Patrick Staff on Tom of Finland and “The Foundation” at IMA Brisbane


PATRICK STAFF, The Foundation, 2015. Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, 2015. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

The Foundation at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art (IMA) is the first solo exhibition in Australia of Patrick Staff, a British artist who considers ideas of discipline, dissent, labour, and the queer body through his varied, interdisciplinary, and often collaborative practice. Curated by IMA’s Executive Directors, Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh, The Foundation is a film installation that explores queer intergenerational relationships negotiated through historical materials.

Taking as his point of departure the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, home to the archive of the erotic artist and gay icon and a community of people that care for it, Staff has combined documentary footage of the foundation with a series of choreographic sequences shot within a specially constructed to create a film that explores how a collection is formed, the communities that produce and are produced by a body of work, and ideas of intergenerational relationships and care.

To find out more about The Foundation, which is at IMA Brisbane from August 8 to October 10, 2015, Blouin Art Info got in touch with Patrick Staff and asked him a few questions.

I first visited the Tom of Finland Foundation in 2012, on a friend’s recommendation. I went there expecting a ‘typical’ archive (receptionist, appointment, white gloves, concrete building), but instead found it to be a community of people living and working together in a three-storey clapboard house. Spending time there, I learnt how the house had been bought and set up as an intentional community of gay leather men in the 1970s. They hosted Tom of Finland (Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, 1920–91) in the latter part of his life spent in Los Angeles and in the 1980s formalised themselves to preserve his vast catalogue of homoerotic art, whilst endeavouring to ‘educate the public to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality’.

What struck me most about the Foundation was not knowing immediately who lived there, worked there, was volunteering or just hanging around. I quickly felt welcomed into that space – in parts, I was aware, because of my appearing male – sharing food and talking, looking through the archives, the domestic spaces, as well as the dungeon and ‘pleasure garden’. I was immediately sensitive in that house to thinking about the nature of intergenerational queer relationships; the relationship between gender, inheritance and cultural memory; and perhaps, most of all, of care: care for the individual’s body, for a body of work, for the literal bodies of a community. I wasn’t interested in making a work about that place, the people or Tom himself, but began to try to formulate something made with all of them. Over time, it became increasingly about understanding my own queer, transgender identity and about interrogating the body as a living political archive.




Patrick Staff, “The Foundation” | 4th July | Bristol, UK


PATRICK STAFF, The Foundation (film still), 2015 . Courtesy the artist.

PATRICK STAFF, The Foundation (Film still), 2015 . Courtesy the artist.

The Foundation is a new film installation by Patrick Staff exploring queer intergenerational relationships negotiated through historical materials. The film combines footage shot at Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles — home to the archive of the erotic artist and gay icon and a community of people that care for it — with choreographic sequences shot within a specially constructed set.

The legacy of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), better known as Tom of Finland, spans multiple generations; his work made a considerable impact on masculine representation and imagery in post-war gay culture. The Foundation was established in 1984 by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner to preserve his vast catalogue of homoerotic art, whilst endeavouring to — to quote the organisation’s website — ‘educate the public to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.’ Today, Durk runs the organisation and lives in the house, along with a handful of other employees and artists.

Rather than focusing on Tom of Finland’s work, Staff’s film evokes the Foundation as a set of relations. He explores how a collection is formed and constituted; the communities that produce and are produced by a body of work; and ideas of intergenerational relationships and care. Through observational footage of the house, its collections and inhabitants, the Foundation is revealed as a domestic environment, a libidinal space, archive, office and community centre; a private space which is also the home of a public-facing organisation and the source of a widely dispersed body of images.

Staff foregrounds his own identity and his personal dialogue with the different communities of the foundation to consider how ideas of intergenerational inheritance and exchange are complicated by gender identity and presentation; in this context, of a younger trans person in an environment dominated by the overtly masculine, male identity of an older generation. Documentary footage of the Foundation is intercut with a series of staged scenes. The set incorporates aspects of the building’s architecture and purpose, operating within the register of experimental theatre. In these sequences, featuring his interactions with an older actor, Staff uses choreography and props to explore the body as a site for the construction and deconstruction of subjectivities. The language of the stage set is extended by Staff’s new sculptural works, commissioned for this exhibition, which make use of materials designed to construct the image of an exterior.

The Foundation is co-commissioned by Spike Island, Bristol; Chisenhale Gallery, London; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Co-produced by Spike Island, Bristol and Chisenhale Gallery, London.

With thanks to Tom of Finland Foundation. The Foundation is supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, The Elephant Trust and the Genesis Prize.

Patrick Staff
Staff (b. 1987) is a British artist based in London and Los Angeles who works with video, installation, performance and publishing. He frequently collaborates with other artists, dancers, historians and public participants creating malleable frameworks for socially engaged research mediated by moving image.

Patrick Staff and Durk Dehner in TOM's studio.

Patrick Staff and Durk Dehner in TOM’s studio.

Patrick Staff visited Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, an archive devoted to the work and legacy of the legendary homoerotic artist, for the first time in the summer of 2012.

He was expecting to find the usual, sober atmosphere of a depository. What he discovered there instead was so removed from his expectations that he felt compelled to create something out of the visit.

When the artist returned to London, he couldn’t stop thinking about the Foundation. So, he began to sketch out a plan for a film. Taking a year, Patrick would go back to Los Angeles, ensconcing himself within the close-knit gay men’s leather community at “TOM House” in the Los Angeles hills. During that time he tried to understand his relationship with the place and the community living there, deciding he wouldn’t make something as straightforward as a documentary.

The resulting work is The Foundation, a thirty minute film of footage of the daily activities at Tom of Finland Foundation (the place, the collection, the office, the community spaces) that considers Tom’s influence on subsequent generations of gay men, how legends are created and their heritage curated. The Foundation premièred at Chisenhale Gallery, London.

Through 20th September 2015
Tuesday to Sunday, 11a to 5p
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Sleek turns to Chisenhale Gallery to find out.

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PATRICK STAFF, The Foundation, 2014, HD  video. Image courtesy of the artist.

Patrick Staff’s new film, The Foundation, shot at Tom of Finland’s rambling clapboard home of in the Echo Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles, delves into the artist and Gay icon’s legacy. “In my film, Tom of Finland Foundation is revealed as an archive and a centre for the community of people who care for it,” says Staff. “it’s an office but also a domestic environment, complete with an active BDSM dungeon.”

The leather-clad muscular bodies in Tom of Finland’s drawings have come to define a particular hyper-masculine representation of Gay men, one that conflicts with Staff’s own queer, trans-identity. taking up informal residence at the Foundation in summer 2014, helping out with the digitisation of their collection of erotic films on deteriorating VHS tapes, he began to grapple with questions of inheritance and identity: “I feel a connection to the older generation of Gay men, particularly in relation to AIDS, like I have an ‘inheritance’. But it is a complex thing.”


The Foundation is commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery and premiered there in February 2015.

While participating in a prestigious programme for young filmmakers at the London-based moving image agency, LUX, Staff took ballet lessons, and this has influenced the film. By incorporating elements of choreography and improvisational theatre techniques into his work, Staff maintains the immediacy of live performance, combined with the urgency of his own activist politics. Powerfully political and deeply personal, this is staff’s most ambitious project to date, and marks his debut on the international stage, with presentations at Chisenhale Gallery in London, Spike Island, Bristol, the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane and the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver.

1.SLEEK_REGULAR_NEW_tp.inddEdited and Written by Katie Guggenheim
Photography by Owen Richards