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.