These are verbatim transcripts of interviews, reflecting spoken rather than written language.
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s the 31st of January and we are at the RAMM in Exeter to record a life story interview for the Out and About: Queering the Museum project at RAMM. My name is Jana Funke and I am interviewing Oren today. Thank you so much for being here. So we’ve asked everyone involved in this project to look at the RAMM catalogue and choose one object from this vast collection that speaks to you and resonates with you, so to begin, could you tell us which object you’ve chosen and just describe it to us please?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yes. The object that I’ve chosen out of the collection is a chasuble. It’s for all intents and purposes a very ornate and beautiful and opulent garment worn by priests in the moment where they would move from their ordinary clothes into a kind of sacred or religious ceremony.
INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you. And why this object? Out of all these thousands of objects, what drew you to this particular object?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think that there’s multiple parts of it that I’m really excited about. The kind of one part which I guess is more general is the moment at which the priests may have put on the garment and what that would have affected for them, so the moment of transformation, I guess and like spiritual transformation too and this feeling of awe and wonder in these mass gatherings, and the other thing is the really elaborate embroidery and the different figures that were on the garment and what happens when you wear this mass of iconographs on your body.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yes, thank you. That’s a really evocative description, I think, and I really get a sense of what it might feel like to put on this object. So do you think other LGBTQ+ people who might look at this object would connect with it, might have strong feelings about the object in any way?
PARTICIPANT 1: I really don’t know! [laughs] I think for me I definitely do and I guess I can speak as a queer person but I’m not sure how much of my queerness is the reason for being drawn to the object and how much is my past and I think it’s inextricable in some ways but it definitely attracted me.
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s interesting. I think other people who are talking as part of the installation about I think spirituality that for queer people that’s often quite a difficult relationship with spirituality, I was thinking about your other work on the project which you don’t have to talk about as part of this but I guess it’s also engaged with themes around spirituality and faith.
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, definitely and I think the impulse to a certain extent comes from a want to poke at the wound which is not without its problematising, but also the feeling of being left outside and wanting to be inside, especially like inside a feeling of expansive love and a kind of oceanic or spiritual feeling.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yes. In terms of your other creative response as part of this project, you really engaged with this idea of how the question of faith and [missed] [00:03:48] could be more capacious, more welcoming, if you want to use that language; could you say a little bit more about that process of working on the collections and how you engaged with the objects as part of that process?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think there’s a kind of really strange… moment where there is so much kind of love contained, especially within Christianity and Christian semiotics or symbology and the way in which you are encouraged to be in the world, so this real kind of I don’t know, blindsiding that happens when you are told that you are not deserving of that love, or that something that I might hold really dearly to me which is my queerness, is not seen as holy or like loving, it’s kind of seen as a sin. And so I was kind of interesting in focusing on some of these devotional texts and objects as ways of and putting it into a queer context as a way of meddling. [laughs] With these standards, but I think as well when I am specifically looking at and I guess in the texts I was looking at with the work that I was doing was Victorian devotional hymn songs, to do with the crucifixion story and with this object what I am really interested in is a medieval Christianity, so both far away from the Christianity that’s currently playing out with will the Methodists accept gay marriage and I don’t know, something awful the Pope just said and I think with the medieval Christianity what I am really excited about is the uncharted sense of gender and sexuality in general that is so vastly different from a kind of what we would conceive of now where it’s all mapped out and sterilised. I don’t know. The kind of image of heteronormativity under capitalism as opposed to this deep murky medieval religious context. Superstitious. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER 1: That’s so interesting. That’s two things I would love to ask you more about if you’re happy to speak about them. I mean one thing I think in a lot of what we say and also in your work is this notion of ritual, that kind of ritualistic sense of a certain sequence of how things are performed and how things happens, I was wondering if you could speak about that in any sense. If it doesn’t speak to you, that’s also fine, but I just feel that’s something that comes up in your work a lot.
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting with the icons on this garment, there’s obviously like Jesus and Mary, but also there’s the kind of unnamed Roman centurion who is kind of this problematic martyr and there’s also Saint Andrew who was martyred and they’re all moments where through ritual these figures become more than just, they go through a transformation where they become more than just a human body or even a sacred body into a saint. They are just capable of bringing about change, like… unworldly change and I think that captivates me as a kind of way of understanding an experience of transition, gender transition, or like a crossing over in general, I think that it is, I mean I don’t want to speak for people, but it is a universal experience of queerness where you’re in this process of casting off the things that have been put upon you to move into this space which is an uncharted expanse of symbols and history and becoming and finding something. And that feels very spiritually significant to me.
