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Corpus Immundus: Notes from the Underside

This film screening is presented as part of Making Space at the Armory’s Corpus Delicti, a convening of artists, activists, and intellectuals imagines and enacts transgender art and music as a vehicle for dialogue across differences, October 14, 2023. This screening is curated by performer, video artist, writer, and organizer Xiomara Sebastián Castro Niculescu.

A Note from the Curator

This program is a love letter, an audiovisual ode to trannies, travestis, hookers, and street queens—to those threateningly opaque and sensuous figures lurking in the shadows of “trans history,” too filthy for it’s sanitizing embrace. Presenting video traces documenting a set of artists, activists, and guerilla performers across the Américas and spanning the 1980s to the present, the works in this program deliciously refuse the trappings of respectability politics.

“Immundus,” from the Latin meaning filthy, impure, foul; in some cases, even immoral or demonic. Instead of rejecting filth – working to scrub out their pre-manufactured reputation as sex-crazed and violent addicts, hysteric menaces, vectors of contagion, threats to the natural order of things – the artists documented in these video works ecstatically embrace their status as Other. They insist on disgust, terror, camp, and excess as tools, as combative and transcendent ways of knowing and moving through a world trying to snuff you out. Together, this program hopes to offer us a way out of a canonically white “trans history” and into its Black, brown, poor and sex working underside - where unknowable horrors, illicit pleasures, and truly revolutionary potentials lie.

“Corpus Immundus” unfolds through varied video genres and rejects typical ideas of authorship and objecthood to instead focus on the mediated documentation of these disruptive, filthy figures themselves. A looping trilogy of shorts document the inceptive performance and organizing work of trans punk, hooker, and nightlife divas against the deathly mechanisms of US healthcare and policing in the 1980s and 1990s, through the work of Vaginal Davis, Chloe Dzubilo, and Connie Fleming’s performance in the work of Charles Atlas. Video documentation of a 2002 live stage performance by Canadian artist Mirha-Soleil Ross splinters the criminalization of sex work and the legacy of Western anti-prostitution feminism to instead propose the transsexual hooker as a privileged lens through which to imagine liberation for both human and non-human animals. Finally, an afternoon double feature of Latin American documentaries, on Brazilian travesty artist Linn da Quebrada and Chilean travesti persona Hija de Perra, point to the limits of liberalizing US transgender identity, instead exploring anti-colonial genderplay, unabashed sexuality, and confrontationally filthy performance art as pleasurable means of rejecting a world that wants us dead.

12:00PM – 1:30PM

That Fertile Feeling, 1983
Vaginal Davis (b. 1969; Los Angeles, California)

featuring Vaginal Davis, Fertile LaToyah Jackson, and Johnny Dark
directed by Keith Holland and John O’Shea

Single-channel color video converted to digital, sound; 8 min. 28 sec.
USA; English with English subtitles
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin.

Artists, best friends, and “Afro Sisters” bandmates Vaginal Davis and Fertile LaToyah Jackson star in this incisively camp video artwork right out of the early days of the Queercore movement. While watching porn together in a nondescript Los Angeles apartment, Fertile LaToyah Jackson suddenly goes into labor, and the two travel to the nearest hospital, only to be turned away for lacking insurance. They must then make their way to Fertile’s (naked) boyfriend’s apartment, where she begins giving birth to a seemingly never-ending stream of babies – until Vaginal announces, in utter shock, that Fertile is the first woman in the world to give birth to “eleven-tuplets.” Resulting in a cutting critique of the privatization of healthcare, this video takes up the racialized myth of the ultra-fertile “welfare queen” and inflects it with both transsexual rage and humorous punk irreverence.

Chloe Dzubilo: There is a Transsolution, 2019
Viva Ruiz (b. ♾️ ; Queens, New York)

featuring Chloe Dzubilo (1960 – 2011), Arlene Hoffman (1967 – 2006), Kelly McGowan, Regine Singleton, Akasha Tonia Barker, and Marcie Chase
directed and edited by Viva Ruiz

Single-channel digital color video, sound; 7 min. 31 sec.
USA; English with English subtitles
Courtesy of the artist.

Artist Viva Ruiz invites transgender AIDS activist, artist, and beloved friend Chloe Dzubilo (1960–2011) to speak in this documentary short via never before seen Hi-8 footage filmed by Chloe’s then-partner Kelly McGowan in the 1990s. The process triangulates mother (Chloe), lover (Kelly), and child (Viva) in a deliberate ritual to uplift the spirit and legacy of a punk ancestral teacher. Through artifacts from the moment when video first became accessible and before mobile phone cameras became ubiquitous, we witness Chloe declare herself and her sisters as vanguards of art, political organizing, and culture forevermore.

