Humber Street Gallery is pleased to announce In My Room, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings’ first solo institutional exhibition bringing together film, fresco painting and works on paper, is coming to Space 1 on Thursday 1 July until Sunday 12 September – coinciding with Absolutely Cultured’s Creative Hull event.
Commissioned by Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea,and presented in partnership with MOSTYN, Llandudno, In My Room comes to Humber Street Gallery after touring these previous two venues in 2020/2021.
As a new body of work, In My Room develops the artists’ enquiry into the politics, histories and aesthetics of queer spaces and culture. This enquiry builds on their travels across the UK whilst making ‘UK Gay Bar Directory (UKGBD)’ 2016, a vast project documenting the systematic closure of LGBTQIA+ dedicated social spaces. To Quinlan and Hastings, it became apparent through this research that the gay scene caters predominantly to white gay men. This prompted them to consider how this scene strengthens the historic male access to capital and power within the urban landscape.
Wishing to explore the question of access further in their new film, Quinlan and Hastings went location scouting in Birmingham’s gay village, only to find that in fact many of the bars and clubs have recently closed or will close in the next few months, due to the area being rapidly redeveloped as luxury residential accommodation in anticipation of the new high-speed rail line. This gave the film – and Quinlan and Hastings’ ongoing wider archival project – a new urgency to capture these historical LGBTQA+ spaces at a time of immense change, thereby highlighting the impact of gentrification upon the cultural substructures of a city and its gay communities.
In conjunction with the archival impulse of the film, Quinlan and Hastings have used dance and the performing body as a way to think through and investigate the ways in which male interaction and power are consolidated, particularly in relation to male sex culture. The film is set in three different locations: Bar Jester and the Core club in Birmingham and Shoeburyness Fort in Southend-on-Sea. Recently closed, Bar Jester had been open since the 1970s, transitioning from a men-only venue in the 1980s to a women-upstairs men-downstairs layout, and then into a mixed venue. The Core club is a members-only, men-only venue which hosts monthly club nights: it will close in the coming months. The third location, Shoeburyness Fort, was used by the British School of Gunnery as a training and experimental base for the army since 1859, then re-armed during World War 2 as part of the coastal defence, but now in disuse. Another form of a male-only environment at that time, the imposing, yet desolate Fort is flanked by the Thames Estuary one side, and by a recently built housing development on the other.
Within these three locations, the camera focuses on the strict routine of the line dancing format which is performed by the dancers without any emotional connection to the music or communication with each other. In contrast, a specially choreographed shadow dance (a derivative of the line dance) allows for a much more charged mirroring of the dancers’ bodies, whose interaction becomes intensely intimate and at times, almost violent. The film suggests a subconscious reproduction of power in public space through codes, gestures and behaviour. Wall rubbings of the stone relief that fronted the Bar Jester appear as a repeating motif throughout the film. These unique works are also presented on paper in the exhibition. A ghostly record of an iconic LGBTQIA+ venue at the moment of its passing, the Jester takes on a life of its own as a folkloric and governing character.
Quinlan and Hastings have also created a major new fresco painting, bringing this specialist, ancient technique into contemporary practice by engaging with the public and architectural nature of the medium. Depicting a high street populated by pedestrians, this quotidian imagery considers the role urban architecture plays in the formation of identities, and reflects on the ways in which movement is informed by a culture of male dominance. At a time of extreme and ongoing austerity, heightened surveillance and the privatisation of public spaces, the street is an increasingly contested and political zone.
In response to the exhibition, Humber Street Gallery is also launching a new community outreach and digital campaign, In My Room: Hull Queer Space Stories, which aims to collect LGBTQIA+ stories through the human history of Hull’s queer club and bar spaces. Working with a local artist involved with the LGBTQIA+ community, these contributions will be transformed into a creative piece of work that may take the form of a digital publication, piece of writing or illustrated artwork. Deadline to submit stories for this campaign is 13 June and you can find out how to get involved here.