A decade ago, five days a week, for two years of my life, my daily commute involved biking down a long stretch of road into the wind. It would blow hard against me in the morning and then by the afternoon it shifted and would blow hard against me on the way home. It seemed impossible. Every day I would bike into the wind both ways. I began to wish that I had the ability to see air currents. I assumed that this daily confrontation was a part of a much larger weather system. I thought that if I could only see the way the air was moving I could understand what was funnelling it against me. Of course we cannot see wind. We can only see the effects. How it acts upon other forms. The way it picks up dust, blows hair and clothing. The way it makes trees sway.
In 1975, the onomatopoeia BAMF was introduced into popular culture. The word first appeared in an issue of Marvel's The Uncanny X-Men to accompany the character Nightcrawler's ability to teleport. Often written in all caps, it would appear embedded in an illustration of a cloud of smoke as Nightcrawler's body appeared or disappeared. In many cultural circles, the word has become synonymous with the act of teleporting and is often used casually in its stead. The word itself, though, was not intended as a synonym for teleportation but as a sound to accompany it. The sound of air rushing in to fill the space where the body once was. The invisible shift of certain molecules leaving a space and new ones moving in to occupy it. A change invisible to the eye.
Over the past decade or so, queer spaces with both long and short histories have closed their doors in Edmonton, including those in the very space this gallery now occupies. Much of the public evidence of these spaces now exists on old message boards and Facebook groups that will also likely one day be gone. I suspect it is hard to pinpoint any one reason why so many of these bars have closed. Just like the wind, we can only see the ways these forces affect bodies, forms and spaces. I wonder about the long-term implications of these changes. Queer spaces are sites for community building, for connecting, for hooking up, for getting out, for being seen, for being hidden. They are also places for staying informed and for organizing. And they are places of friction. They exist as a visible alternative to the norm. A visual reminder to people outside queer communities that such communities exists. By existing in a physical space and a public space, queer bars inevitably end up existing in our brains as well. Because they are visible to the eye, they are also visible to the mind. As a result, these spaces and all they represent become part of our consciousness. They bring to the surface things we think about, things we repress, things we imagine, things we try not to imagine.
I have a memory of a moment that I cannot place in time. I was standing in line at Buddy's, a gay bar that used to exist on Jasper Avenue. As I stood there, a truck drove by and a man leaning out the window yelled “fag” or “faggot.” I can't remember which. It was not an uncommon occurrence at Buddy's but for some reason, this one time really sticks in my brain. I watched him hanging out the window staring at the line of people waiting to get in. I remember being angry. I remember being uncomfortable. I remember being relieved once I got inside. Looking back, I realized that he was likely uncomfortable too. Something about seeing Buddy's and a handful of soon-to-be patrons made him uncomfortable enough to try and denigrate the people waiting in line; to try put a sort of mental distance between himself and the thing that made him uncomfortable.
For me, photography is about the limits of seeing. Just like wind, there are many forces that are invisible to the eye. They become visible only through the things they affect. Similarly, they are a part of larger systems that are hard to perceive in totality. As queer spaces disappear, something shifts. Some of it is visible. Most of it is not. The subtlety of air moving in to fill the space where something once was.
Written as part of this exhibition.