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'Dying a Very British Death: Ecstatic Antibodies and the Possibilities of Censorship of Queer Art in Britain, c.1990'

Research Lunch – Theo Gordon

  • 17 July 2020
  • 12:00 – 1:00 pm
  • This talk will be given online via a Zoom webinar

The 1990 exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology (Impressions Gallery of Photography, York), was conceived by the curators Tessa Boffin and Sunil Gupta as a pro-sex, pro-queer artistic intervention into the politics of representation of the AIDS crisis in the UK. The show featured a range of painting, photography, moving image and installation work, and opened to considerable local controversy in York, before its display at the Viewpoint Gallery, Salford was preemptively cancelled by the city council with murmurs of Thatcher's notorious Section 28 as cause. The few subsequent accounts have likened this censorship to that experienced by artists in the 'culture wars' in the United States in 1990s. In this paper I contest such a parallel between the US and UK contexts, rethinking Richard Meyer's canonical art historical account of censorship as productive of queer art. Ecstatic Antibodies, I argue, faced the particular idiosyncrasies, false starts, and deep repressions of British culture at the turn of the 1990s, forces that worked to foreclose, rather than enable, its artistic project.

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About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Theo Gordon

    Theo gained his PhD from The Courtauld Institute in 2018, with a thesis on psychoanalysis and art of the AIDS crisis in the United States in the early 1990s. He has an article, 'Spit or Swallow: Orality in the Art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres', forthcoming in the September 2020 issue of Art History. For 2019–20, Theo has been Sackler Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellow at The Courtauld, working on the 1990 exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies, and for 2020–21, he will be Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C.