If the portrait photography in this exhibition shows those who have dared to live in a gender diverse space, the film portrays the world as it attempts to enforce gender. Accompanied by Nelle Anderson’s experimental song, “Middleman," the film explores the implications of gendered clothing on the human experience by chronicling three distinct, interconnected points in life—childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Act one—childhood—borrows inspiration from Martha Graham’s 1930 dance, Lamentation by using jersey fabric to strip the dancer of gender and transform them into the embodiment of emotion. While the womb-like fabric is constricting, it also presents the figure’s body in a malleable state. As the performer contorts and pushes against the fabric prison, their body leaves vague impressions. By segmenting the body, gender is alluded to but never confirmed. The performer’s gender is withheld from audience assumption and permitted to exist in an authentic state based purely on emotion, curiosity, and self-exploration.
The theme of constriction is carried over into act two—adolescence—and heightened by transforming the womb-like state of the fabric into rope. This section focuses on the repercussion of a fluid, non-binary identity conforming to societal rules and gendered clothing. With the body on display, the performer, and in turn the audience, are permitted to subconsciously critique all aspects. Body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, and anorexia are presented as real-world horrors born from assimilation.
Houses within queer ball culture reclaim fashion to be re-worked in their image. The gown in act three—adulthood— pays homage to this history by using reclaimed materials. The capitalist system artificially limits up-cycling to serve the needs of marketing demographic groups, while suppressing those who don’t fit in. The blazer—traditionally a male garment—borrows inspiration from 1980 female fashion. The blue coloring from the first act is used again here but now paired with layered fabric and exaggerated shoulders to mirror armor. The skirt pulls from the color palette of act two utilizing pieces of gendered fashion throughout various stages of life.
During the early development stages, abandoned buildings were considered for the film’s backdrop. A church, factory, a home. The driving concept was reclaiming a space unconsidered. Taking these places of ruin and turning them into a celebratory stage for rebirth. While the use of abandoned buildings was eventually scrapped for practical and safety concerns, many of the key architectural elements were carried over into the final set design; the high, rounded window from a church, the tall narrow windows from a factory, and the peaked back wall from a house.
With the use of a set, the backdrop evolved into a cold, modernistic white void that represented assimilation and indifference. In a figurative and literal sense, the set operated as a surrealist diorama for societal gender expectations. It became an organic entity that evolved into its own character—the antagonist. An oppressive force that pushed for gender assimilation. The ending of the film is meant to highlight that, despite its force, the space is just a psychological one. A concept. Something that can be challenged if it leads to a more liberating existence and authentic self.
The audience is positioned as the voyeuristic public through the lens of the prowling camera; an accompanying antagonist to the set. There is often an othering that occurs within society when those who identify outside the gender binary represent themselves outwardly through clothing. The act of authentic expression is seen as societal justification for invasive study. The film captures dehumanization through the camera movement. When the performer is looking away, the camera moves in, and the framing becomes tighter and invasive. Each time the subject looks into the camera, the camera either cuts or pulls back to evade the returning gaze.
In act one, the camera moves freely as the performer has yet to be born into a place of autonomy. The performer in act two disrupts this by not only noticing the camera but actively trying to catch it. The intrusion of the camera implies that something is wrong with the performer worth scrutinizing. For many teenagers, this notion becomes internalized. Act three provides further disruption by allowing the performer to return the public’s gaze. Unable to escape, the camera is pushed back as the performer demands to once again be seen as a human.