INTERVIEWER 1: That’s a really beautiful way of thinking about this and I love this way that you say queerness as a kind of casting off of expectations or ways of being that are put upon you and earlier you related that this idea of history, that history might offer us kind of more expensive ways of thinking about it, I think you mentioned gender but we can also think about sexuality and lots of other things that are different in the past and I guess we’re in a museum, we’re thinking historically in some ways and I was wondering if you could say a bit more about that, I guess how history can allow us to reach for something that is different, cast off something.
PARTICIPANT 1: God, I think history can tell us so much and I think it’s that impulse to search and that impulse to learn from people who have come before you in order to understand how it’s possible to be in the world. Alternate histories. Things that weren’t recorded or maybe things that you perceive intentionally, resistantly, or badly, as a kind of methodology, if that makes sense? Yeah, I think history is super important. I think historical symbols are really important. I feel like similarly to the histories on, in the embroidery on the garment, as I would thinking about the hanky code or [laughs] stuff like that and there’s stuff like that and there’s something about looking into these histories that are laden and memories and lives lived where I can piece together where I am and navigate myself into where I am.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, that’s so interesting. I think this idea of history offering us a kind of, something that’s very different from the present, but that can open up something for us really important in the present and I love the way that you articulated that. So thinking about the museum as a space and now having your voice represented, your story represented as part of this installation, we are asking people what’s the importance of the project, but I mean I am also asking what are the limitations, of the risks, of a project like this? So any thoughts on that would be really interesting to hear.
PARTICIPANT 1: I think it’s just really important. I think these kinds of archives are so few and far between and poorly kept, people haven’t necessarily had the power to keep them safe, so I think the fact that this is kind of, this project is happening within this pillar or bastion of historical tending is great but it also comes with a certain amount of bittersweetness that we don’t have our own space to be doing this in and the work that we’re putting in now to this project is kind of work that’s taking away from what could be all arts, but I think undoing work is important too.
INTERVIEWER 1: I think that’s really true and I think there’s limitations of what we can achieve in a space like this with the history it has. I think about that a lot, the limitations of what we can actually achieve, but also [missed] [00:12:44] it is, as you say. I was wondering again, I don’t know if you want to speak about this, but whether your relationship with the museum, this museum, maybe or the museum as an institution, has changed, whether this project has opened up your relationship to museums, archives, history, and it’s kind of not but I was just curious.
PARTICIPANT 1: There’s something that feels really reparative about coming back to this museum specifically and to Exeter in general, having grown up here or having the context that I knew my dad in and having, so my previous understanding of this space was one that I get taken to on the weekends by this authority figure that I really wanted to be close to but couldn’t because, so it kind of holds the same magnitude as church [laughs] and it feels, and like I think as a kid, probably held the same amount of mystique and terror for me that a church might and now coming back it just feels a bit small [laughs] and a bit silly [laughs]. I think especially what’s coming up is… the kind of strange taxidermised animals that kind of are hilariously violent and I don’t want to trivialise the violence that these spaces can hold, but there is a wild silliness to them, if that makes sense?
INTERVIEWER 1: It definitely makes sense and I think recognising that sometimes can also mean then I can do more in the space or I can see myself intervening more in the space.
PARTICIPANT 1: Yes.
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s not an authority that needs to be unquestioned or should remain unquestioned. So maybe building up on this, when you think about other people engaging with the installation, listening to your story, looking at your object and thinking about this installation as a whole and all the different voices that are coming together; what do you hope people might take away from it? Or what might it inspire them to do moving forward?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think the knowledge that all objects can be undone and be undone in order to take away the dry dust that archiving puts on these objects and that they have a life, and to try and imagine or put back together the life that they may have had outside of the museum, before the museum, before the museum maybe intervened [laughs] where maybe it was wrongly or rightly to take them in. That’s quite cryptic. Is that okay? [laughs]
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s more than okay. I love it. I love the way you phrased that. Thank you so much.
[00:15:59] End of transcript