The whirlwind of gentrification currently taking place in London is affecting more than the city’s housing. Locally owned businesses are unable to keep up with their own rising rental costs, resulting in closures for many of the establishments that helped shape the city’s identity into what it is today. While this occurrence is detrimental for everyone, it hits the capital’s sub-cultures especially hard as their irreplaceable locales continue to rapidly disappear from existence.
Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings are two artists passionate about the saddening affair. For their most recent collaborative effort, the duo present their well-documented archive of film footage in a series of presentations entitled “Gentrification”. We spoke to Hannah and Rosie as they prepared for their special event, which was in conjunction with the opening of Venice’s 2016 Architecture Biennale at the Bauer Hotel.
“We should be working to dismantle the state apparatus that oppresses us in the first place”
How has the closing of London’s historical gay establishments affected LGBTQI nightlife in the city?
It has obviously affected things for the worse. Gay bars were never just about nightlife. Throughout their short-lived yet volatile history, they’ve served as vital sites of visibility, community and resistance for the community. That’s not to present an idealised idea of what a gay bar is; these aren’t utopian spaces. They are often riddled with just as much racism, transphobia and misogyny as much as any other institution. But despite this, they do allow people to seek out an identity and claim a space in ways that may be otherwise impossible.
These spaces are irreplaceable, unlike their heterosexual counterparts, which utilise more of a “one mould fits all” approach. If you take away a leather daddy bar, where are the leather daddies going to go?
“Assimilation boils down to white supremacy, patriarchy and nationalism”
Your upcoming presentation entitled “Gentrification” to be shown in Venice aims to document this phenomenon. Can you tell us more about how the project started?
We always found ourselves hanging out in different bars around Hannah’s hometown of Newcastle. Chatting to the bartenders, we heard the same story over and over again: struggles to compete with big bar conglomerates, struggles to make ends meet with rising rents and operating costs. These conversations were happening against the erratic closures of London’s most loved LGBTQI spaces including the Joiners Arms, Madame Jojo’s and The George and Dragon Tavern.
Go-pro in hand, we started filming bars in Newcastle. From there, we got more ambitious and applied for Art Council funding to film other major cities in the UK. We visited around 170 gay bars in 13 different cities across the UK to film bars while they were empty.
Next year we are going to focus on smaller towns that may only have one or two LGBTQI spaces available.
How is London fighting back against all the closures?
Many amazing activist organizations have sprouted up in the aftermath of it all. Friends of The Joiners Arms formed after the closure of Hackney’s Joiners Arms, and the group has been campaigning for a permanent LGBTQI community centre in London since.
The LGBTQI community has a history of misplacing its resources, investing in policies such as same-sex marriage or gays in the military to assimilate in the mainstream. In reality, we should be working to dismantle the state apparatus that oppresses us in the first place, supporting the most vulnerable of our ranks: trans women, queer people of colour and homeless youth to name a few. Somehow, the LGBTQI matrix became a single-issue movement focused on assimilation, and what this really boils down to is white supremacy, patriarchy and nationalism.
How did the opportunity to show work at this year’s Architecture Biennale come to be?
David Gryn, who runs Daata Editions, got in touch and it sort of just evolved out of the original commission for six three minute films. Daata has been incredibly supportive of our work and it has been a seamless process from conception, to production and now to the show in Venice.
We actually haven’t had much to do with the exhibition. The project is Daata’s baby and we just provide the goods. It’s the first time we have worked like this, so we are interested to see how everything will come together.
Everything in your @Gaybar spaces – including music, invitations, cocktail glasses and alcohol – are hand selected by both of you. How does this fastidious process add to the entire experience?
It’s an absolute joy! The bars are sculptural and we fabricate each one from scratch. Aside from the bar installation we present video, audio and CGI works that become part of the bar’s online presence in the form of club promotion, and as artworks situated within the bar itself.
It’s always really interesting to see how the films intercept with the space, and the way the bar becomes socialised. At one bar we did called “Wet Protest @Gaybar”, people were going crazy dancing to “We Found Love” by Rihanna while a projection of Bree Newsome removing the confederate flag from its pole played alongside another projection of metropolitan policeman dancing with a topless, white gay guy at pride. This intense combination collapsed into a queer eruption that felt super urgent and critical–a joyful assertion of our existence.
A published version of “@Gaybar” is available for purchase on Arcadia Missa
All images by Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, courtesy the artists & Daata Editions