QuIR Workshop III Recap:
Queer Transnational Arts & Activism

The third workshop in our series was hosted by Professor Marco Pustianaz, at the University of Eastern Piedmont, in Vercelli. Marco’s work on queer theories, texts, affect, performances and discourses has been vital in facilitating meaningful intellectual engagement with queer issues in Italy. He is author of many scholarly publications and co-director (with Liana Borghi) of the Àltera series ). The series includes both insightful new studies and Italian translations of influential theoretical works.

Our speakers tackled a range of important issues, from live art to drag performances as activism. Giulia Casalini and Diane Georgiou of Archivio Queer Italia opened the event with a compelling presentation on live art, in which they underlined its key characteristics as a deeply embodied strategy for intervening critically in public space. Live art is located disruptively between artistic traditions and disciplines, and is often difficult to document but it can inspire ‘repeat’ performances. Casalini and Georgiou spoke about some of the performances they had seen the previous week at the Santarcangelo Festival, the oldest Italian festival of the contemporary performing arts. Sadly, despite its vital contribution to Italian and global culture, and messages about the importance of celebrating diversity, this festival was to come under attack in the media  only a few days after the workshop, from local politicians who objected to nudity and other aspects of the performances, showing how vital it is to continue to support this forum for contemporary performing arts.

The next panel was a round table discussion involving local activists from Arcigay Valsesia, Anita Sterna (Vice President) and Stefania Sanna (local representative in Vercelli). They shared some of their experiences with us, including their decision to set up the group ‘Africa Arcigay’ in 2016, which supports LGBTQ asylum seekers in the area. We discussed historic tensions in the Italian LGBT movement, specifically in Arcigay, between the importance of creating discursive and political spaces for LGBT identities, and the challenge of remaining open to queerer perspectives for those whose identities transcend labels. The day was rounded off by a striking performance by Senith (Anita Bartolini) of her piece BAD ASSolo at the Anacoleti Theatre. In this piece she blends monologues (including readings from works by Leslie Feinberg and Paul B. Preciado) with self-conscious performances of femininity and masculinity that she describes as ‘queer drag’. This reflection on her experience as a drag artist playfully and compellingly deconstructs and disrupt normative assumptions about sexed bodies and gendered behaviours. The performance was open to the public and was followed by a lively Q&A session.

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On the second day, we heard Dom Holdaway argue for the non-normative potential of mainstream cinema; he suggested that ‘inoffensive’ portrayals of LGBTQ characters in mainstream films may have more potential to change attitudes to sexual diversity than some auteur films which are more conscious in their approach to representing queerness. This was followed by Stefano Tomassini’s discussion of Enzo Cosimi’s choreography, including the performance Estasi.

We discussed how this and other of Cosimi’s works challenge normative approaches to gender and embodiment. The final session was a round table discussion of drag performance, with contributions from Mirco Costacurta on a drag king workshop in Padova, and Michela Baldo and Senith, who discussed the group EYES WILD DRAG, which Senith co-founded, and the GendErotica festival that she has run successfully for several years. With cuts to art budgets and increasing precarity for artists, the festival needs support now more than ever. The closing event was a second performance, again open to the public. Egon Botteghi’s Mi chiamo Egon [My Name is Egon], was also performed at the Anacoleti Theatre. Based on an idea developed by Egon with Laura Rossi,  and performed by Egon, it relates his journey of self-discovery and realisation in a humourous and moving way.

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The combination of performances, round tables, and individual presentations based on both lived experience and ongoing innovative research made this workshop a really rich and intense experience. Our sincere thanks to the artists, scholars and activists who agreed to share their work and perspectives with us. We hope to be able to continue collaborating with you in meaningful ways in the future.