Saturday, September 11, 2010
Queer Culture in the Hallows
For the past 5-6 hours, blurred between the scenic Tennessee highway and sluggish mass of box trucks trekking through the hills, I had an opportunity to formulate my thoughts in the meditative solitude of the road. The drive signified the completion of a 3-week venture through the South exploring concepts of community and safety through documentation while sharing SPORE mobile art gallery with persons en-route. Ironic perhaps that the trip is concluding on the anniversary of 9-11. An event that has had an unarguable impact on the past decade and our community relationships.
The concept behind SPORE, an acronym for Spontaneous Projects Orchestrating a Relevant Exchange, loosely surrounds social exploration and like many of my projects is in a constant state of evolution. Many of the scheduled visits on the trip were selected for their cultural identity and relationship with art creation. I plan on spending the upcoming months compiling writing, video footage and still images from explorations thus far. The final destination of this trip was Ida, a 17-year running radical queer and transgender intentional community in rural Tennessee. The following is a reflection of my interactions there.
"Lugging a damp tent through the lush vivacious gardens and artfully constructed structures that is Ida I paused to document the scene into memory. That morning was particularly stunning. Rays peeked through the hills illuminating the rising Smokey mist, the area's namesake, flirting with shadowy hues lurking from the night's torrential storm. A residual of Hurricane Earl in the Carolinas.
I had arrived close to dusk the previous day after a short trek through what I as a Missourian would dub mountains. I parked the van in front of an aging barn. Yellow bubble lettering expressing "Welcome Homo" was painted on the exterior. Almost immediately a jovial person with pigtails greeted me. Parade of healthy looking friendly mutts in toe.
We spoke for a moment and were interrupted by two loud characters driving and hanging out of a pickup truck which appeared to be hauling a large piece of metal piping. Later I learned it was to be used for construction of a new bridge on the property for Ida's upcoming work party and fundraiser dubbed "Work hard. Stay hard."
In one week's time over 100 people come from throughout the country will assist with community projects at Ida. All guests are fed three solid vegetarian meals and are invited to engage in pre-planned activities organized by a crew of 10 or so I met that weekend. Ida also hosts Idapalloza, a growing music festival of over 500 during the late Spring harvest.
I was led through a vibrant flowering garden into hand built mixed-use cabin with windows so exaggerated in size that the space appeared to live inside the garden. The cabin is primarily used as a kitchen, internet cafe and dining hall. The grounds vaguely reminded me of the summer camps of my youth.
Instantly I was introduced to an eccentric gathering of mixed age, race and gendered individuals engaging in a family-style dinner. That night's spread hosted a cornucopia of delicious dishes consisting of ingredients grown at Ida as well as donations from charities and perfectly editable food gathered during dumpster diving excursions.
After dinner I was led to the bathroom, an outhouse which is ironically the most decedent building on the premises. It resembles a Gingerbread cottage. I spent the rest of my evening socializing and listening to personal stories. After attempting to sleep in a catastrophic loft full of spiders next to a semi-public shower room with large windows. I groggily pitched my tent in a bamboo garden next to an empty stream and slept comfortably.
My morning was leisurely. Inquiring about the Kombucha tea jars that I noticed perched on a kitchen shelf I was shown fermentation techniques including pickling, vinegar brewing and homemade ginger beer. Most were derivatives of recipes complied by Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation who resides at nearby fairy sanctuary Short Mountain.
Later that afternoon a festively dressed Ida resident Maxine and Tom of Short Mountain shared their developing juggling routine with me. Ida's picturesque mountainside garden provided a magical backdrop. Their complex routine included jokes, twists, and multiple objects. 20-year juggling veterans, they were preparing for a gig at venue in Southern Tennessee the following day.
My remaining daylight hours were spent in the shared community building assisting another visitor, a kind-hearted British activist and sex worker called Topsy in the creation of a lavish traditional Rosh Hashana dinner.
Throughout the meal preparation process Topsy and I spoke heartfeltly our life experiences. Upon my inquiry he described his activism work and some of the horrors he'd witnessed in the Middle East which included seeing friends killed by gunfire and children disfigured by bombs. He described an immense duality of compassion with both the people of which he was living with and those he was fighting. The cause he explained was much larger than himself and was complex. His film work provided him the financial ability to be there.
Quickly I discovered that Ida much like it's sibling Short Mountain, serves as an open-door refuge for persons who may not fit comfortably into mainstream culture due to their sexuality and gender identity. Food and meals serve as cultural binders for the community. Despite Ida's remoteness, it's surprisingly connected to the outside world and could perhaps be considered an epicenter for a growing international network of queer culture.
At Ida's core it appears to be a haven in which creative expression, individualism and sustainable living are blurred into flowering cornucopia of something genuinely beautiful."
Throughout the trip SPORE engaged with folks at Camp Pleasant in Frankfort KY, students at the University of KY in Lexington performing at LOT (Land of Tomorrow), New Harmony Indiana, Marginal Arts Festival artists and Jim Leftwich in Roanoke VA, Elsewhere living museum in Greensboro NC, Common Grounds Coffee Shop in Southern Pines NC, Asheville NC, Gatlinburg TN, and Charleston WV. Visiting old friends Sean, Danielle, Tiffany, Erin and Sayde along the way. Current artist is Robert Long of St Louis, MO.