Exploring queer cultures & lifestyles in the creative arts in Britain c1885-1967

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12 Mar 2016

9.30am to 7pm

Marking the up-coming 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, this conference explores how LGBTQ+ artists working between c.1885-1967 shaped the unique nature of the creative arts in Britain.
Convened by Reina Lewis, London College of Fashion, UAL, and Andrew Stephenson, University of East London, the symposium analyses a broad range of same-sex artistic identities, creative practices and representational strategies demonstrating how the vibrant fabric of British culture has benefitted from the exceptional talents and energies of queer artists, designers and creative practitioners.
Papers will examine how the unorthodox collaborations and lifestyles of queer individuals and groups working in Britain or abroad contributed to the dynamic vitality of Britian’s rich creative culture.

Booking is essential.  Please book your place by clicking here

9.30 - Registration and coffee

10.00 - 10.15 - Welcome Reina Lewis
10.15 - 11.15 - Keynote 1: chair: Reina Lewis
Laura Doan, Queer History / Queer Memory / The Case of Alan Turing.

11.15 - 1.00 - Session 1: chair: Shaun Cole 
1 - Alice Friedman, Domesticity and its Discontents: Queer Paris and the Varieties of Lesbian Life.
2 - Fay Brauer, Virilizing Homosexuality: Queering Art and Body Cultures after the Wilde Trials.
3 - Kristin Franseen,The Secret Lives of Music Critics: Translating Queer Musical Identities in Early Twentieth-century British Music Appreciation.              

1.00 - 2.00 - Lunch 

2.00 - 3.00 - Keynote 2: chair: Andrew Stephenson. 
Christopher Breward, Closets and Wardrobes.

3.00 - 4.45 - Session 2: chair: Fionna Barber​
1. Dominic Janes, Early Twentieth-century ‘Vogue’, George Wolfe Plank and the ‘Freaks of Mayfair’.
2. Jenna Allsopp, Negotiating Female Masculinity in the Early Twentieth Century: the Case of Vera ‘Jack’ Holme (1881-1969).
3. Jack Smurthwaite, Francis Bacon’s Private Wrestling Match.

4.45 - 5.00 Break 

5.00 - 6.00 - Plenary panel: Clare Barlow, Michael Hatt and Elizabeth Wilson  

6.00 - 7.00
 - Drinks reception
Launch of Queer Fashion, special issue of Journal of Fashion, Style and Popular Culture, edited by Shaun Cole and Reina Lewis.

Abstracts: in order of speaking
Laura Doan, Queer History / Queer Memory / The Case of Alan Turing.
If we’re serious about producing knowledge of the sexual past in all its complexity—that is, as something we think we know already as well as pastness in all its radical strangeness—it’s vital to grasp the epistemological consequences in conceptualizing historicizing practices as oppositional, as evident in the tensions between queer history and queer memory.  To explore how these divergent pathways to historical understanding jostle one against the other, I’ll turn to the case of Alan Turing (1912-1954), a man seen by some as the mathematical genius who saved England from Nazi tyranny and by others as the defiant, though vulnerable, gay man punished by the archaic laws of the British state.  Constructing Turing’s life and death as translatable or unknowable highlights the difference methodology makes in coming to terms with queer self-fashioning in the modern age.
Alice Friedman, Domesticity and its Discontents: Queer Paris and the Varieties of Lesbian Life.
Although the well-known partnership and Paris home/studio of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas suggests that the ideal of lesbian marriage and the model of settled domesticity dominated queer women's culture in the first half of the 20th century, a closer look at lesbian circles in Paris in the period between 1920 and 1945 offers a striking alternative.  Archival and photographic evidence relating to various groups of expats - Romaine Brooks and Natalie Barney; Janet Flanner and Solita Solano; and Violet Trefusis and Winnaretta Singer - sheds new light on the durability of familial yet non-monogamous relationships among women who were often separated by circumstances and geographical distance. Moreover, the social and cultural divides that ensured that these groups occupied vastly different spaces within the city of Paris and its suburbs raises fascinating questions about the varying identities, patronage networks, and social mores that existed in these years.

