Having a Kiki: Queer Desire and Public Space is the title of the latest book to be published by Berlin and Dublin-based Paper Visual Art. Guest-edited by visual artist and educator Emma Haugh, it is a compilation of image and text-based works, examining the concept of public space and the built environment through queer, dyke, and transgender perspectives. Here, art editor Stephen Moloney explores the volume and speaks with Haugh to gain greater insight into the motivation and meaning behind the piece.
Early last year, Emma Haugh was approached by Paper Visual Art to guest-edit the collection. Although a more complex task than initially envisaged, it was an ultimately rewarding process: “it was more involved than I imagined but it was very pleasurable to be in a position to invite people to publish and to see it come together; all the unexpected overlaps and cross-connections”. Collaboration is central to Haugh’s research and practice, and the list of contributors to the volume is composed of those people she has previously worked with as well as “those who make work I admire and who share a queer-feminist consciousness”. The image and text-based works to be found throughout Having a Kiki are described by Haugh as “somehow performative to the extent that they enact some thing or some place in the reader’s imagination.”
Bound in dazzling and almost-fluoro green, the book’s wraparound cover is punctuated by an outsized and abstracted Kiki, expressed in a micro-chequerboard print. The optical effect of this is brilliant, shocking and illusionary. Whether by mistake or design, this effect is wholly appropriate. It speaks to the central concern of Having a Kiki. To be sure, gender is brilliant, shocking and, perhaps foremost – illusionary. Passages of texts are punctuated by a wealth of visual material including a collaboration between Haugh and Suze Husse, as well as flyers, news clippings and photographs from Libida, a club for queer women which Haugh co-found with Sharon Hargrave in Dublin between 1997 and 2002.
The experience of gay, cisgender males is minimised throughout the book. Although never a deliberate editorial decision by Haugh, this should be welcomed by readers. Of course such experience is entirely valid, but often it can be too readily, and lazily, drawn upon to broadly account for [and subsume] the myriad and messy lived experience which really lives and loves beneath the rubric of queer. Haugh has facilitated the coming together of a wealth of diverse voices and speaking tongues, imbuing Having a Kiki with a feeling of limitless possibility in terms of what can be gleamed and understood about queer identity and all its beautiful nuance and subjectivity.
In Eimear Walshe’s essay, masc role models log: aug 2016, the reader is let in on the experiences of a non-binary young person, their relationship with their father, and how a single word from the Irish language provides an unlikely source of meaning and connection. In A Crystal Diary, Excerpt #3: How to Get Served a Drink in Las Vegas, Frankie Hucklenbroich follows lesbian couple Nicky and Shawn as they negotiate their sexual and gender identities. Reference is made to a shared sense of oppression between groups that have been historically othered. This particular point is timely and its importance should need no further elaboration, particularly on the back of 2016. The piece concludes with the couple driving miles out of the city and into the desert to find a remote queer bar. Resonance should be easily located throughout the publication for anyone who has been made feel like a poor fit with society’s cultural norms.
“A spilling out of her research and practice”, the publication is a continuation of Haugh’s ongoing work The Re-appropriation of Sensuality, which, in her own words, “seeks to re-formulate representations of desire and the politics of architecture, looking at the relationship between body knowledge, performance and the anatomy of space”. “Space”, in this instance, may be architectural, cultural, or psychological. Distilling all of this into a single question, Haugh’s work asks, “how do we imagine a space dedicated to the manifestation of trans and feminine desire?”. Previously, Haugh’s ideas, expressed in The Re-appropriation of Sensuality have found materiality at NCAD Gallery, with the exhibition’s form and construction referencing sex club environments and unrealised fantasy spaces in which latex, faux leather, rubber and concrete all came together as materials.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of Having a Kiki, its appeal will surely be as broad as encompassing as the experiences relayed within it. On this, Haugh has particular expectations and hopes: “I imagine a readership interested or curious about the content. In Dublin, I think it has a strong visual art readership. We will launch it in Berlin at the end of January in Archive Books, and I think that there will be a crossover readership of queer-feminist artists and activists. I would love if queer teenagers could access it easily”.
Haugh elaborates on that last point, and it is a crucial one on which to finish: “If you identify as queer it can be difficult to find spaces where you see yourself reflected back – in how you think, how you look, how you love and what kind of culture you identify with. If you’re a queer teenager not living in a city with a vibrant queer scene (and there aren’t many) then coming out can be doubly alienating.
“In my experience, gay and lesbian scenes and communities can be pretty conservative. Gay men can be misogynistic, lesbians can be transphobic, and racism, classism and all kinds of body fascism are ever present in gay and lesbian clubs, bars and across online dating platforms. If you identify as queer, then this is not the kind of environment you’re searching for. I would hope that the work in Having A Kiki might offer points of connection for young people who are thinking for themselves and questioning the expectations of mainstream culture, that connecting with other queer voices can create a space of self reflection and affirmation”.
Words: Stephen Moloney
Having A KiKi, Genesis’s Slideshow, Oreet Ashery, page spread, 2016.
Having A KiKi, design by Atelier, Dublin, 2016.
‘melancholy of disappointed desire, River Spree, Eichenstrasse, 12435 Berlin’ Emma Haugh & Suza Husse, 2016.
‘a city mapped out with emotional happenings, k-fetisch (café/bar, gender-neutral toilets) Wildenbruchstrasse 86, 12045 Berlin’ Emma Haugh & Suza Husse, 2016