This video poem threads together a story that attends to the texture, movements, resonance, and potentialities, in other words the “ordinary affects” (Stewart 2007), of queer relationality. What was the Colour of your First Kiss? becomes a way to grasp at (but never quite reach) an essence of something; it mirrors the ambiguity of queer intimacy that words at times fail to articulate. It moves towards a depiction of a repertoire; the embodied movements, forms, aesthetics, and feelings of queer intimacy. Its production becomes a type of creative project that works in tandem with the accompanying written essay (that you do not see here); these forms rub up against each other, drip over each other like honey, melt into the crevices of each other, the same way that lovers might. This poem sits at the border zone between the surreal and the mundane. It is an experiment in the erotics of the everyday (Lorde 1993). It is an experiment that may not offer the type of pleasure derived from narrative texts, in which you can easily place yourself within a neat linearity. My hope is that this lack of pleasure might act as a kind of productive failure (Halberstam 2011) that results in the experience of jouissance (Barthes 1975). This poem thus becomes (it is in itself a becoming) a type of alchemical force that conjures queer intimacies in its very failure to represent them.
The question of representation has long been taken up in the field of anthropology (Clifford and Marcus 1986). Following this I ask myself, how to map the subjective cartographies of others? How to capture the intimacies of my research participants without interrupting them? My ‘solution’ to this question: participants were given disposable cameras and invited to take photographs that represent their experience of intimacy in concrete or abstract ways.
But the cameras were faulty. Many of the frames failed to develop. Fleeting moments that were recorded but now lost. A technical failure that meant the exposed film was not able to reproduce the visible spectrum of light. In other words, the forms and colours lost in a sea of darkness. This is the reason why some of the galleries that appear here contain limited images.
And while this was a disappointment for myself and my participants, it was as if these moments of intimacy resisted capture, resisted mimetic representations. As if they were determined to stay hidden, singular, ephemeral. Yet this technical failure also raised questions about what may have been in the end my own methodological failures. Was my choice of using analogue film a selfish, aesthetic one? Did I assume that by eliminating the editorial agency of my participants (by not giving them the ability to record images that they could review and re-take) that the data I received would somehow be more ‘raw’, more ‘authentic’? Was striving for ‘uninterrupted’ moments of intimacy desirable or even achievable? Might I be reifying the falsehood that there exists a pristine Truth awaiting capture?
Of the images that were developed, the question remained of how to treat them? The photographs that were successfully developed you see here, but (initially) only as a scale of colour gradient, as Lumetri Scopes. Why reduce these images to a unified one-dimensional scale? Why strip the surface of these images of their texture, their singularity, and their presence? This process was enacted as a type of queer unbecoming, a way to render these images so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between discrete objects and forms, between foreground and background.
What insight is there in this failure to represent the idiosyncrasy of a thing? What happens when the ordinary attachments and identifications that we are used to holding onto vanish? Without recourse to fixidity and materiality, the relationship between what we think of as discrete objects and symbols becomes porous, is queered. Where does one body end and the other begin? Does the background of an image, or of an experience, say as much as the foreground (Ahmed 2006)? Through this process of reducing these images to a measure of colour, we can ask ourselves not only what was the colour of your first kiss, but also what was the colour of the last happy moment you had with your partner, what was the colour of saying goodbye to someone, what was the colour of frivolity with friends and lovers? Here these questions become literal, but they also speak to the intangibility of love and desire. Colour may be as good a mode as any to qualify queer cartographies of intimacy. And yes, when you look behind this initial curtain of light, the things themselves sometimes reappear. In some instances, you are afforded the pleasure of knowing and naming a thing or a scene. But other times that pleasure is withheld, much like the experiences of my participants, at times their desires satisfied, and other times never quite reached.
Ahmed, S., 2006. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Duke University Press.
Barthes, R. and Howard, R., 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. Macmillan.
Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E. eds., 1986. Writing Culture. University of California Press.
Halberstam, J., 2011. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke University Press.
Lorde, A., 1993. The uses of the erotic: The erotic as power. The lesbian and gay studies reader, pp.339-343.
Stewart, K., 2007. Ordinary Affects. Duke University Press.
Annie Shewring is an anthropologist, a poet, a lover, and occasionally an artist. The methodological underpinnings of Annie’s work centre around notions of multiplicity and a politics and poetics of intimacy. Through various practices, Annie attempts to prefigure a queer utopia in which diverse forms of intimacy and expression are given space to thrive. Annie is currently finishing a Master of Arts in Visual and Media Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin.