“A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, photographs—especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past—are incitements to reverie. The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is enhanced by distance. The lover's photograph hidden in a married woman's wallet, the poster photograph of a rock star tacked up over an adolescent's bed, the campaign button image of a politician's face pinned on a voters coat...such talismanic uses of photographs express a feeling both sentimental and implicitly magical: they are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography
This is much of what we do on the dance floor—embrace rather than disavow our object-ness in a space that allows us to do so without the risk of dehumanization that usually accompanies objectification.
At one of the many protests in North Carolina over House Bill 2, at least one has ended with dancing. A video has been circulating on the Internet of an activist and transgender woman named Micky Bradford, voguing in front of a line of police officers guarding the North Carolina governor’s mansion. The jostling cellphone video, taken by an unidentified member of the crowd, shows Bradford standing still in front of the line of police officers, seemingly lost in thought. She shifts slowly, taking off her bag, and gradually begins to dance for the crowd of demonstrators, who with their voices and a couple of drums provide an enthusiastic rhythmic soundtrack for her movements. The officers stand with blank faces as Bradford travels gracefully back and forth in front of them. For three minutes she dances, an outpouring of energy at the end of many hours of protest. Bradford recounts, “I was tired. The most I could do was dance away my anger, frustration, and sadness…”17
I wondered about the possibilities for treating objects as teachers who might be able to assist us in developing different ways of understanding and experiencing our bodies. Sculptures as dance teachers? As gym coaches? As lovers? I was particularly interested in our tendency to understand art that relates to non-traditional genders and sexualities primarily in terms of representation, seeking evidence of LGBT subjects or authors in the work through depiction. Queer art tends to be thought of as art that announces itself as queer through a variety of tropes, ranging from documentary photography to material references such as glitter or leather. The “object lessons” framework was intended to eschew these tendencies in favor of an interest in phenomenological relationships with artworks, particularly sculptures, which could produce new, odd, or altered states of embodied being that might enable us to better develop, recognize, respect, and cultivate different forms of gendered living. Can objects help us rethink gender on a bodily level?