Queer Economy – by Keith Hennessy

on Feb 14 in Article, Blog Salon, DIY Production, Mapping by

Keith Hennessy

How do YOU relate to “economy?
I don’t relate to economy. I am made and unmade by economy. It’s been pointed out by several political philosophers and poets that our language and beliefs and perception are almost totally occupied by value, debt, exchange, deal, theft, tax, gamble, boss, worker, and luck, as well as their moral and political implications. Economy is relationship or is the frame or bed or prison cell of relationship.

What is a queer economy?
I don’t know. What is the economy of this interview? You (curator, interviewer, framer of the project with your questions), you want something, including to inspire me, to give my working/thinking some visibility and community, to be associated with me, to share the me that you know with others. I want to respond – is that from obligation or a desire to be seen or a need to fulfill some kind of expectation? Who am I (in this economy)? And how does this process reveal my value, or my desperation to have value? Is there some currency in being invited to write this? I mean can I get something from this that I can use/share/spend elsewhere?

I discuss economy more easily than queer, or queer economy. Queer, even as a perspective or temporary space, implicates a contentious or problematic relationship to norms. Mass media, economists, bankers and government relentlessly insist that we have no other choice but capitalism. In this Orwellian morass is there any way to economically queer, i.e., trouble the norms of, an exchange, a friendship, a project or situation? Maybe a queer economy is a complication of economy, a hybridizing or multiplying of value. Clearly this writing, and this exchange between curator and writer, and between writer and reader, can be recognized as having different values depending on one’s situation. (Of course this is tricky because so often when we try to situate ourselves or someone else we are engaging these same basic concepts of capitalist exchange, value, and fetish. I mean talking about one’s culture, ethnicity, skin color, age, sexuality, ability, class, immigration or citizenship status, weight, health, education is impossible to separate from the asymmetries of power and class that are associated with each of these markers.)

It’s easy to get lost in language here or feel a need to reiterate stuff that has been written a thousand times (by a thousand college students trying to please their professors). Even if we have the intention to queer economy or to recognize queer economy, do we have the imaginal or linguistic tools to manifest or communicate this intention? Wouldn’t a queer economy generated by this text, even for a moment, and even if just from my perspective, mean some kind of rupture or failure or camp?

How can I dress this economy in drag so that you feel me in ways that most economies prohibit? Can we touch each other, I mean, just for the fun of it, or do we have to make a date to meet at the next Occupy riot, sharing that exhilarating whiff of tear gas while debating the tactics of running versus walking away from police tantrums.”Whose streets, our streets!” they proclaim with each percussion bomb and pain compliance.

Where do you get best super-cheap meal?
My economic class means that I no longer seek the best super-cheap meal. But I’m pretty sure that even though the price has doubled since I ate burritos, a Mission burrito is still the best super-cheap meal. In fact, if you’re broke, a burrito is two meals. And the really broke just eat samples at Costco and Whole Paycheck, neither of which existed during the decade when I was living in San Francisco on $10,000/year.

Dumpster diving: love it or hate it?
Everyone should eat from a dumpster at least a few times. But don’t get all self-righteous about it without recognizing that to live off the waste of capitalism is part of what justifies capitalism. Admittedly, eating from dumpsters and left-overs in food courts, can also undermine capitalism. Every time someone realizes that the (economic, capitalist) system depends on over consumption and waste, and then chooses self-precarity over coercive wage and consumer slavery, a little bit of happiness and liberation is exposed. Dumpster diving does not create another world, structurally, but it reveals that another world is possible. And that’s crucial.

Do rich queers exist?
Yes.

Do they make you feel weird?
All rich people inspire feelings of jealousy, anger, alienation, and disgust. It’s not fair. I should be rich. All money is blood money, slave money, colonial and imperialist money. Theft, obviously. They don’t deserve it. No one deserves their wealth. They didn’t work for it. I could spend their money so much better. Why don’t they help me? What they spend in a month could support me and several other artists for a year. I want to own a house or two. Who cares if they’re faggots.dykes.trannies? If they’re rich, they’re rich, and that’s its own identity that erases all others.

How do you feel fabulous when you’re broke?
When friends cut my hair or I cut theirs. When I sew patches over branding or remake found clothing. When drinking beer and laughing with friends in the street for hours. When performing in a major international festival with a performance that cost less than $100 to make. When fucking, cuz fucking is still (mostly) free. (And I mean I feel fabulous when someone wants me, wants my sex, wants to eat me and be eaten, and I mean something different than consume when I say eat.)

Do you like your job?
Yes. A lot.

