9 April 2014

Trans artists challenging gender: Special review of Transpose at the Tate Modern

Special Review of Transpose: Tate by J Tebble

CN Lester at Transpose: Tate

From dingy pubs and union bars to the centre of London’s modern art collection, CN Lester’s Transpose moves to the Tate to showcase trans responses to some of the world’s most famous pieces of surrealism.

Transpose is now in its third year, and has become a staple of fulfilling trans/queer-orientated nights out in London. Organised by musician and performer CN Lester, the evening changes theme each time, and has covered topics such as cinema, classical music, Pride, and Halloween. This time on London’s Southbank, Transpose: Tate took a look at the relationship between art and gender, exploring bodies, stereotypes, expression and visibility of trans and gender variant people.

In between songs from their new album ‘Aether’, CN Lester welcomed us to the evening, introducing ‘Corporeal limits: art and the dissolution of the (trans) body’, a reaction to Joan Míro’s ‘Painting’ of 1927. It questioned why, as trans people, we often don’t have the agency to break free of the constraints of ‘bodies’ – sometimes the physical reality of them, but also the definitions placed on them by other people. A shorter transcription of their monologue can be found on their blog; though I enviably got to hear the whole thing live and was left breathless throughout.

Photo of Salute HQ (Ralph Fox) screenprint. By BexWade.

Screenprint by Ralph Fox (Salute HQ). Photograph courtesy of BexWade.

The narrative of bodies was also a theme for the next portion of the evening – which featured live screenprinting onto a bare torso! Reminiscent of a primary school classroom where we were confronted with large printed-out pictures of objects, visual artist Fox forced the Transpose audience to ask what made an everyday thing masculine or feminine. How do you define a cheesegrater? Or a cassette tape? At the end of the night, I doubt anybody’s mind was made up about the dilemma of the gender-bending sculpture Le Cadeau by Man Ray – an iron with nails hammered into the bottom of it. We did like Fox’s unicorn stencil, though.

With an interest in the modern art in the Weimar Republic, journalist, writer and musician, Juliet Jacques told us that editors were more interested in her writing about her transition than what she’d specialised in at university, and tonight we were treated to a combination: The story of a trans woman in 1930’s Germany, who modeled for the painter Christian Schad. Closely following it, in contrast to its theme of gritty violence, was an upbeat country and western-inspired performance in front of Sidney Nolan’s ‘Inland Australia’. Southampton-based Wild HB closed the evening with a sing-along, passing out booklets of songs and leading us from the woods of Hampshire to the deserts of America with the theme of wildness and spirituality.

Transpose: Tate was a display of everything that’s great about the trans community in the UK: An abundance of creative individuals, who are ready to break open paint, pianos and prose to get their messages across. Hopefully, in the next reincarnation of the Tate gallery a generation down the line, there will be more open challenges of gender by trans artists for display publicly, and not only for one evening.

You can follow Transpose events through CN Lester’s Facebook page. On Twitter, #TransposeTate has more tweets and pictures live from the event.

On Road, Project Manager for On Road.