We talk to artist John Walter about his new work Alien Sex Club…
With his daring new immersive installation Alien Sex Club on in London until 14th August, and going to the Homotopia festival in Liverpool on 30th October, boundary-pushing ‘maximal’ artist John Walter tells us more about this unique work – addressing gay cruising and HIV today with surreal humour.
I am working on a Phd which heavily informed Alien Sex Club. It explores how the cruise maze is a risk prone spatial form because it has multiple pathways as opposed to the labyrinth which has a single path. Cruise mazes are real structures within spaces of sex such as sex clubs and gay saunas; they are not mazes like the one at Hampton Court, rather real or temporary wall formations that encourage circulation of space through walking to encourage physical proximity and multiple sexual encounters. They simulate the park, the city street, the cottage and the gym as spaces that are repurposed for sex and privatise that experience.
The cruise maze is also a metaphor within the Western gay male sexual imagination that has fed into the way cruising websites, such as Squirt, and online apps, such as Grindr, are structured. I wanted to make a show that explored the logic of the sex club, particularly the spatial layout and the behaviours associated with the space. I also made a video while at the Skowhegan residency in the USA called In the HIV Garden. It was set in the forest and began to address the interests that have grown to become Alien Sex Club. That video also suggested new technological and conceptual possibilities and challenges that I have been working on over the past 3 years to bring Alien Sex Club to fruition.
Attendees can expect to be surprised. Seeing all the parts together, overlapping and joined and simultaneous is a transformative experience. The show is an immersive world of colour, image, pattern, sound and taste; it is an overstimulating parallel universe; a maze that can be wandered again and again to find more experiences, more meanings and more relationships between the parts. It is an epic installation in terms of its size and its meaning. I hope that afterwards they feel something has shifted for them; that they have been put beyond their comfort zone but supported along the way. The show is about lots of things not just cruising and HIV. It’s about art and media and formal things too. You can enter the show on a number of levels and go on a number of journeys. It’s not didactic.
People think that HIV is no longer a Western problem. We don’t talk about it as much as we did in the ’80s and ’90s and we don’t have the same public health messages being broadcast to the entire population. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has made HIV a treatable, though not curable, condition and it has also made HIV an invisible and private condition. HIV rates among gay men seem to be rising – or at least diagnoses are rising – and this is due to a number of factors including perception of risk and shifting sexual practices, such as chemsex.
Being part of the Homotopia festival is very exciting for me. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s a unique platform for presenting work and helping stimulate discussions about queer subjects. Also, working in Liverpool is hugely stimulating for me since the city and its artistic scene are so rich, energetic and generous.