Heavy Stuff: Gay Marriage and “Hole in the Wall”
When Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the gay marriage bill into law last week, it was as though weight was lifted for gay men and women in the District. A different sort of weight was lifted in Transformer's art gallery, though—this one quite literal. There, until the end of the week, visitors can see artist Geoffrey Aldridge struggling under the combined 129-pound weight of three cinder blocks, covered in fur and chained together, in his video piece "Drag."
"I had already started working with construction materials, and I knew that I wanted to do something with their weight and pushing their limits," said Aldridge, who includes himself in many of his video works. Thinking about the gender of objects, and how construction materials are considered masculine, Aldridge covered the cinder blocks in a glamorous wrap of faux fur, and chained them together. Then, he put his body underneath them.
"[I thought], oh God, please don't let them break my neck," Aldridge said. "In the video, I start on the floor, and it's just me trying to negotiate lifting it so I can slide under them. There was no way I could lift it up. They weigh 129 pounds, and I weigh 140." In the film, Aldridge's face turns red as he struggles against the blocks, which appear to be slowly crushing his ribcage.
"Drag" is just one of several pieces in his show, titled "Hole in the Wall," that address struggle. Aldridge questions gay culture on the 40th anniversary of one of its landmark events, the Stonewall Riots, just as the show winds down in the aftermath of another landmark, the marriage bill. In the show, he examines many of gay culture's clichés and stereotypes: there is the Yellow Brick Road of "Pendulum," for a friend who was obsessed with Judy Garland; the oral-sex giving/receiving code of "Hanky Panky"; and a disco ball-like cinderblock hanging above, threatening to crush anyone underneath.
Stonewall, which occurred six years before Aldridge was born, was "something that I learned about later in life, coming out as a gay man, and learning those histories about the gay liberation movement," he said. "It's very curious, because with my generation, being a child when the AIDS epidemic hit, that was much more of a conscious presence in terms of gay culture. I was probably 21 or 22 when I learned about Stonewall."
Aldridge's method of confronting gay history has a way of making the viewer feel uncomfortable—but not because of the subject matter. Instead, it's because of the way he places his own body in hazardous situations, forcing us to be voyeurs to his suffering. In "Hanky Panky," he stuffs 40 blue handkerchiefs, the symbol for wanting to give or receive oral sex, into his mouth, nearly to the point of suffocation.
"I think of my work as being part of the in-between," said Aldridge. "The idea of being uncomfortable allows people to be in a space or a place where there is no absolution. I want to be in that in between-ness. The things that I'm interested in—using my body, using objects, creating these performance setups—push something to an extreme."
Though pleased, of course, with the gay marriage bill, Aldridge does not consider himself to be an activist. Instead, he considers his work social criticism. "Being in D.C., it will be interesting to see how [gay marriage] will affect my work," he said, but he doubts it will have much of an effect right away. "I think about the work in larger concepts. Until gay marriage is a part of our cultural-political infrastructure across the nation, there will always be room to create work that is raising questions about that."