Yesterday I attended the Centre for Sex Gender & Sexualities Summer Workshop at the University of Durham. The theme of the event wasReimagining Gender, Reimagining Sexualities, and the day incorporated two keynote presentations – from Prof. James Messerschmidt on the topic of hegemonic masculinities and from Prof. Wendy Chapkis on gender dynamics in the context of the medical marijuana movement in the US – four parallel research methodology masterclasses, two parallel panel sessions, before a round table discussion to close the workshop.
Myself and two colleagues – Dr. Rebecca Ferreboeuf (Durham) and Dr. Tara Plunkett (Queen’s University, Belfast) co-ordinated a panel for the event entitled Gender in Flux: Re imagining Sexualities in Varied Modes of Cultural Production. The premise of the panel was that cultural production provides a fruitful site for the articulation of alternative gender and sexual identities. Each paper centred on the fluidity, flexibility, malleability and multiplicity that characterises gender and sexuality. Given the diverse subject matter at the heart of each paper, our aim was to consider the extent to which medium specificity impacts upon the expression of gender and sexual identity positions. Our core question was: How can the arts shape new currents of discussing gender and sexual identity?
Image taken from http://manbehindthecurtain.ie/2012/01/28/i-despise-the-dawn/
Tara’s paper was entitled Beholders of Beauty: Overcoming the Subject/Object Dichotomy in the Surrealist Self-Portraits of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. She focused on two works by each artist, underscoring the complex position they occupied given their engagement with an artistic movement heavily centred on the sexualised female body. This was further complicated by their decision to work primarily with the self-portrait – a genre historically regarded as the domain of the male artist. Tara argued that although adopting distinct approaches, both women succeeded in artistically reflecting on their own sexual identities within the restraints of a typically masculine and misogynist movement and genre.
Rebecca’s paper was entitled ‘Pamphlet against Myself’: René Crevel’s My Body & I. Crevel, the only homosexual writer of the Surrealist group primarily remembered for his premature death by suicide in 1935, was the focus of her paper. She provided close textual analysis of his 1925 text Mon Corps et moi, and utilised contemporary queer theory to illuminate the particularities of the difficulties Crevel faced at the time of writing. She argued that Crevel expresses a conflicted attitude towards the homosexual self, whose identity is not only challenged at the level of the social but also at an individual level.
Image taken from http://celebrities.findthedata.org/l/644/Javier-Bardem
My paper was entitled Elastic Masculinity: The Fluctuating Gender Identity of Javier Bardem, and considered two films that more or less frame the actor’s career to date: Jamón jamón (Bigas Luna, 1992) and Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012). I selected the films for a number of reasons, including their temporal distance from one another, their discrete production contexts, and the distinctiveness of the character played by Bardem in each case in terms of gender and sexual identity: while his character Raúl in Jamón epitomises the ‘macho ibérico’ – attractive, athletic, arrogant – his character Raoul in Skyfallhas certain camp characteristics. My claim was that Bardem, in spite of being associated with a hegemonic masculinity, demonstrates a fluid gender and sexual identity across the distinct roles he has played.
Our panel was followed by an excellent presentation by Durham’s own Santiago Fouz Hernández on Tactile Optics & Erotic Perception in the Recent Films of Bigas Luna. Fouz Hernández’s paper explored the director’s most recent – and sadly his final (he passed away suddenly in April of this year) – works: Yo Soy La Juani (2006) and Di Di Hollywood (2010). His analysis considered the ways in which these films appeal to the senses, echoing and drawing upon recent developments in film theory such as Laura Marks’ haptic visuality, Vivian Sobchack’s phenomenology of film, Patricia MacCormack cinesexuality, and Jennifer Barker’s work on tactility.
Overall, the event provided an interesting forum for discussions centring on sex, gender, and sexualities for scholars spanning the arts and the social sciences. The organisers were able to keep the costs of the event to a minimum – each participant/attendee paid a small fee of £10 – which is crucial for postgraduate and early career researchers (such as myself and my colleagues) who have less and less access to funding. The catering was superb, and although myself and my colleagues were unable to stay, evening entertainment – including a poetry slam – had been organised for all participants. All in all, an inspiring and highly enjoyable event!