Originally published by THE SKINNY 09 May 2013
Underground scenes don’t come more co-opted or exploited than New York’s voguing sub-culture, which went from the ballrooms of Harlem and the clubs of Manhattan to global ubiquity for one hot minute in the early 1990s. This was mostly thanks to Madonna’s mega-hit Vogue, and as with most things touched by the hand of Madge, its credibility and longevity came into question. But far from being a flash in the pan dance fad, or a clubbing moment frozen in time, vogue (and the ‘ballroom’ culture which spawned it) has become a way of life that encompasses art, music, dance, language, and style. It deals directly with the Black, Gay and Trans* experience in modern America, and raises pertinent questions about appearance, performance, sexuality and gender (much more than was ever achieved by Madonna’s faux-controversial Sex book).
This May, Glasgow collective Arika are hosting a series of events in the city to celebrate voguing and ballroom culture. Although Arika are already well known for events that address queer notions of identity and politics (as well as organising the renowned Instal festival at the Arches) Glasgow doesn’t have much of a ballroom scene, so how did this mini-festival come about? Quite organically, it turns out. Having been the first non-Americans to curate at the Whitney Biennial, Arika had worked alongside the sound art collective Ultra-red, some of whose members are part of the ballroom community. It was Ultra-red who suggested bringing some of this scene to Scotland, in keeping with Arika’s interest in ‘queer identities.’
The commitment to quality is evident in the bill Arika have assembled for the event, subtitled Hidden In Plain Sight; the fifth part in their ongoing, episodic series of mini-festivals. Club music, dance and performance are all heavily featured, as you would expect, but there will also be a series of discussions involving the visitors from New York that will be pretty damn essential too. Voguing is unique in that it’s a street dance form that can command serious academic appreciation, and Arika have done a great job in bridging these two disparate worlds.
Clubbers will be excited by the Glasgow debut of DJ Vjuan Allure, the grandfather of the modern ballroom house sound, who comes fresh off a release on Diplo’s Jeffree’s label. Joining Allure will be DJ Sprinkles, aka Terre Thaemlitz, purveyor of deep house and Resident Advisor favourite, as well as one time DJ at New York’s legendary drag/trans bar Sally’s. Thaemlitz also has a video/audio art installation project called Soulnessless at the Tramway on the Saturday, investigating ideas of gender and religion, and will be giving an introductory talk earlier that day. Performance artist boychild will also be appearing at Friday’s club night, and again on the Sunday, with two untitled lip sync pieces that question ‘the mutability of body and the mobility of gender.’
Dancer Trajal Harell will be giving a Saturday evening performance titled Twenty Looks, or Paris Is Burning At The Judson Church, an imagined meeting of the original ball queens and New York’s renowned improvisational dance group. Of most interest to hardcore voguing fans, however, will be two talks on the Saturday and Sunday by a group called Vogue’ology. Vogue’ology is described as “an investigative team consisting of members of the House/Ballroom scene and Ultra-red” featuring dancers, academics, and the legendary Pony Zion of Vogue Evolution, they are the dance troupe most responsible for bringing voguing back to mainstream attention through their appearances in videos and on American television.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. Hidden In Plain Sight hosts an embarrassment of riches for the dedicated fan, but also for those interested in queer politics, for historians and academics, and
even for those simply in pursuit of a good time.