LET RIP: DYMAXION HOMOFILE (WORK-IN-PROGRESS) VIDEO POEM
LET RIP: DYMAXION HOMOFILE (WORK-IN-PROGRESS)
by Lee Campbell
'‘My art teacher suggested I go to the Southampton Film Society, where they were playing A Bigger Splash, with David Hockney and his bathing beauties. There was so much tanned male flesh on show. I was 14, had Miss Chuter sussed me out? I identify with this poem Lee, wonderful.'
'How it really brought me back to the 90s - even we had these posters in Carlow in my Gaelic speaking school!'
** SCROLL DOWN FOR WORDS OF THE POEM **
The title is a play on words of ‘Dymaxion Chronofile’, architect Buckminster Fuller's very large scrapbook which he documented his life every 15 minutes from 1920 to 1983.
I remember video recording Pray by Take That on The Chart Show onto VHS in 1993 and playing the few second clip of Jason Orange in his underwear over and over again until the tape snapped. My homoerotic imagination was on fire but what was fuelling this were images of men intended for a straight female audience.
LET RIP: DYMAXION HOMOFILE is a performance poem about what it was like for me to realise I am gay when I was surrounded by mainstream heteronormative pop culture in 1990s homophobic Britain. The words of the poem directly reference images within a scrapbook that I kept when I was a teenager in the 1990s for 5+ years – my personal private archive of images that in many ways helped to shape my understanding of (gay) male desire. These scrapbook images form the basis for the moving imagery that I use as part of my Zoom performance work and also for then the poem is presented in video poem form.
The title Dymaxion Homofile is a play on words of ‘Dymaxion Chronofile’ architect Buckminster Fuller's very large scrapbook which he documented his life every 15 minutes from 1920 to 1983. In 1993 when I was 15/16 whilst at high school, my art teacher suggested that I keep a scrapbook of images. Inspired also by my mum's love of collecting postcards and sticking them and collected bits and pieces (train tickets/tourist brochures etc. from holidays into scrapbooks, between 1993-1999, this turned into a 6-year self-guided project! Between 1993-1999, as a teenager, I kept a scrapbook of found imagery, of newspaper and magazine cuttings mainly from magazines for teenagers like Look In and Smash Hits but also of images from National Geographic Magazine and Germany’s Stern, of pieces of printed ephemera from around the world. Hundreds of images collaged together over many pages that now exist digitally, as the original physical scrapbook has been destroyed. In my mid-late teens, I realised that I was gay. Before the breakthrough moment of me reading Gay Times in my late teens (stealing copies of Gay Times and smuggling them into my bedroom without my parents seeing), the way that I accessed images of guys that I fancied would be through imagery in mainstream (straight) pop culture, often through music magazines like Smash Hits where I fancied pin-ups designed for a teenage girl audience. And not just in teen magazines but through images of (straight) men on TV and in all kinds of other printed media. When I was able to catch a glimpse of a gay man on TV, I did not often identify with him. Normally presented as overtly camp, I fancied a more ‘straight-acting’ guy and therefore was drawn to straight men.
Inspired by Crawford Barton’s home movies which documented his life as a child and then into adulthood with his male partner, LET RIP: DYMAXION HOMOFILE revisits my teenage scrapbook through the lens of my (now adult) queer eye. In Reel in the Closet (2015), the narrator talks about Barton’s home movies that he made over many decades and says ‘they’re (Barton and his male partner) interested in the same things as everybody else but at the same time there’s a definite queer eye behind the camera’. What can I learn about myself by revisiting the scrapbook? How did these scrapbook images (unbeknownst to me at the time) speak of me exploring my (homo)sexuality as a teenager?