What I Did Last Summer, 1991
Charles Atlas (b. 1949; St. Louis, Missouri)

featuring Connie Fleming, Gina “Chicklet” Vetro, Rebecca Weinberg, Keoki, and Joseph Lennon in “Butchers’ Vogue;” Chucky and Shuck E. in “The Draglinquents”
directed by Charles Atlas

Single-channel color video converted to digital, sound; 12 min. 45 sec.
USA
Courtesy of the artist and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

In the three short, low-tech analogue video works in this compilation, Charles Atlas documents legends of downtown New York nightlife at the beginning of the 1990’s. Set in the all-night diner Florent, the former haunt of the Meatpacking District scene, “Butchers’ Vogue” is a music video featuring club legends Connie Fleming and Gina Vetro as bloodthirsty prostitutes on the run from a cop, intercut with shots of voguing food service workers. In “The Draglinquents,” the performances of drag queens Chucky and Schuk E. are edited hauntingly and superimposed over cliched greenscreen landscapes intercut with 1950’s muscle-boy movies. “Disco 2000,” a video ad for the party of the same name at the Limelight, mixes footage of a crowded dance floor, homemade optical effects, and a dancing chicken.

1:30PM

Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts from an Unrepentant Whore, 2002
Mirha-Soleil Ross (b. 1969; Montreal, Canada)

Video documentation of live stage performance
co-directed by Mirha-Soleil Ross and Mark Karbusiky (1972 – 2007)

Single-channel color video converted to digital, sound; 74 min.
Canada; English and French with English subtitles
Courtesy of the artist and Vtape, Toronto.

On May 1, 2002, Métis Canadian transsexual sex worker and performance artist Mirha-Soleil Ross delivered a series of blows, in monologue form, at anti-prostitution discourses and campaigns – detailing the way they impact, often violently, prostitutes’ working conditions and lives. This intermedia video work combines documentation of savvy, often humorous, spoken performance acts with interstitial cuts of gut-wrenching animal hunting footage. Interweaving references to activist Margo St. James’ pivotal sex worker organizing group COYOTE (“Call Off Your Tired Old Ethics,” founded 1973) with references to the animal itself, the performance works through what it is to be a body feared, desired, and hunted all at once.

3:00PM

Bixa Travesty (trans: Tranny Fag), 2018
Linn da Quebrada (b. 1990; São Paulo, Brazil)

featuring Linn da Quebrada, Jup do Barrio, and Liniker Barros
co-directed by Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla

Documentary feature film, digital color, sound; 75 min.
Brazil; Portuguese with English subtitles
Courtesy of the directors and FiGa Films, Miami & São Paulo.

Black Brazilian travesty singer and performer MC Linn da Quebrada, born and raised in the favelas of São Paulo, is a force to be reckoned with in this documentary that follows her as she confronts the machismo of Brazil’s funk scene. Along with friend and fellow travesty performer Jup do Bairro, we see Quebrada channeling her rage through sound and bodily performance, implementing a biting sense of wit towards the very order that wants her dead. Claiming herself explicitly as a bixa travesty (“tranny fag”), she playfully claims her position as a means of espousing discourses on Brazilian anti-blackness, feminist thought, and normative expectations of transsexuality. Throughout the film, we move between documentation of her confrontational stage and radio performances and snapshots of her personal life with friends and loved ones, as she traverses the pleasures and difficulties of living in her body.

4:30PM

Tan Inmunda y Tan Feliz (trans: So Filthy and So Happy), 2022 – North American Premiere
Edwin “Wincy” Oyarce (b. Santiago de Chile)

and Hija de Perra (b. 1980; Santiago de Chile, Chile – d. 2014; Santiago de Chile, Chile)
directed by Edwin “Wincy” Oyarce
featuring Hija de Perra

Documentary feature film, digital color, sound; 89 min.
Chile; Spanish with English subtitles
Courtesy of the director, Creas Films, and MiraDoc, Chile.

Hija de Perra was a Chilean travesti artist, a performance persona, an icon of sexual dissidence, and a benchmark for Latin America’s queer punk underground. Even after her untimely death due to AIDS-related complications in 2014, she lives on as an exemplar of confrontational difference through the archival work of her filmmaker, collaborator, and best friend Edwin “Wincy” Oyarce. Editing together intimate and unpublished audiovisual footage captured by Oyarce, this documentary reveals the origins of Hija de Perra as a performance character and counter-cultural doyenne. Tracking the development of Hija de Perra as a figure, we see her experiments in music and exploitation film, academic knowledge production and political action, using her travesti body as a refusal of both colonially-imposed cultural norms and the imposition of North American models of gender identity on the Global South.

About the Curator

XSCN (Xiomara Sebastián Castro Niculescu) is a performer, video artist, writer, and organizer from New York, by way of immigrants from Ecuador and Romania. Her previous work attempted to touch up against fragments of what could be called a “trans history” without imposing coherence. Her current work lies in the present, molding weapons from such fragments. Using writing and performance, she pursues a figure she calls the Tranny—a myth, a puncture, a narrative form for the material experience of being a racialized transsexual hooker. As XSCN, she claims her status as tranny, as threat, as Other—she seeks revenge.

Her previous works have been reviewed in Artforum, and featured at MoMA PS1, Performa, the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, and Visual AIDS. Her first book project, a collection of essays on and for the Tranny, is forthcoming from Pink Jacket Press in late 2024.