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169 10 After Jack Queer Failure, Queer Virtuosity J ac k Smit h i s the progenitor of queer utopian aesthetics. His influence washes over this book and its desire to conjure a queer utopian sphere of potentiality. In Mary Jordan’s documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis several of Smith’s friends and collaborators explain that invoking thefabledlostcontinentofAtlantiswasSmith’swayofinvokingtheutopian. The aesthetic practice that I have previously described as disidentification focuses on the way in which dominant signs and symbols, often ones that are toxic to minoritarian subjects, can be reimagined through an engaged and animated mode of performance or spectatorship.1 Disidentification can be a world-making project in which the limits of the here and now are traversed and transgressed. Jack Smith’s version of Atlantis, glimpsed in much of his film and performance work, disidentified with the constraining and phobic limit of the present. On a material level that meant that dime-store glitter became diamond dust, and cheap polyester was transformed into silken veils. In Jack Smith’s world dumpster diving became treasure hunting. Throughout this book I have attempted a sort of calculus in which queer art from the past is evoked for the purpose of better understanding work made today. Thus, the way contemporary work lines up with the historical archive helps us engage Smith’s utopianism in relation to queer performance today. In this chapter the work of New York–based lesbian performance artist Dynasty Handbag and performance collective My Barbarian perform a mode of utopianism that I associate with Jack Smith’s strange legacy and afterlife. I then briefly describe similarities that these two acts have with the work of drag conceptual/vocal artist Kalup Linzy. In looking at the work of all three contemporary acts, I draw on two aspects of what I describe as a queer utopian aesthetic practice: failure and virtuosity. The version of utopia to which this book has subscribed exits somewhere between the figure of the freakish and often solitary outsider, the madwoman street preacher, and the politically engaged collectivity. I have 170 After Jack insisted that there has always been something queer about utopia and utopian thinkers. Smith is the exemplary figure of the queer utopian artist and thinker who seeks solitariness yet calls for a queer collectivity. Dynasty Handbag, a primarily solo artist who stages acts that resemble psychotic episodes made humorous, is a clear inheritor of a performance practice that is akin to Smith’s solitary loft performances. My Barbarian, a group with three primary members that sometimes expands to include friends who are musicians and performers, is reminiscent of the ragtag queer collective hysteria that Smith staged in his legendary experimental films Flaming Creatures and Normal Love. Both the lone lunatic and the crazed collective stage a desire that I have called queer utopia. Both modes of performance ask important questions of aesthetic practice, questions that attempt to visualize that which is not yet here. To understand this desire better it is useful to return one of the sources of queer utopian longing from which I draw in this book. In Smith’s wellknown manifesto “Capitalism of Lotusland” he begins with a stirring meditation on art and the artist: Could art be useful? Ever since the glitter drifted over the burntout ruins of Plaster Lagoon thousands of artists have pondered and dreamed of such a thing, yet, art must not be used anymore as another elaborate means of fleeing from thinking because of the multiplying amount of information each person needs to process in order to come to any kind of decision about what kind of planet one wants to live on before business, religion, and government succeed in blowing it out of the solar system.2 Here Smith delineates just what is at stake in artistic production. The 1978 manifesto keenly anticipates capitalism’s permutations in the age of globalization, because there are indeed “multiplying amounts[s] of information [that] each person needs to process.” Smith’s critiques of capitalism , or what he alternately calls “landlordism,” should not be dismissed as just campy fun. Smith’s virulent aversion to private property saturated his work. Through his strange and moldy mode of address Smith speaks of an economic system that is innately flawed, violently asymmetrical, and essentially exploitative. Smith’s manifesto was utopian, not so much because he dreamed of Xanadu but, more nearly, because he performed alternate realities. These realities were loosely based on fantasies of glimmering lost cityscapes like...

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814759516
Related ISBN
9780814757277
MARC Record
OCLC
676695829
Pages
240
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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