In 2019, I re-excavated my personal archive of drawings, paintings and photographs made over the span of 25 years by making a series of collages which not only had the same textural effect of my teenage scrapbook but also the corkboards of images in my bedroom where I lived as a teenager (images were first ripped out of magazines and then placed onto corkboards in my bedroom and then after a month or so of living with the images, I would select which ones would go into my scrapbook. None of these images would be too edgy (provocative/pornographic) as the scrapbook would form part of my college studies and edgier images (i.e., images of men in their underwear or who I particularly fancied would be stored under my bed so I could look at them late at night once my parents were asleep). In 2021, one of these early collages was featured in Oriel Mostyn gallery’s exhibition MY ONLINE BEDROOM.
Each word or each phrase within the poem incorporates different parts of the scrapbook imagery and the content of the poem will reflect upon how I understand the significance of that imagery now as an out gay man in my forties. Like layers of a painting, each page of the scrapbook imagery will form one layer juxtaposed with other pages/ layers. The rips and tears and the turned-up edges of the scrapbook printed material now as digitised images appear flat on the computer screen. I will employ green-screen processes to achieve seductive surfaces to beckon the viewer to want to see them in real life thus making the reality of viewing the now-destroyed physical scrapbook in the flesh even more desirable.
What would it be for me to take that advice from my teacher today – take a book and collage some images into it? Would I repeat the process that I did? Would the process stop after two weeks? Or ten minutes? Would the imagery be different – I didn’t know fully what I was doing then (in terms of selecting and ‘curating’ the imagery from magazine to corkboard to scrapbook) but it seems so obvious now. In some ways, I feel no different as a person looking at the scrapbook today than when I made it all those years ago but in other ways, it’s almost like looking at another person and zone of feeling (hiding/closeting my homosexuality) that I am never going to revisit, that my teenage self is completely ‘other’ to me now. I feel that I am looking at these images as an outsider now. This just proves that even though we feel we know ourselves at a particular point in time, we are always reassessing everything. That’s a very human quality in the work – it exposes our vulnerabilities but there also a lot of humour in the work as a means to communicate with the viewer.
As Covid-19 restrictions lift, I would like to use photocopies versions of the pages I have as forming a background in the real space for me to perform the poem in with the new imagery experiments projected onto my body in physical space extending how I currently do so with Zoom.By wallpapering the space, the space then becomes the book.
Every cut, every rip in my scrapbook
A few second clip, from a No 1 hit,
on VHS, Take That
Over and over and over and over again
Jason Orange in his jock until the tape snapped
This is how in ‘93, I accessed men
My art teacher told me to keep a scrapbook
Of imagery catching my attention
What happens now if I go back and take a look
When me being gay I dare not mention?
To my teacher’s surprise was my scrapbook
I kept scrapping for five or so years
Homophobic eyes fuelling my shame
Heteronormative culture provoking my fears
Too often too lonely with my scrapbook and tears
Every tear, every tear in my scrapbook
Each image with its own special meaning
Images of men for girls everywhere to look
Being gay in a straight world dreaming
Cutting out bits from that week’s Smash Hits for my scrapbook
My bedroom wall, my private public space
Then from the wall into my scrapbook, hundreds of images and lyrics
But all I wanted to look at was his face
But the handsome man’s face was carefully placed in between
Images from National Geographic Magazine
I became a master of collaging those I desired
in amongst images of others and places I had been
Clever at seeing without being seen
The artists she taught me all turned out to be queer
Did she know something I didn’t, my teacher Miss Cavalier?
Now so obviously glaring, my love of Keith Haring
and Mapplethorpe’s men, erotic and daring
Yet, this was the time gay men were perceived
as all having AIDS many straight folks believed
Maybe that’s why I didn’t fully enquire
in the artists Miss taught me for fear of the fire
An escape from the gloom in the male changing room
the art of the squint during my McDonalds stint
Late 94, the first time I saw
A guy from the grammar school strip to his jock
Would be rude not to glance what’s under his pants
My eyes couldn’t stop, my eyes were on lock
He had that Grammar School voice my co-workers despise
So given worst job in the kitchen - stationed on fries
Every chance I’d be skipping me on burger flipping
Yet allowed me some spying at Grammar guy frying
Getting sweaty whilst cooking
I couldn’t stop looking
Radio on booming Caught in the Middle
I could see Grammar School Guy through the flames of my griddle
Dancing along to Bobby Brown and R Kelly
He was ever so sexy when burger fat smelly
I could see through his shirt his nipples all pert
Put him on my menu. My Happy Meal homo-dessert
In my sixth form was Mike
who all the girls liked
Grunge indie look
All those drugs that he took
Britpop was alive, 94/95
Oasis v Blur. Who did you prefer?
