LIMP: frustrations in the circulation of sexuality
‘It is important that nobody starts saying, ‘You’re not queer because you’re not into leather, you don’t fuck in a harness. There is that sense of reifying sexual acts above the theory’.
Tori Smith, Lesbians Talk Queer Notions, 1992
‘… the contemporary art gallery is a tolerant place and sometimes gestures that have their origins in urgent contexts or struggles can feel like they are being used to create a slight frisson, without it being particularly thoughtful.’
James Richards, Queer Times and Place, frieze, 2016
LIMP is an exhibition addressing the thorny issue of whether the circulation of queer or feminist imagery depicted as being transgressive, actually keeps sexual minorities marginalised. From Michel Foucault onwards, thinkers have argued that bourgeois culture does not repress but encourages what it sees as perverse, because this provides access to the thrills of rule breaking, whilst maintaining the divisions between who is and isn’t normal or respectable. Within the museum, artists like James Richards have argued that exciting queer content offers a momentary ‘thrill’ in the form of temporary exhibitions and events, that allows institutions to avoid making long-term structural changes. Writers like Tori Smith or Maggie Nelson have likewise complained that the transgressive associations of queerness create a marketplace of subversion, in which some marginalised people are not subversive or queer enough.
This exhibition collects together works which analyse or parody claims to transgression, taken from key points in the history of queer culture. Recognising the importance of open discussions of sex and desires, particularly in the wake of the AIDS pandemic which exacerbated the belief that certain acts were seen as shameful and dangerous, the works in this show are not anti-sex nor do they shy away from sexual subject matter. Neither do they embrace a kind of formalism, in which sexual content is obscured or depoliticised as purely aesthetic. Instead they try to address urgent issues of desire and sexuality whilst avoiding titillation. The works also refuse any idealisation of sex acts as innately powerful or world changing, depicting instead the realities of sexual disappointment, gaps between fantasy and its realisation, embarrassments, awkwardness and the comedy of sexuality. Here sexual politics stands in contest of the will to entertainment or visual pleasure, without giving up on being sexy.