Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz

Installation with Super 16mm film / HD,
13 min and archive, 2012

Performance: Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Werner Hirsch

The film Toxic shows two protagonists in an undated time, a punk figure in glitter (Ginger Brooks Takahashi) and a drag queen (Werner Hirsch), both of unclear gender and origin. They linger in an environment of glossy remains, of toxic plants and transformed ethnographic and police photography. While the punk gives a speech on toxicity and a performance referencing early feminist art works, the drag queen reenacts an interview of Jean Genet from the ‘80s and blames the filmmakers for exposing her to the police-like scenario of being filmed. The camera turns and depicts the space-off, the space outside the frame.

There is a toxic threshold, a toxic load and toxic waste, there are toxic agents, toxic doses, toxic effects, toxic strangers, toxic queers, toxic people with AIDS. Exposure to toxic substances is associated with the inability to work, with no kids, no future, with cognitive delay, enhanced aggression, with allergies and cancer. Lead has recently become racialized as Chinese, radioactivity and its endurance as Japanese. A toxin could also be a medicine, a so-called hard or soft drug or toxic waste. Might the discourse on toxicity, which installs violent hierarchies, also be able to introduce new subjectivities and new queer bonds (between people and people but also between people and objects, people and masks)? And what happens if another technology and its history–film and photography instead of chemical substances–is focused from a perspective of toxicity?

The film apparatus also uses chemicals and though it is mostly digital today it is even more dependent on toxic substances and toxic working conditions in the production of the chips, of cameras and computers. Its images have been used by anthropology as well as by the police to poison with serious social effects. But the effects of the very doses are not always predictable. When the mug-shot was invented around 1880–a way to photograph a human from two cropped and paired views, one frontal, the other from profile–it was used by diverse state and scientific institutions to identify, which meant, to install social hierarchies: between the photographers and the viewers as “normal“ and privileged on the one side and the photographed on the other side: criminals, sexworkers, homosexuals, black people and people from the colonies.

At Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, where Toxic was filmed, the work was also presented for the first time. The installation comprised not only the film but a series of 15 portraits of homosexuals and transvestites from the Paris police archive, so-called pédérastes, who were caught by the police in the 1870s and photographed. Those images were taken at a time when the state institutions had not yet developed their own visualizing methods and apparatus. They took the homosexuals that they had caught to commercial photographic studios and had them photographed in a bourgeois setting, and with the same poses of pride and peacocky self presentation, which had been developed as means of recognition by the establishment.

While the cinematic apparatus tries to allow for unmediated objectivity and knowledge about “stranger danger” (Ahmed 2000), it might–as dirty and uncanny by-products–also produce ec/static bodies and queer connections.

Informations on the installation:

Super 16mm / HD Video
13 min.
Performers: Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Werner Hirsch
Director of Photography: Bernadette Paassen
Photographs: Ouidade Soussi-Chiadmi
Sound: Johanna Herr, Karin Michalski
Set photography: Ouidade Soussi-Chiadmi
Sound Design: Rashad Becker