Mike not just the punk taught me acid jazz funk
Bands like Jamiroquai (when they were cool)
He taught me so much they don’t teach you at school
Never told Mike I’m gay though probably knew anyway
Worried the reaction and what he might say
For fear of rejection, both of us getting hurt
Mike you looked ever so cute in your Nirvana t-shirt
You taught ‘me about music, I realised my type
At that REM concert, me fancying Stipe
Our school trip to Paris, I shared a bedroom with you
At Your Most Beautiful when sleeping, it was there that I knew
At the end of trip party, it wasn’t me you were kissing
So, I danced by myself to Everything But The Girl’s hit Missing
A source of frustration was high school sex education
My elderly teacher although terribly kind
Was not well prepared for a teenagers’ mind
‘After several dates, buy a packet of Mates
Machines in most gents. You just need confidence
Andrew, this condom, roll it down this banana
I can hear giggles from someone. Is that you Pollyanna?’
Andrew struggled at first to get the sheath on
‘Miss' Jason shouted, ‘Rob’s ‘nana is two inches long!’’
‘It’s the angle of the dangle’, Miss quickly replied
Pointing to an OHP of where to stick it inside
The default is hetero but what about gay?
I had a burning question for Miss but never dare say
It was quite unexpected but for me not so weird
When Miss in her 60s said she liked men with a beard
Wish I could go back now and tell Miss in fact so do I
Nothing quite as sexy as a beard on a guy
George still looked gorge singing slow, dark and moody
Jesus to a Child and other sad songs that he sung
But I’ll never forget Mr Michael all wet
In the video for Fast Love, all my Christmases come!
Spent longer looking at George then learning the words of his songs
Get my hands on his chest and get George out of those thongs
But his ’96 LP Older helped me through some very tough times
Me finding comfort in the beauty of what he wrote in its lines
Whilst I loved George and his chest back in late ‘87
Older taught me us gays don’t just live and die Heaven
We are often perceived as fake, camp, G-A-Y
Yet Older was heartfelt and caring and brought tears to my eye
I wonder what happened to my friend called Gavin
Did he realise his dreams? What kind of life is having?
We both worked in this shop and both into Britpop
Me and Gavin were rebels, both on a mission
To escape the shop that we worked in with its workers’ lack of ambition
Looking back, it seems clear now, I acted deliberately coy
To not reveal my true feelings for this Black-Eyed Boy
In the pub, me and Dad, Christmas Day ‘99
I looked over at Danny my neighbour, thinking ‘Damn, he is fine’
I imagined him stripped, just wearing his jacket of leather
Fun in the gents me and Danny together
Playing pool with the lads, Danny-boy on my mind
Bent over the table, his peachy behind
His wife on the phone saying turkey is served
I brushed up against him. Phwoar, those peaches were curved
So, go home to your wife, to your not so fun life
I’ll sit here with my beer and imagine your rear
You bloody enjoyed it though you said it was nothing
Imagine me not your wife and the turkey you’re stuffing
A song on the jukebox came on shortly after Danny had gone
By happenstance chance, Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn
There came a day when I thew away
my too heavy to carry too bulky to manage scrapbook
If I could go back then, what would I say?
Lee, you will be fine. In time, you will be okay
Project Type:Experimental, Short
Completion Date:May 27, 2021
Country of Origin:United Kingdom