SURVIVING THE WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE by JUSTIN QUAID GRUBB

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SURVIVING THE WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE JUSTIN QUAID GRUBB
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“Florida is a beautiful state with vast wild areas that beckon to be explored. But to safely enjoy any wilderness setting you must know how to provide for your own well-being, as well as for that of your companions.”

— Reid F. Tillery, Surviving the Wilds of Florida

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“The future,” asserts queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, “is queerness’s domain. [It] is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present.”1 SURVIVING THE WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE is a demonstration of queer utopic desire that comes at a time when the sociopolitical state is intolerant of non-dominant identities: the work is unapologetic in its difference and, further, in taking up space and refusing to blend in, gesturing towards a collective queer futurity that does not ask permission to exist. Muñoz draws on the theory of Ernst Bloch, who described using a technology of hope in encountering new places and spaces, and Justin Quaid Grubb’s work demonstrates in the contemporary moment a hope for queer futurity in action despite the “wilds” of the present sociopolitical order. As the viewer moves through the gallery, Grubb’s goal of queer futuring is revealed to be grounded in a critical recognition of the ways in which the past informs the present, and which opts to be hopeful for the future despite intimate acquaintance with the trials of both the historical and contemporary moments.

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SURVIVING THE WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE: an expression of queer futurity in (spite of) the present world Ariel Kroon, 2022

Queer futurity is grounded in the concrete, lived realities of past and present non-dominant communities; it hopes for a better world but it is knowledgeable about and wary of wishful thinking, bringing a critical eye instead of rose-coloured glasses to bear when thinking about past lifeways. Grubb’s retrofuturistic ceramic shapes tempt viewers to nostalgia for a sociopolitical era that produced the campy and attractive aesthetics of traditional Americana of the 1950s and 60s (with its fins, sleek shapes, and silver chrome) but also brought to bear a rigid enforcement of binary gender roles, the violent disciplining of otherness, and enforcement of heteropatriarchy. The 1950s housewife unheimlich voiceover reminds viewers of the fact that misogyny is the deep-rooted base of homophobic persecution especially of more feminine and camp aesthetics as they are and have been expressed throughout queer history to the present day. Grubb’s installation twists the narrative of unproblematic nostalgia for mid-century modern aesthetic into a reminder of the presence and persistence of queerness from the past into the future.

The film clips, still images, and recreations of Grubb’s ceramics in the midst of the Floridian landscape convey surprise: viewers can imagine that the figures are clearly newcomers to the land, who are vaguely stunned to find themselves where they are. Muñoz writes that Ernst Bloch considered “astonishment to be an important philosophical mode of contemplation,”1 and integrates this viewpoint into his concept of finding moments of queer utopia that gesture towards futurity in the banal objects of everyday life. Grubb’s videos are shot from the viewpoint of the other, eliciting empathy in the audience, as the figures encounter and are astonished by the landscape of Florida. At the same time, the gallery viewer will be astonished to be confronted by these figures that stand out so starkly from their surroundings, and so the installation doubles this effect, helping to “surpass the limitations of an alienating presentness and allows one to see a different time and place.”1 SURVIVING gestures towards a time and place where the sight of an Other in a space that was assumed to be familiar (a place that now has become similarly Other due to the alien presence in it) is not something that the viewer finds strange but is a fact of reality.

Queer histories contain potential for utopian futurism; as demonstrated by the video footage and tableaux of SURVIVING, kernels of positive queer futurity can be

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found even during the era of rigid sexual stratification and gender conformity in midcentury America (that echoes in contemporary sociopolitical hegemonies). The campiness of space-age retrofuturism is in this installation transported temporally and symbolically into the present moment as “an anticipatory illumination of a queer world, a sign of an actually existing queer reality.”1 Jack Halberstam, in the introduction to his book on queer failure, writes that alternatives to the present-day heteronormative

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High-Tech Signaling Still: 01;02;10 High-Tech Signaling Still: 01;41;14

prescriptivism of consumerism are possibly extant in the “realm of critique and refusal.”2 The possibilities for a better future are opened through a refusal of the sociopolitical dictates of the present: in SURVIVING, an invocation of the past not only serves as a reminder of a sociopolitical hegemony that queer people and their allies should resist, refuse, and critique, but also operates as a launching pad for imaginings of present and future moments that are shaped by and include queer people.

