Tomorrow night sees the return of LGBT art fundraiser, The Queer Archive! After the smash success of their party to bring a debut exhibition from Greek trans* artist Paola Reveniotti to London, TQA are now focussing their attention on Hackney based project A Weekend Of Sexual Nature. Designed as walking tours through picturesque Abney Park Cemetary in Stoke Newington, the tours will focus on the combined use of the space by wildlife conservationists and as a hotspot for cruising. We spoke to artist Louis Buckley to find out more about this fascinating project…
What was the catalyst for this project?
I’ve been a resident of Hackney for almost a decade and I’ve spent many hours exploring Abney Park Cemetery. I’ve spoken to friends who’ve had sex in there, and I’ve caught glimpses of things going on in the bushes while wandering around… I’m personally fascinated by how we think about and relate to nature and sexuality, and about the ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ ways in which we’re supposed to behave in different urban spaces. A few years ago I came across an article written by Matthew Gandy, a geographer at University College London, in which he highlights the fact that many places in cities that are havens for wildlife are also prime spots for illicit sex. His prime example is Abney Park, so the idea really grew from there.
Can you talk us through the wildlife aspect- what animals reside in the cemetary? And why do the conservationists care so much about the space?
It’s a relatively undisturbed area of woodland that is, I believe, recognised as one of the most important sites for biodiversity in London, and was declared as Hackney’s first official Local Nature Reserve in the early 1990’s. The cemetery contains more than 170 species of trees and shrubs and is nationally important for fungi, rare beetles, birds like owls and woodpeckers, butterflies and moths.
How do the conservationists feel about the cruising? One would imagine it would be a source of conflict…
One of my major motivations for doing the project is to find that out by bringing people together to discuss it. There certainly is the potential for conflict, there’s no denying that, but a common theme of my work as an artist is to attempt to bring groups of people together to discuss difficult subjects, ranging from suicide to particle physics. Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic!
And what specifically makes the cemetary such an important space for cruising?
There are quite a few different theories about that, but the obvious explanation is that it’s a fairly large wooded and secluded area, that’s dark and so offers plenty of privacy. The whole sex and death thing associated with it being a graveyard is also something that people have written about, not surprisingly! However, I’m keen to explore whether there might be other motives at play, and to talk to people how they feel about having sex in the open air, close to trees and animals and the earth. Or perhaps that’s just being overly romantic…
What do you think are the impacts of highlighting to the wider local community such a secretive (albeit an open secret) practice such as cruising? And what do you hope that people will get out of the walking tours?
In an ideal world, I would like the project to make people question how they think about Abney Park in terms of acceptable and unacceptable use. I think there’s no reason why cruising shouldn’t be accommodated by the authorities that look after the cemetery, and why the fecundity of nature is celebrated in Abney Park is celebrated, while human sexual activities are frowned upon.
Tell us one particular highlight of the walking tour…
I’m personally looking forward to the conversations that the tour will spark between passionate entomologists and veteran cruisers. Not to be missed!
Do you anticipate much interest in the tours? What do you think the breakdown will be in terms of closet cruisers and conservationists?
The tours are fairly small – only for about 10-12 people at a time – so attracting an audience shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but you’re right in saying that attracting the more conservation-minded audience might be a challenge. However, I’m in contact with quite a few people involved in the wildlife side of things and their responses encourage me that we’ll get a fair few turning up.
And what do you personally want to gain out of the project, artistically speaking?
I’m interested in exploring different ways of relating to urban spaces and to nature and in attempting to create scenarios in which diverse groups of people can come together. I’m also interested in imagining strange future possibilities – for this project I really like the idea that cruisers and conservationists might be inspired to work together to protect sites like Abney Park. And perhaps a few cruisers might start doing some wildlife monitoring, and a few conservationists might venture into the Reserve after dark…
Describe the project in one sentence to someone who thinking of joining on the walking tour…
A walking, talking exploration of the wonders of human and animal sexuality – or, possibly, are there bears in these woods?
The Queer Archive: A Weekend Of A Sexual Nature takes place at Dalston Superstore this Saturday 11th January from 9pm – 3am.