- Remembering "Consciousness Razing—The Stonewall Re-Memorialization Project":Chris E. Vargas in Conversation with Jessica Posner
The Queer Conversation that follows is a serious one filled with laughter and jokes. It is a discursive, raucous chat conducted over one hour, through the virtual magic of Skype, on opposite coasts of the United States of America. It is laden with heavy issues delivered with the lightness of a lilted voice; kind and knowing eyes wide open (at times rolled back deep into the skull); mouths agape with joyful recognition; corners of mouths turned up with the playful, resilient, and deeply felt delivery of Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, and Judy Garland. Both of the participants are performance artists, so please consider reading this piece aloud: delivered with all the slippery, queer affect of a three-hour catch up with one of your favorite Judys. Because this is what really happened. We may or may not have been sipping cocktails, lounging in repose, sunning ourselves like cats, or making protest posters while this conversation transpired, but you most definitely should be. You, dear reader, are invited to enjoy this conversation. Please embrace the warmth of our punny linguistic embrace, the disorientation of time travel, and our slippery queer affection.
Among many other things, Chris E. Vargas is the executive director of the MOTHA, the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art. According to MOTHA's mission statement, "MOTHA is dedicated to moving the hirstory and art of transgender people to the center of public life. The preeminent [End Page 133] institution of its kind, the museum insists on an expansive and unstable definition of transgender, one that is able to encompass all trans, non-binary, and gender non-conformed art and artists."1 Because MOTHA has yet to break ground on their own flagship building, their robust programming and exhibition schedule arrives as various autonomous occupations hosted within other institutions. Through invitation, curation, screenings, awards, conversation, and other programmatic and visual strategies, Chris E. Vargas and MOTHA exist as a dynamic reflection of the slipperiness, resilience, and becoming of the artists, idols, and hiroes it presents and re-presents to broad, public audiences. It is a museum that is an artwork. Like the exhibition at hand, MOTHA is a proposal in line and time with Jose Esteban Muñoz's concept of queer utopia.
This queer conversation centers around Vargas and MOTHA's recent exhibition at the New Museum in New York City. The exhibition, "MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas: Consciousness Razing—The Stonewall Re-Memorialization Project" was on view at the New Museum from September 26, 2018 through February 3, 2019, and included several public programs and conversations. Featuring the work of Chris E. Vargas, Chris Bogia, Jibz Cameron, Nicki Green, Martine Gutierrez, Sharon Hayes, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catherine Lord, Devin N. Morris, D'hana Perry, Keijaun Thomas, Geo Wyeth, Sarah Zapata, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the exhibition functions as a collective proposal for reimagining Greenwich Village's Christopher Park—located directly across from the Stonewall Inn, the location of the eponymous Stonewall Riots of 1969—as a properly speculative, queer memorial.2 The 0.12-acre park, Stonewall Inn bar, and sidewalks received designation as a National Monument through presidential proclamation by President Obama on June 24, 2016.3 One could argue that Christopher Park, Stonewall Inn, and the streets and sidewalks around it occupy an outsized space in the collective hearts, minds, personal and historical narratives, and queer imaginations of people around the United States and world. Absent imagination, Stonewall is a smelly dive bar and Christopher Park a raised traffic median. This exhibition provides a glimpse into imagined memorials of this magically real place by queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming living artists—the children and grandchildren of the Stonewall.
When I first asked Chris (who I've known for years as a colleague, peer, and friend) if he'd be open to having a queer conversation with me, he exclaimed, "What other kind is there?!" Indeed, here it is. [End Page 134]
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