Summer heat. Drops of sweat find their way down our bodies. Fans are blazing and bring a tiny sense of relief. I am attending the Thessaloniki Queer Arts festival. Tonight, there is a selection of short films on the menu. ‘Today will be a bit more experimental’, someone told me in advance. I am curious to see what it will bring.
What do the production of noise with everyday objects, dinosaur weddings, and a skeleton in a wig have in common? If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would not have been able to answer. Perhaps I would have laughed in your face. At this moment in time, however, these things have gotten a special meaning to me: friendship, queer bonding over weirdness, and community.
My encounter with ‘the art of weirdness’ or ‘weird art’ started a few years ago. I was living in Sweden. A friend of mine bought a skeleton, like those sometimes used in biology lessons, and started dressing it up. One night, after an event, a group of us were hanging out and this friend pulled the skeleton from the living room into the kitchen. Before we knew it, we were all helping to change the skeleton’s outfit. It was a somewhat bizarre experience. At the same time, it was fun to be involved in something that would seem quite absurd to most people.
It started with this skeleton, which we called Pastor Rigid (also referred to as ‘the Pastor’ in casual conversation). About once a month, my friend and I would come up with a new outfit and get together to change its clothes. From fantasy warrior to flower girl to hippie punk, everything passed by. My friend and I became, as we started to call it, partners-in-art. We started some other projects, such as holding photoshoots with dinosaurs. We also recorded sounds around the house and made remixes from these sounds based on inspirational quotes generated by Inspirobot, an artificial intelligence program.
The power of the weird
After the third short film, some of my housemates decide to leave. They are clearly not into the experimentality of the selection of tonight. I’m not blaming them. The films are confusing, weird, at times uncomfortable to watch. But isn’t that kind of the point? What is queerness if it remains within the boundaries of what is comfortable? What is queerness if not weird, if not confusing?
You may be asking yourself why I am sharing the story of my weird art projects. You may also be asking yourself why am I wasting my time on these projects in the first place. Why am I not spending time on useful things, or on learning some skill? If you are asking these questions, I have something to tell you: actions should not be defined only by their productivity. We live in a neoliberalist world where almost everything we do is judged on the basis of how productive it is, how useful it is for society or its financial value, but I wish it were different.
The same goes, many times, for people. If you are not working, or not able to work, people might judge you. They might challenge your value to this society. In this world, I feel that there is a sense of radicality in resisting these ideas, in working hard to explore things that are seen as “useless”. In this neoliberalist society, it is almost a radical idea to accept the inherent worthiness of all people and actions, regardless of their productivity or financial value.
(Not) fitting the norms
And I guess I’m sad. Sad that the societies we move our bodies in are restricting that movement, restricting our freedom, by making us feel unsafe. By making us feel lonely, not understood. By telling us what bodies should look like, how we should behave, what kind of art is acceptable.
At the same time, we live in societies that expect us to live according to certain norms. At times, norms can be useful, or even comforting, but for many people, norms are restrictive. They tell us that we should study, then work full-time. The norms also tell us to find a partner and live in a monogamous relationship with them. They tell us we should be men or women, and we are given expectations that we should follow as men or women. For people who do not fit these norms, they make it hard to feel comfortable in our lives, in our bodies, in the world we live in.
For people like us, creating projects that some may see as ‘weird’, can create a huge comfort. By embracing the weirdness within ourselves and within our creativity, we can express our frustration with normativity and norms. It is also a way to explore boundaries of what is normal, of gender, sexuality, friendships, relationships. We can build weird projects to strengthen our friendships, to create things together. We lift each other up, bring each other joy with these projects. And what is life without joy? If I can make someone happy by sending them a picture of a plastic dinosaur, posed with small, dinosaur-friendly props, then why should other people judge this for lack of productivity?
Until now I mainly used the term ‘weird’ to describe my projects, but I guess that in this case, the term ‘queer’ also fits them. Queer is hard to define, which is kind of the point of the term. To me personally, it means a way to define oneself against normativity, to look at the world around us in a manner that questions and challenges norms. It also feels like a term that I can find myself home in. Through it, I can find people with who I feel comfortable.
I have thought a lot about identity and what it means to me. A project that especially made me reflect on this was Pastor Rigid, the previously mentioned skeleton, that we used to dress up in various ways. I guess dressing up a skeleton is quite a queer thing in itself. In a way, using a skeleton as a model, it is kind of stripped of what it is to be human. It is stripped of all things that make humans different from one another. And of course, these differences are what make humans so beautiful and special, and they should be celebrated in every way. But using a skeleton was a way to negotiate the expectations put on our bodies in this world, and using, as it were, a ‘clear canvas’.
We would go to a second-hand store and search for outfits not for ourself, but for our skeleton. We would get together on a Saturday evening not to party, but to dress up said skeleton. And again, we experienced so much joy in these moments. We also found it a way to explore gender expression in different ways, in ways that we may not be comfortable with for our own bodies, but that fit this skeleton beautifully.
platonic, romantic, sexual
building a family, relationships,
but not in the way they expect
I do what I want now
I love who I love
There is enough love to share
stepping through the world loving, passionate
A year ago, I moved from Sweden, and our partnership-in-art became long-distance. Still, our shared creativity has since then been a way to bond with one another, even with thousands of kilometers and numerous borders in between.
I’m not saying everyone needs to enjoy weird art, or embrace it. I just wish for a world where individuals can define their own norms, where they are not judged by society if their bodies do not fit the norms, and where they can feel safe to express their weirdness and their queerness. But until then, we just need to keep fighting and keep challenging normativity. Because I believe freedom from norms will benefit everybody.
Our work may not change the world, but perhaps it can change something within ourselves, and others who can connect to it. It gives us a space of expression, of building community, of sharing joy in absurdity, weirdness or queerness.
Dedicated to the best partner-in-art I could have wished for. You know who you are, and I miss you.
Although I already was working on this article, attending the Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival gave it a special boost. So also a special thanks to this beautiful initiative, which took place from 7-23 June.