Is everything really better in Europe?
No but some things really are better. Spending months in Europe each year makes USAmerican flaws all the more annoying, disappointing, bewildering, and enraging. The influence of fundamentalist Christianity on sexual prudishness and institutional violence against women and queers in the US is really sick. It’s simply better in northern and western Europe, although religious fundamentalism continues to rise everywhere. Europe is better for middle-class-ish US artists but it doesn’t take a sociology degree to recognize that immigrants from poor and heavily exploited countries are treated like criminals, prostitutes, terrorists, slaves or leeches all over Europe. Scandinavia is super attractive these days. The universities are still (mostly) free, including for foreigners, and there is ongoing support for artists who are recognized institutionally. People speak multiple languages, and the general population seems better educated and less ignorant than the American norm.

Did switching from BOA to a local credit union make your art better?
I switched from Wells Fargo. My art is not better but that’s not why I did it.

Can we count on the government for anything?
In the late 80s I made a small flyer. On black paper, I wrote with white out, people with AIDS the government is not your friend. I copied it in small batches, usually stealing from Kinko’s. Then I would wheatpaste it around town. I was already an anarchist but somehow Reagan’s systematic denial of AIDS was so shocking that I felt compelled to provoke others into reconsidering their commitment to middle class obedience. I am not disappointed in government. I expect betrayal, lies, and partisan paralysis. But I am disappointed every time that progressive friends get dreamy about a Democratic president and then feel disappointed when he follows the Pentagon and Corporate dictates and refuses to call the worst Republicans spoiled brats undermining democracy.USAmericans, and almost everyone, don’t understand democracy. The system that was designed to prevent democracy is now called Democracy. (That’s from David Graeber.) There’s no mention in the constitution or bill of rights about democracy. Most of the USA founding fathers were hostile to the idea of one person, one vote. The legacy of this anti-democratic ideology lives strongly, including in the hearts and minds and checkbooks of our three levels of government. What does this have to do with queer economy? Everything. A queer economy understands that USA is not a democracy and that democracy is queer. Democracy disrupts norms and comforts, demands polymorphous and non-monogamous social relations, and insists that participants get close and intimate even when difference seems to make solidarity impossible. (John Trudell is queer on democracy. Be patient, he doesn’t get to democracy until after 3 min, listen here)

Have you seen The Inside Job?
Yes. Three times. It would have been better with a queer analysis of the sexist performances that Wall Street rewards and the movie’s normative morality about sex work and drugs was disappointing.

Which economies do you consent to being a part of, and which are you kicking and screaming to get out of?
For the past two years I’ve been trying to construct a temporary queer economy through fake healing and oil action. Fake Healing is a kind of exchange that de-prioritizes pathology (What’s wrong with you? I’m smarter or healthier and can help you.) and prioritizes deep listening, improvisation and collaboration. Fake Healing – which I adapted from Valentina Desideri’s Fake Therapy and Jennifer Lacey’s Fake Art Therapy – challenges new age and scientific narratives of knowing while encouraging experimentation to access implicit, body-based, and poetic wisdom. Naomi Klein articulates the role of shock, trauma, and torture in neoliberal free trade and capitalist exchange. Assuming that real healing is too deeply implicated in these structures of oppression, we propose fake healing as a kind of joke that just might work. Torture is everywhere, so healing needs to be queerly re-imagined for the current era. I’m not ready to write about Oil Action. Some things should remain non-verbal, secret, and even incoherent. I realized that in my public art and activism (about the economy) I was simultaneously manifesting a non-public, non-documented, communal experience that is not for sale or even public debate.

What’s your biggest or most consistent financial stress and how do you deal?
Recently my biggest stress is about a fictional and unknown future. It’s almost like I’m supposed to panic. And I’m supposed to feel very alone and make very solitary decisions about my money and my future as if my friends and community don’t matter. Or I’m supposed to make bigger sacrifices now so that I’ll have savings, investments, property and health insurance when I can no longer work. I worry that some day the owner of my apartment will die and I will get evicted as the building gets sold or rebuilt at the whim of new owners. I can’t afford market rate rent in San Francisco and I worry frequently that my current magically sweet deal will evaporate and I will have to live in a car (that I don’t yet own).

What’s the most expensive purchase you’ve ever made?
The computer on which I’m typing right now.

How’d it feel?
Like failure. Like powerlessness. Like glamor. Like privilege. Like wow look at me, I am buying this $2000 computer and my previous one isn’t even dead yet. I need this bigger screen cuz I might make more movies and it’s important for my work. And I should be comfortable watching movies cuz I don’t have a television. These sentences are italicized by sarcasm and self doubt.

Do you wish you had more money?
Yes.

What does having good health mean and what does it cost?
Good health is cheap. Pain and disease are expensive. Fresh air, daily movement (of the bowels and the whole body), simple food, tap water, and frequent orgasms are all that most of us need and should not cost very much. Occasional extremes – drugs, rich food, too much ice cream or alcohol or porn, fasting, exhaustion, laziness, depression, donating blood at the hospital or to your art – are really good for your long-term health. We could all use some focused learning that helps you to know and trust your body. It’s hard to put a price on not hating one’s body.

