Meat Rack Vision Quest, 2011.
Performed by Ryan Brewer while in residence at the Fire Island Artist Residency (Fire Island, NY). Documented by AA Bronson.
Ghosts in the Sex Forest:
Interview with Michael Miller of GalleristNY. Excerpts of this interview were published in the New York Observer. Read the full article.
MM: Can you talk a bit about your time this summer at the Fire Island Artist Residency?
RB: I’ll first talk about the land itself. This past summer was the first time I had been to the island. In some ways it was a culture shock, the queerness of the Pines community and the Cherry Grove community…the Meat Rack in particular, the sex forest in between the two. I was really drawn to that. There was a lot of ambivalence concerning that sort of unspoken terrain, everyone’s cruising ground. I developed a vision quest ritual that I undertook inside of the Meat Rack. There was a period of fasting, which I started a few days into the residency. Three days into the seven-day fast, I went out to the Meat Rack and stayed for two days in a ten-foot circle drawn in the sand. Part of the idea was to insert the queer body back into the space, but not use it for sexual gratification. It was abstaining. What was really interesting was the conversation I had with all of these guys that were cruising. Rather than just a sexually driven male-on-male interaction, it really became a pretty unique—it was a kind of deep social connection. One of the most interesting things was listening to these guys talk—It was mostly them talking. They were older and they had experienced Fire Island for years. They had seen the transformations that the queer community has undergone in the past twenty or thirty years. What was really interesting was to hear their take on the land—on the Meat Rack. A place—and I’m quoting them—that is “like Never-Never Land, but in other ways like a graveyard.” People came there to die. Another fascinating thing that came from this project was this queer mythology of the place—that if it isn’t haunted, there are spirits in some form there.
MM: Would you consider yourself a queer artist? What does “Queer Art” mean in 2011?
RB: Of course I’m a queer artist. I’m queer and I’m an artist. I don’t want to make strong delineations regarding what is “queer art” and what is other art. I’m queer. The fact that I am a part of that subculture plays into the other subculture that I then give back to—the other subculture that I’m involved in—the art community. For me, because I’m relatively young, I’m just kind of entering the art world. I haven’t known when there were these strict separations or when “queer” art was somehow different from “art” art. For me, it just seems inevitable, a natural progression of things. I can think these things and it doesn’t feel revolutionary, it just feels real.
MM: Chris [Bogia] and Evan [Garza], the director’s of the Residency, mentioned your group discussion on the final day of the residency and the last walk to the beach…
RB: There was a lot of walking to the ocean. We sat down and we talked about the residency and these other issues at large and why the residency exists. The final day, when we all went out to the ocean together, it was right as the hurricane was coming in. We actually evacuated that day. We didn’t evacuate any earlier than we were supposed to leave anyway, but once the residency ended, we were out of there. There was this conversation though. It wasn’t like we were blindly going to the country with our paintbrushes in hand. There was a serious engagement with the queer community there.
MM: What are some of the stories you heard while in the Meat Rack?
RB: Depending on the age of the person you talk to out there, some of it is really heartbreaking. And everyone has a story about the Meat Rack who knows it. I heard some people talk about being on the island in the late 80’s and early 90’s and just seeing men wander in there with sores all over their bodies…how the disease had manifested from the inside out. It’s so horrific. One guy did come up to me and he was rather emphatic about the ghosts of the Meat Rack. He asked me if I had encountered any of them. He went on to say that one of his lovers was still in there. There’s that kind of thing…it’s an incredibly emotionally, spiritually, and also sexually charged place. It’s not just a free-for-all…promiscuous hedonism. There are some serious psychic ties to the land.
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