Thinking Differently: Carlos Motta on public sex, collective memory, and queer activism
Carlos Motta is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work draws upon political history in an attempt to “create counter narratives that recognize the inclusion of suppressed histories.” Author and artist Ryan Conrad interviewed him regarding two recent publications: Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public , and We Who Feel Differently.
Carlos Motta’s work has been presented internationally in venues such as The Guggenheim Museum, the MoMA/PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, and Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer. Motta is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program and was named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in 2008. He is part of the faculty at Parsons’ New School of Design and at the International Center of Photography at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, amongst others.
He and Ryan Conrad had a sit-down to talk about Motta’s aptly named Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public , and We Who Feel Differently.
Conrad: Carlos, can you tell me a little about you and your art practice to introduce you to our readers?
Carlos: I was born in Colombia and have been in New York City for the last fifteen years. As an artist I am interested in the ways that LGBT people have to construct their own histories and narratives because society has systematically failed to accurately represent us.
Conrad: I know that your last two projects, We Who Feel Differently (WWFD) and Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public, culminated in publications. I was lucky enough to contribute to WWFD as did Canadian academic Nick Mulé. What were these projects about?
Carlos: WWFD is a four-part project that includes an internet archive (wewhofeeldifferently.info), book, online journal, and a series of discursive events in different cities. This interview-based project documents the work that LGBTIQQ activists, academicians, artists, etc. in Colombia, Norway, South Korea, and the USA have been doing to advance legal rights and make cultural change in their communities. WWFD is driven by two desires: One, to create a resource for folks so they can access in-depth conversations about gay politics and culture. Two, and perhaps more importantly, to insert a queer perspective into mainstreamed LGBT politics. A perspective that resists and rejects the conservative turn of gay politics, which is less and less about liberation and more about assimilation. It is as if the LGBT movement had been devoured by the liberal ideal of tolerance and neglected the richness of difference.
Conrad: The WWFD book can be viewed as a contemporary global overview of queer and trans activism created by LGBTIQQ people themselves. Were there any key things you learned through the process of editing the book?
Carlos: The text is based on more than forty-five interviews I conducted and after a careful reading five major themes emerged that reoccurred throughout. These themes include equality and the limits of tolerance, anti-assimilationist politics and social justice, the history and place of HIV/AIDS activism in today’s political landscape, and censorship of queer sexuality in art history.
We also present issues concerning the strict focus of many societies on the gender binary and make a strong claim towards gender self-determination. This section focuses on the work of trans and intersex activists that face numerous social, economic and political obstacles to regulate their own bodies. This section is perhaps the book’s strongest as it reveals the deep-rooted trans and intersex-phobia that makes legal and cultural advancement extremely difficult.
Conrad: Getting back to your other recent project and publication, Petite Mort…
Carlos: Petite Mort also departs from a similar drive. This project was created collaboratively with Joshua Lubin-Levy and presents drawings from memory submitted by an intergenerational group of gay men depicting sites where they had public sex in New York City. The book was conceived as a very subjective atlas of the city from a perspective and history that has been actively cleaned up and erased by city government and gay bureaucrats alike. We were not interested in depictions of sex scenes specifically, but the way that space is remembered, spaces of homo-sociability and desire for gays.
Conrad: Can you tell me how you came to pair the images and texts in the publication?
Carlos: The texts were requested from queer scholars that were asked to respond to the question “Does public sex matter?” We wanted to include a reflective and critical set of voices to work with (and perhaps against) the drawings to extend the conversation toward an issue that is not very sexy with gay (or straight) folks these days.
Conrad: The impact of gentrification in the gay village and the sanitization/commercialization of public spaces in Montréal more generally has been a contentious issue here lately. But yeah, I’ve always joked about how my right to fuck in a park is as equally important as mainstream gays’ right to marry. But for some reason no one likes to deal with that assertion. I guess some people are more equal than others… [laughter]
Can you draw some lines between the two projects? They both have intensely personal and political implication for queer and trans folks both in urban centers like New York City and Montréal, as well as in a broader global LGBTIQQ political context.
Carlos: Both projects address the need for a more plural discussion around queer issues; that is to think beyond marriage or military inclusion, and to reject the systematic mainstreaming of our lives and identities by both heteronormative and homonormative forces of society.
Conrad: Any plans to come cruise Montréal’s few remaining public sex environments soon?
Carlos: I would like to publicly invite someone in Montréal that is reading this interview to take on the idea and make a Petite Mort Montréal! But, yes I will have to come and explore these sites before it’s too late…
Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public (Forever & Today, Inc.), 2011
We Who Feel Differently (Ctrl+Z Publishing, Norway), 2011
Ryan Conrad (aka Conrad Ryan), is an author, artist, and activist currently studying at Concordia University. He co-edited Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, which made him a homo household name in 2010, and the follow-up Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars will likely be released later this year. He also writes for The Bilerico Project. This is his first assignment with 2Bmag.