Fay Brauer, Virilizing Homosexuality: Queering Art and Body Cultures after the Wilde Trials.
After the third trial of Oscar Wilde when paranoia of insidious ‘inversion’ peaked, Eugen Sandow’s physical culture became widely advocated for the attainment of muscularized manhood and the eradication of onanism and ‘inversion’. Extolled by the Marquis of Queensbury as a defence against effeminacy and by National Efficiency reformers as a panacea for degeneration, Sandow’s physical culture was also lauded by ‘uranists’ and ‘unisexuals’ for virilizing and depathologizing ‘inversion’. The very year that The Intermediate Sex was published, Edward Carpenter openly advocated the practice of physical culture in Sandow’s Magazine, while insisting that the male body in Sandow’s Institutes would benefit from being bared in “a large open swimming bath”, with “a running track” and “horizontal bars in convenient locations”. “Uranians of the “normal type”, explained Carpenter in Love’s Coming-of-Age, “possess thoroughly masculine powers of mind and body” and are “often muscular and well built.” Extolling the virtues of the Ancient Greek gymnasium as Sandow’s model, Marc-André Raffalovich maintained that the ‘unisexual’ was also virilized by art and culture in which healthy heroic manliness was glorified. “He loves pictures, statues, images representing attractive figures,” Raffalovich wrote. “He has heroic dreams. He is a hero loving other heroes.” By no means were unisexuals denied these phantasies, as this paper will reveal.

Exploiting physical culture performances and photography, Sandow was powdered, painted and photographed nude in the same postures as Ancient Greek sculptures of Apollo and Hermes, while readily modelling himself as Hercules covered by nothing other than a skimpy tiger skin for the British and New Zealand Academicians, Aubrey Hunt and William Reuben Watts. Corporeally aspirational while lip-lickingly exhibitionist, this art and body culture was able to appease the Marquis of Queensbury, lure King Edward VII while simultaneously attracting a huge homosexual following. By focusing upon the ways in which the queering of art and body culture was able to function as a double sign, a licit expression of illicit desire that was simultaneously permissive and perverse, this paper will demonstrate how paradoxically the very policing of homoeroticism after the Wilde Trials led not to its suppression but to its gratification. 

Kristin Franseen, The Secret Lives of Music Critics: Translating Queer Musical Identities in Early Twentieth-century British Music Appreciation.
The mid-1990s saw numerous debates within musicology about the suitability of gender and sexuality as subjects of inquiry. The place of sexuality in music research, however, long predates this turn in scholarship. Many of the pioneering sexologists and sex reform activists, including Magnus Hirschfeld and Edward Carpenter, maintained lifelong fascinations with musicality as a queer phenomenon. Although musicological investigations have drawn attention to these connections in sexology, the reverse—allusions to gender and sexuality in music history and criticism—remains more elusive. How, then, did this “musical-sexual knowledge” spread, and what role did music researchers play in it? This project proposes one answer through an analysis of sexual subtexts in the musicological works of Rosa Newmarch and Violet Paget (known professionally as Vernon Lee).

I argue that, much like the better-known revival of Renaissance art history by British male homosexual authors like John Addington Symonds, the inclusion of queer subject matter in the works of music historians like Lee and Newmarch merits further study. This includes Lee’s historical and literary depictions of the castrato (long considered a figure of gender ambiguity) and Newmarch’s translation of Tchaikovsky’s biography (which influenced the musical discussions in E.M. Forster’s Maurice). For both, musical-sexual knowledge was something to be translated across languages, contexts, and (borrowing from Heike Bauer) disciplines. I aim to build on this multifaceted “translation” to examine the role of historical research in forging connections between musical and sexual identities, as well as the ways in which the models of queer figures in music history provided authors and readers with links to a broader sense of histories and communities. I will foreground music appreciation as a way of filling gaps in written accounts, a concept which resonates with both Lee’s and Newmarch’s aesthetics and period accounts of queer self-discovery through the arts.

Christopher Breward, Closets and Wardrobes.
This paper will address the concept and materiality of the closet as it relates to the construction of queer identities in the modern period. Drawing on foundational work on the relationship between 'normative' sexuality, domesticity and sartorial display in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the recovered histories of sexual subcultures who have found alternative models for performing private and public identities through the metaphor of the closet, it seeks to provide a broad, trans-histrical study of shifting practices of dressing and appearing.

The idea of the closet is also, of course, a powerful tool in the homophobic containment and progressive liberation of same-sex desire, whose material and visual forms have been expressed through literature, architecture, art practice, film and fashion. In pulling these threads together the paper attempts to uncover a stimulating account of wardrobe behaviours and their relationship to queer histories.'