How should artists and orgs deal with dwindling grant resources?
There is no shortage of money. Private wealth and the foundations of the wealthy are at an all-time high. As opportunities and fees drop in some parts of my scene, others increase. The economic now is marked more by instability and flux than by decline. Keep looking. Figure out how to ask individuals for money even if it seems like everyone and their wounded cat are sending Kickstarter requests. I need this advice at least as much as you do. The transfer of wealth through inheritance is the biggest economy in the world. Get some of that money. Those stupid rich undeserving fucks are looking for ways to protect their wealth. Charitable donations and non-profit foundations improve their economic health and dominance. Some of these bloody-handed profiteers are queer, liberal, guilty and/or sensitive. Put your (creative) hand out and smile.

Credit cards: OH HEY! or NO WAY! ?
I don’t debt. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of interest payments. With my work credit card I sometimes carry debt for a couple of months because the accounting and money flow get stalled from bureaucracy and travel.  Meanwhile, I collect credit cards. I remember guys with AIDS who maxed their credit cards before they died taking trips and buying excellent stuff for their boyfriends. Some guys were then shocked in 95 or 96 when they realized that they were no longer dying and were now deeply in debt. I remember when folks I knew would declare bankruptcy when they couldn’t pay their credit card debt. But that game is over now for individuals. Banks got bailed out. We go sold out. Anyway, I’ve got way over $50,000 in potential credit card debt and one of my escape fantasies is that I max out all my cards hiding out in Thailand or Costa Rica.

I like the convenience of the credit card but I was raised by depression-era parents and I’m super hesitant to spend more than I have. I am simultaneously proud of this discipline and I recognize that it’s part of why I didn’t make good money in Bay Area real estate or achieve home security through ownership. Multiple times each week I regret not buying property in the 80s and 90s. Was I a stupid anarchist? Other anarchists and queers bought houses or knew when to buy in North and West Oakland. What’s wrong with me? I could have bought in the Mission in the early 90s. Why didn’t I use my family privilege (not much but middle class enough) and community leadership to collectively buy a building or two? Shit. What’s wrong with us?

Where’d you get those amazing boots?!
Yah I look at the amazing boots on people, friends included and I try to price them. Wow those cost over $200! My max on shoes used to be $100 but I’ve spent over that a couple of times. I’m a yuppie hippy when it comes to most consumerism. I look for less poison and less exploitation and more local craft. That costs money. Meanwhile I still buy 2nd hand shoes and wacky vintage at garage sales.

 

What are the TOP 5 resources that keep you afloat.

1. My body: Its talents and desires, its norms and monsters, its luck and privilege, its education and struggle.

2. Taking chances in my work while nurturing a keen eye for trends and taboos in the margins and contexts where I situate.

3. Not quite a willingness to eat rats (Che) but an understanding of how to live well, and that includes making some money, without much spending.

4. My family training of how to assert myself in the world, how to be a good host and guest, how to teach and lead, how to serve and help out, how to rise but not to the top and not at the expense of (too many) others.

5. Staying in San Francisco despite its many disappointments and despite the imperative to keep moving (yesterday New York, today Berlin…). The longer I stay here, the richer I am, in opportunities and friends and reputation and accumulated information and energetic resonance.

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About Keith:
Keith Hennessy works in and around performance. Born in northern Ontario, he lives in San Francisco and tours internationally. His interdisciplinary research engages improvisation, ritual and public action as tools for investigating political realities. Hennessy directs CIRCO ZERO / ZERO PERFORMANCE, and was a member of the collaborative performance companies: Contraband, CORE, and Cahin-caha, cirque bâtard. Recent awards include a Bilinski Fellowship (2011), a NY Bessie (2009), two Isadora Duncan Awards (2009), and a Goldie (2007). Hennessy is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at UC Davis.

Next seen at:
San Francisco, 4 lectures @ Kunst-Stoff presented by Alternative Conservatory
Mar 14, 28, Apr 4, 18, 2012
Toronto, Rhubarb Festival, Feb 16-17, 2012

Current Projects:
Turbulence (a dance about the economy)
Portland (TBA Fest), mid September, 2012.
San Francisco (YBCA), Sep 27-29, 2012.
Almost
improvised action with Jassem Hindi + Keith Hennessy
Marseille, Poznan Poland, Berlin, NYC…where next? We don’t know but we’re ready.
Negotiate
made in Dakar with dancers from Togo, Senegal, DR Congo, Nov 2011
Possible recreation in 2013.
Trojan X (all access pass)
urban action performance by Annie Danger + Keith Hennessy
most likely in the streets of SF in Spring 2013
Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot…)
solo performance by Keith Hennessy
touring the world since 2008
Toronto, Rhubarb Festival, Feb 16-17, 2012
Portland, PICA, Jun 21, 2012

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