Our Andrew of the Flowers - Andrew Black Interview

In advance of his first solo show at Embassy Gallery, Andrew Black speaks candidly about what the opportunity has meant to him as a white cis male, and how he's not trying to get away guilt-free

Article by Adam Benmakhlouf | 09 Aug 2016

Andrew Black’s compiling a long list of collaborators for his first solo show Our Andrew of the Flowers. There are friends’ voices transcribed from conversations about recent trips together, then re-enacted by other important people in his life, as well as videos of folk he’s fond of, the majority of whom are non-straight.

He’s intending to acknowledge some of his anxieties about the individual-centric format of the solo show, and the fact it was given to him as a cis white male. Across the videos, paintings, sound work, drawings and collage he’s including, the show’s put to this specific end. “It’s about the way it breaks it down,” he says. He might have accepted the solo show, but the works are each in different ways intended to frame his position as a queer-but-cis-male artist, and problematising the masculine elements but foregrounding the queer elements of that position.

Speaking in advance of the show, he continues, “At the end of the day it will totally read as a solo show, I think. I don’t want to make any big claims for it being an anti-solo show before I know how it will work, just acknowledge that the solo show is quite an uncomfortable format.”

Thinking away from the more conventional queer signifiers and situations, Black’s giving pride of place to a recent short trip to Skye with queer friends. For him, it was a time when he was “wanting to exist as queer in opposition to the identities that had claimed those landscapes before.” That’s to say, “the macho,” “the male extreme sports and masculine survival tourists,” or the “romanticised poetic experience.”

The importance of provincial identities

He gives a sense of why the sound piece that recounts this holiday is so important to the whole exhibition.  Though not rejecting theory, Black’s suspicious of a certain canon of writers. So he distances himself from a kind of dry radicalism, and much of Our Andrew of the Flowers makes a virtue of a sensitivity to “the valuable points of learning and context happening in lived experience, especially the elements that are deemed shameful.”

Black’s looking towards environments beyond the usual metropolitan idea of queer life. He mentions remote and provincial identities as important to explore; he describes the surety of his identity he felt while there, and “revisiting the landscape with a group of queer friends and feeling safe and validated, through working out our context together.” 

In this way, it’s important for Black to look outside of the term’s predictable uses and definitions. That’s to say, to begin to consider contexts and situations that aren’t typically considered relevant to being 'queer.' Elaborating on this, he considers the moments other than sexual activity. As one example, he questions if working a menial job is “more abject” for a non-straight person than “the straight guy on the same shift.”

Specifically, he thinks about “the stress and energy it requires.” He asks, “How is a queer person set up to perceive that in a way that is less favourable than for straight cis men, and what are the differences in how we both take it home with us?”

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As much as Black has a problem with being the star of the show, he’s careful to acknowledge his influence and authorship throughout. He speaks in particular of the four-way conversation about travelling to Skye that will play in Embassy, “I’ve got the final say on what goes in and I’ve steered the conversation. I still do feel like it is quite heavily authored.”  It’s a problematic position, but one that he’s assuming consciously and perceptibly in the different works, “rather than just opting out, which is a use of privilege and is unproductive and not generous.” 

This decision not to author the show is intended to be made very obvious, leaving that open for discussion. He complicates his position further, saying “I’m definitely choosing to remain like an author but problematising it, but also wanting to invite people to be involved who are friends… because I need them and we’re all important to each other’s experience... I definitely also want to acknowledge that whatever’s in that work is not me telling or me explaining, it’s informed by other people’s experiences as well… I’d feel cautious of saying this does something positive. That’s not for me to qualify... others can call me out.”

In contrast, with the video of his friend playing a song, there’s not such a complicated set-up. “He just asked me if he could, and I filmed him… That seemed like the right thing to be in there as well. And that’s how we hang out, in someone’s bedroom and we talk a lot, and about music.”

Queer texts and visuals

While parts of the show have no clear relationship to familiar queer visuals (Black reading the day’s cheques in a kitchen where he worked in one video, or in others of landscapes), one video in particular depicts a banal erotic scene. He gives some context for its inclusion, thinking in particular “when male bodies get penetrated it is a fundamental point of tension where they become potentially un-male and queer, and the masculinity is put into a very intense position. The intense moment of shameful penetration is something that has echoes at the points where an element of queerness is identified in myself in a non-queer environment.”

Black also acknowledges texts like The Screwball Asses by French queer theorist Guy Hocquenghem and writers like Leo Bersani, who “foreground the anus as the ‘revolutionary’ sexual organ of the male body, trying to get away from the phallus.” As well as these textual sources, Black references a different generation of artists who used the body as a primary medium “because that was where the fight was going on and inscribed – and  of course still is for non-straight, nonwhite, trans and nonbinary people.”  

So there’s some trepidation about making public a personal investment in issues around sex and the body – “being a ‘receptive’ sexual being is still the thing you get accused of that is meant to bring you down irredeemably. Homophobic abuse given to male-gendered people is often around that, and sadly, it’s tied into a complex of shaming that was established at school.”

But for him it’s a funny video too. It’s important that the show’s “visually gratifying, enjoyable and not an essay but an enjoyable space to be in that’s entertaining.” This in a way brings up aesthetics. He doesn’t “want it to be swallowed up into a language of the art gallery and art space. I don’t want that to be the language I’m talking in, or what represents these things. It’s more about being a fairly straightforward reflection on, and framing of these things as they are experienced.”

Our Andrew of the Flowers, Embassy Gallery, 13-28 Aug, Thu-Sun, 12-6pm