Viewers of SURVIVING will notice immediately that the ceramic figures cannot blend in with their surroundings, in a sense defying with their appearances the demanded protocols of the wilderness, even as they search for a clear articulation of what to do and how to adapt to the wilds. There is a clash of brightnesses: the sun illuminating the flora of the panhandle, the sandy ground, the lack of shade juxtaposed with the almost blindingly shiny bodies of the newcomers. Grubb’s art evokes how, in the same way, the façade of midcentury American life, the straight lines, the brightness of technicolour, clash with a queerness that shines and cannot hide itself by blending in with its surroundings even now, as there are no protocols for the wilderness of heteronormativity. The WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE are a site of threat to the ceramic figures, but also one of possibility. The brightness of the forms allows them to keep track of each other, to meet in groups, and to

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Crude Filtration Still: 00;26;26

travel together with safety in numbers, and is not a source of shame or recrimination but merely a fact of being which is asserted in the present and carried forward into the future.

Queer collectivity is integral to the continuance and futurity of queer presence/presents, and the figures’ placement in groups and interactions therein are indicative of this significance. The objects Grubb has created and placed are surprising and surprised, but gladdened to be with their fellows, who are similarly unapologetic in their presence in the landscape of west Florida. The cylindrical shapes are alien but not threatening, cautious in their demeanour – this is a critical hopefulness that they hold – but optimistic as opposed to fearful in their exploration of their new surroundings. They enact a queer refusal of present negativity that seeks to alienate individuals from commonality, reacting to their environs as a collective that is curious instead of hostile. As an expression Justin Quaid Grubb’s identity, SURVIVING is a profoundly hopeful reflection on the situation of queer people who have found themselves in Florida in an era of “Don’t Say Gay” censorship and repression, gesturing towards the necessity of community and a vision of the future.

NOTES

1. Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York UP, 2009.

2. Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke UP, 2011.

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10 Crude Filtration Still: 00;46;21
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WIlderness Protocol Still: 00;45;12
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SURVIVING THE WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE

I have traded in the comfortable scene of a corn field for the jarring image of a cotton field. I have encountered a fauna exhibiting a peculiarity which rivals, yet mimics, that of the invasive thistles I spent two summers of my adolescence cutting down with a shovel on the pastures of my father’s southern Indiana farm. I have driven past the multitude of cattle farms scattered throughout the land just north of the Gulf of Mexico and each time I am reminded of the cattle farm that I was raised on. Each time the imagery differs slightly from that of the one shown to me by my forebears. Perhaps what gives it away is a dwarf palmetto lining the barbed wire fence of a pasture instead of a honeysuckle shrub, or maybe it is the presence of a flock of cattle egret among the herd which prompts a second look. No matter the signifier, my psyche is jostled between the sense of vulnerability of my adolescence and the freshly reawakened sense of vulnerability I now occupy in adulthood. As if operating in an altered reality running parallel to the one I once knew, each day I am confronted with unwelcome familiarities of existing in a space, a culture, that has not been designed for my inclusion.

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These confrontations do not exist as brief moments, but rather as ominous undertones that ring with an unsettling consistency in the back of my mind, acting as a constant reminder of my involuntary identification as an other.

It is deep-rooted misogyny that trickles down to form the ever present anti-homosexual rhetoric that seeps through the cracks in the facade of southern hospitality. Unshielded by community, it feels as if I stand stark against the Panhandle landscape — arousing instinctual modes of survival. This arousal is where the internal struggle ensues. The most readily available and first developed mode is hiding. I am no longer the five year old boy who can put away my sister’s barbies and remove the freshly applied nail polish just moments before my father walks in the door to avoid his stern look of disapproval. I am now a full grown man who unwittingly and identifiably threatens traditional gender norms. Although I removed the nail polish long ago, the mark of my effeminacy remains and I am no longer able to hide. I have come to the realization that I never was able to hide. However, attempting to remain unseen or not, I still accrue the stern looks of disapproval — now from strangers. Because of this, I am able to feel that familiar, lingering, sting of shame that society inflicts when one is unable to change or conceal a fundamental part of their being. The outlooks for my instinctual modes of survival are far too bleak, so I shift focus to my work and the obsessive, escapist tendencies that are required in the process of its fabrication.

