty. As an artist-scholar-activist moved and inspired by the dark and light of loss, I speak from those experiences, nurturing, interrogating, and honoring them.

From 2006-08, I turned to video performance with the intent to create standalone works exploring autobiographical loss, not necessarily stories about gender and sexuality per se. With several videos completed, however, I realized that there was a series of stories demanding my (sub)conscious attention, each project extending and illuminating the others in some way. I have always gravitated toward the experimental, finding it easiest to represent the messiness of identity through the non-linear expressionism such an aesthetic affords. This was queer content unfolding in queer form. My approach was organic, often abandoning scripts in favor of an improvisational style of filming. I chose performer-friends (all women who helped to create an evident dynamic tension between femininity and masculinity across the videos) interested in art-making and nontraditional creative process. With at least a couple of hours of raw video and audio footage, a narrative would emerge through the process of post-production editing: sequencing footage, adding written text, altering image and sound through filters, etc. Ultimately, five videos were produced; the three videos discussed here are particularly complementary.

“Longing” (2007) portrays a queer childhood identity: a boy’s (dis)identification with his gendered self, yearning for his private desires to be mirrored in his public reflection, all too mournfully aware of the consequences of embracing femininity. “Penetrate” (2007) suggests a sense of finding (and losing) self through sexual exploration, but also reveals a merging of gender—a blurring of the feminine with the masculine. In so doing, it is a call to reevaluate our cultural heteronormative assumptions regarding sexual discourse, as well as a step toward normalizing queer experience. “Stay” (2008) captures how dominant discourse controls and dictates queer subjectivity. Of the three videos, it is the most hopeful, creating a space for understanding oppression differently, of recognizing the value and strength of one’s self and of one’s experiences despite injustices suffered. Together, these videos represent an arc of gendered and sexual consciousness—the hauntings of living and loving queerly—as they reveal performativity, calling attention to how the self is constituted through materiality, discourse, and power.

Performing the self in video (certainly a queer production in print-biased academia) is a liminal space that affords queer investigation and transformation. Working with/in video allows me to reimagine queer identity, relationality, and desire by laboring across a split screen of spatiotemporality: that of the crafted self on screen (video artifact as product) and that of the crafting self behind the scenes (video editing as process). In revisiting and rewriting the life circumstances of the subject on the screen, taking a troubled history and rendering it in a heightened aesthetic of cinematic beauty, the life of the artist-as-subject can also shift, embracing (continued) beauty and agency in and of the queer experience. Beyond catharsis for the artist, the videos become activist artifacts advocating queer representation, placing viewers in the center of storied queer experience and asking them to question their interpretations, their motives, their ease.

Work Cited

Kane, Sarah. 4.48 Psychosis. Sarah Kane: Complete Plays. London: Methuen, 2001. 203-45. Print.

Patrick Santoro (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University Carbondale) is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at Governors State University where he teaches courses in performance art, solo performance, performance and social change, performing culture and identity, performance autoethnography, and performative writing. His research interests include loss, identity, gender and sexuality, and experimental and documentary video production.

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