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.




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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

PATRICK STAFF “The Foundation” | 20th February | London


PS Website

The Foundation is a major film installation by Patrick Staff premiering at Chisenhale Gallery and co-commissioned with Spike Island, Bristol; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. In this new work Staff explores 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 endeavoring 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 TOM 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 within a context dominated by the overtly masculine, male identity of an older generation. The documentary footage of the Foundation is intercut with a series of scenes, which are shot in a set incorporating aspects of the building’s architecture and technologies and operate 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.

Through a varied, interdisciplinary and often collaborative body of work comprising film, dance and performance, Staff considers ideas of discipline, dissent, labour and the Queer body, frequently drawing on the historical narration of counter-culture, radical activity and alternative forms of community building. This new work is the product of several years’ research and dialogue with Tom of Finland Foundation and is Staff’s most ambitious and large-scale project to date, bringing together languages of film and live performance with sculptural materiality to explore the body as a political, living archive. The Foundation explores the complexities of cultural artifacts and collective identities, via an examination of ownership, appropriation, responsibility and desire.

Runs through 5th April 2015
Preview: Thursday, 19th February, 6:30-8:30p