My identity and the work I produce are intertwined. Physically manifesting as ambiguous Neo Space Age forms, they not only communicate the identity of the maker through their objecthood, but assert their own creative agency. As the forms move from the confines of my imagination into physical space they morph into their own entities, operating as extensions of self in their final stage. In this final stage the work assists in addressing the aspects of my life in which I struggle. It demands an approach that values vulnerability, probes into the psyche, and self-reflection, with the objective of moving beyond shame and into a future of authenticity. Serving as devices of queer futuring, the objects suggest relentless optimism and a satisfaction of the ever present internal demand for community, as tactics for survival. Putting the vessel in quotation marks, the objects are queer not only in their objective (or function), but in the way that they challenge the bounds of a medium

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Andy Medhurst,

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tradition. The
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Wilderness
Protocol Still: 00;33;18
High-Tech
Signaling Still: 02;24;20

defensive offensiveness… incarnating the homophobe’s worst fears, conforming that not only do queers dare to exist but they actively flaunt and luxuriate in their queerness.”1 In SURVIVING THE WILDS OF THE PANHANDLE, this luxuriation is achieved through the shared language of collaging pop-culture in order to generate representation and the recontextualization of nostalgia as a means for futuring. The collaged pop-culture in question here — an outdated piece of survivalist literature: Reid F. Tillery’s Surviving the Wilds of Florida, the 1976 cult classic Grizzly, 1980 sci-fi thrillers Without Warning and Saturn 3 (that was dubbed “an unbelievable disappointment” and “nonsense sci-fi” by reviewers on IMDb)2 — tell the story of a suspecting damsel in distress, who turns out to be no damsel at all. Calling upon the DIY, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, culture of the queers who came before, this damsel rejects victimhood in favor of self-actualization and the assertion of a prominent place within the landscape of her occupation.

Crude Filtration Still: 01;36;20

Like the humidity on the Panhandle, my identity hangs thick in the air and it feels as if the choice becomes to either stand unwaveringly proud in it, or to let it suffocate me. At the foundation of queer futuring is the refusal of victimhood — achieved through means of radical optimism. Sanctuary can be found in this mode of survival; increasing the odds of prosperity and shifting the discourse from that of one which advises endurance, to one that demands advancement.

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A makeshift Neo-Space Age environment crafted out of insulation, which houses the projection of the three sequential experimental shorts: WILDERNESS PROTOCOL, HIGH-TECH SIGNALING, and CRUDE FILTRATION and the PERSONAL LOCATOR VESSELS (PLVs) featured in each respectively, is representative of such a sanctuary. In this open space for futuring, the viewer will undoubtedly leave their mark just by way of occupation. The evidence of this occupation may suggest collaboration, as the traces left behind document the seemingly minuscule act of being present — an act that could yield unexpected impacts on the future.

NOTES

1. Medhurst, Andy. Batman, Deviance and Camp. The Superhero Reader. University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

2. Saturn 3. IMDb: The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com-Amazon.com,1990-2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2022. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079285/>

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Crude Filtration Still: 02;55;29
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Sarah Chaimowitz

PERSONAL LOCATOR VESSELS

(Mid-Range Stoneware Casting Slip, Colored Slip, Lava Glaze, Metallic Paint)

CATALOGUE DESIGN

Nell Arnett Richelle Heard Karla McMillan Sarah Teter

TAG TEAM MENTORS

John Dougherty Richard Rodriguez

THE ART GALLERY DIRECTOR

Cat Gambel, UWF Department of Art and Design

The Art Gallery (TAG) at the University of West Florida seeks to challenge, stimulate and engage students and the greater public through direct interaction with works of contemporary art.

TAG is situated on land which has been home to a succession of different indigenous cultural groups, including the Ochuse, Panzacola, and Mvskoke for upwards of 10,000 years.

23 SPECIAL THANKS PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
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