AN AFFINITY OF HAMMERS
16 - 23 NOVEMBER
PRINCES PARK BATTERY, HOBART
MEANWHILE is excited to present An Affinity of Hammers, a solo moving image and audio exhibition in Hobart, Australia, as apart of HOBIENNALE.
With the increase of trans visibility in common discourse, anti-trans rhetoric has risen internationally. Across Australasia, anti-trans and conservative groups campaign against law reforms that would see greater civil and political rights for trans people. These conversations extend into policy, specifically the Marriage Amendments Bill which has seen same-sex marriage legalised, the removal of forced divorce provisions for transgender people and gender markers on birth certificates made optional. Winter’s work addresses the relationship between surveillance and violence, questioning the promise of “visibility” in an era of increasing anti-trans sentiment and civil rights breaches against trans people.
in this place without language
my rage is a silent raving
Aliyah Winter is at the beach. In fishnet tights, a dazzling sheer dress and a neon yellow wig, she’s writhing in the shallows, scrambling across barnacled rocks, as if it was the sea itself that birthed her. She’s performing, for no one in particular, what Susan Stryker describes as “transgender rage.” For Stryker, transgender rage summons the lexicon by which trans subjects have been rendered aberrations, not-quite-human or monstrous by medical science, popular discourse, and trans-exlucsionary radical feminists alike. Though operating with varying degrees of clarity and viciousness, the intent of this speech remains the same: to cast trans subjects, trans women in particular, as a problem to be dealt with. Rather than disavowing this language, though, Stryker argues for its embrace, finding within it a queer kind of agency that might rearrange how bodies are made meaningful, and how lives are made livable. “I want to lay claim to the dark power of my monstrous identity,” she writes, “without using it as a weapon against others or being wounded by it myself.”
Language drives An affinity of hammers. Winter calls upon its power not simply to describe the world, but to create that world and to determine the conditions within which people inhabit it. Accompanying Winter’s moving image work is a set of stickers. Printed in the shape of distorted penises, the works recall the stickers which appear periodically around Te Whanganui-a-Tara, where the artist is based. Affixed to lampposts, bus stops, and buildings, these stickers engage in a kind of semantic warfare that distills language—demanding it behave efficiently enough to carry a message, to appeal on some affective level to people’s sensibilities, and to operate through a system of euphemism and association that would grant those who distribute these artefacts plausible deniability of the more violent implications of the messages the stickers carry. Examples range from appeals to “Protect lesbian youth,” to more explicit declarations like, “There’s no such thing as a lesbian with a penis,” or, “Saying trans women are women is like saying seahorses are horses.” Frequently deploying the figure of the child—the young girl, in particular—in need of some paternalistic intervention by the state to protect them, this linguistic scheme operates by casting transwomen, implicitly, always as dangerous predators, threatening to breach the borders of “women’s” spaces.
These stickers belong to a network of speech acts, let’s call it a poetics of TERFdom, that engages in what Sara Ahmed terms, in her essay “An affinity of hammers,” from which this installation takes its name, a “performative contradiction.” Whether appearing as anonymous stickers, in panels and lectures, opinion pieces in mainstream publications, the poetics of TERFdom casts its speakers as victims of campaigns of violence, bullying, intimidation, and accuses those who disagree with them of attempting to stifle debate. It assumes a flattening of an otherwise obvious imbalance of power between transwomen and those who would seek to eradicate them; it makes claims of being silenced, deplaformed and ostracised, conveniently ignoring the platforms from which these performances are made; it sets the terms within which disagreements might be made, and accuses anyone who refuses to engage in those terms of all manner of crimes—from being too sensitive, to being too aggressive, to engaging in some vast global conspiracy of trans ascendancy.
Winter’s work excavates this poetics, exposing its manipulations and contradictions. In being monstrous, Winter performs a refusal to engage with those who would seek to eradicate trans subjects on terms set by the latter. Transgender rage refuses to engage in arguing for the validity of trans lives, eschewing any argument that doesn’t take as a given the validity and continuity of trans lives. In Ahmed’s words, “A dialogue is not possible when some people exercise arguments as weapons by treating others as evidence to be rebutted. When you are asked to provide evidence for your existence, or when you are treated as evidence, your existence is negated.”
— Simon Gennard
About the artist:
Aliyah Winter is a Wellington-based artist whose work extends across the media of photography, video and performance. Recent projects include AURA Festival: Home Movies, with Nathaniel Gordon-Stables, Artist Film and Video Aotearoa New Zealand, 2019; Puawānanga, with Angela Kilford, WAITHUI Billboard Project, Wellington, 2018; hardening, Enjoy Gallery, Wellington, 2018; Under your skin, you look divine (group), Basement Shop, 2018; Intimate Distance, Toi Pōneke, 2017; The Tomorrow People (group), 2017.
OPENING SATURDAY 16TH NOVEMBER 4 - 6PM