Dominic Janes, Early Twentieth-century ‘Vogue’, George Wolfe Plank and the ‘Freaks of Mayfair’.
George Wolfe Plank (1883-1965) was an American illustrator, chiefly remembered for his long-term association with Vogue, which was founded in the United States in 1892. He moved to Britain and produced a wide range of work including the illustrations for a series of textual sketches, The Freaks of Mayfair (1916), written by the closeted homosexual novelist E. F. Benson. One such freak, Aunt Georgie, is described as follows: ‘When he entertained at his own house, his guests were chiefly young men with rather waggly walks and little jerky movements of their hands, and old ladies with whom he was always a great success, for he understood them so well. He called them all, young men and old ladies alike, “my dear,” and they had great gossips together, and they often said Georgie was very wicked, which was a lie.’ My reading of this character is that he is not meant to be seen as a man who has sex with other men since he lives a decidedly sedate and celibate life, but he certainly is not sexually interested in women. He is definitely presented as effeminate in that he lives the life and shares the tastes of a stereotypical spinster lady. On the other hand it is by no means so clear that his young friends with the ‘waggly walks’ who spend so much time in each other’s company are by any means so restrained. American Vogue said in its review of Benson’s book that it turns ‘the searchlight of a humorous and not unkindly satire on the shams and absurdities of London society… with that quiet enjoyment of the foibles of one’s neighbours which adds so much to the joy of life ’. In this paper I will explore this creative collaboration between writer and artist as an exercise in ‘queer fashioning’ that sought to find new ways in which sympathetically to depict gender and sexual diversity.

Jenna Allsopp, Negotiating Female Masculinity in the Early Twentieth Century: the Case of Vera ‘Jack’ Holme (1881-1969).
Described by cultural anthropologists, Victor and Edith Turner, as ‘social limbo,’ a ‘liminal’ space is a blurred boundary in which normal rules do not apply. Liminal spaces allow people in them to question traditional notions of morality and experiment with new limits of acceptability. The Turners suggest liminality occurs during transitional periods of history ‘when the past has lost its grip and the future has not yet taken definite shape.’ It can be argued that the immediate post-First World War period leading up to the Great Depression can be interpreted as a liminal space in itself. This was a period of conflict between tradition and innovation, between old attitudes towards femininity and morality and new theories of female sexuality and the likelihood of universal enfranchisement. This period of social uncertainty allowed for the uncertainty of gender, represented through the emerging masculinised styles and the greater freedom afforded women.
This paper will explore the negotiation of female masculinity in the early twentieth century, specifically that demonstrated by masculine lesbians whose visible cultural presence increased following the First World War. By focusing on Vera ‘Jack’ Holme (1881-1969) as a case study, it has been possible to understand the considerations which are taken when constructing a masculine identity for someone immersed in conservative society. In applying the concepts of Turner through the consideration of liminality, it has been possible to establish that Holme used the liminal spaces of the stage, foreign travel and the private sphere, and involved herself in occupations and environments requiring a uniform, in order to enact her masculine identities in legitimate and safe spaces, while remaining feminine in contexts which required it. This demonstrates a negotiation of her own ideals and those of society resulting in a split in Holme’s identities; feminine Vera, the Suffragette, and masculine Jack, the male impersonator. 
Holme’s less-privileged economic status, compared to contemporaries such as Radclyffe Hall and Hannah ‘Gluck’ Gluckstein, is also considered in illuminating an area of lesbian research which to date remains under-studied.

Jack Smurthwaite, Francis Bacon’s Private Wrestling Match.
This paper looks at the homosexual subculture of letter writing and pre-paid advertisements in British sports journals marginally before and during the public discussion of The Wolfenden Report in 1957. Examining the under documented and controversial 1955 retrospective of Francis Bacon at the Institute of Contemporary Arts as a starting point, his two canvases Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954) will be used as exemplary models of the continuing homoeroticism of wrestling in Britain – a culture that saw itself as far removed from its Greco-Roman precedent. Bacon’s clash of high and low cultures gives a perfect insight into the production of fine art and its reception but also into mass spectacle and wider public opinion. It serves our discussion well that Two Figures in The Grass was reported to the police for indecency as the ambiguous, blurred figures could be coiled in fornication, but it was later left on display as the imagery came from a plate by Eadweard Muybridge. As such, the distinction between art and science will be addressed in this paper and the question as to why ‘art’ would have been reported, but ‘science’ would have been allowed will be confronted. Magazines such as Mat and Vigour which dealt solely with sports journalism will be compared and contrasted to British physique journals including Adonis and Body Beautiful as links between both find their way into the work of Bacon and his clique of gilded gutter Soho ragamuffins. 

Given the variety of practitioners pushing the boundaries of public acceptance towards the end of homosexuality’s illegality, this paper places itself squarely between Francis Bacon – figurative painting’s greatest bastion in the age of abstraction – and English wrestling, an ancient sport homogenised to function in a modern, heteronormative society; and it attempts to read a history which unravelled itself (unwittingly) under the watchful gaze of the police and the judging public.
Plenary panel: Clare Barlow, Michael Hatt and Elizabeth Wilson


The conference comes out of a collaboration between Reina Lewis, London College of Fashion, UAL, and Andrew Stephenson, University of East London.

Image credit: © Wellcome Library London.  Lady Strachan and Lady Warwick making love in a park, while their husbands look on with disapproval. Coloured etching, ca. 1820.  Published by Clinch,London