Queer identity, visibility & yearning: in conversation with Mark Leahy and Rhys Morgan

Throughout 2017-2018,  Visual Arts Plymouth‘s talent development programme has been matching early career artists, creative practitioners and arts professionals with mentors (more established artists and professionals in the region) through the Plymouth Platform scheme.

Workshop details from Rhys Morgan’s – Trans & Queer Visibility Workshop – held at Ocean Studios in August 2018.

Here we join two of the artists involved in the 2018 Platform – Rhys Morgan &  Mark Leahy – to find out more about the processes of working together over the last year…

Mark: Our first meeting focussed on getting to know each other, getting a sense of your practice to date and getting a sense of the initial plans or ideas for the Platform project. Subsequent meetings have focussed on both practical matters, of venue, content, making and project planning, and more thematic or conceptual aspects of the project.

Rhys: Starting with the more practical mechanics of the outcome, using my practice to date as a guideline, made shaping the project more realistic and easier to define for the sake of funding applications. You had seen my PAW17 piece Platform, and made suggestions about how different methods of execution could make the work more successful and tease out some of the more subtle conceptual nuances.

Mark: In terms of practical aspects of your Platform project I felt it was useful to look at the pattern of your making over a number of recent projects, including the ‘shambles’ group show and your piece for PAW17. Setting a number of interim deadlines was a practical way to address your management of project time. These interim goals could both be outcomes in their own right as well as pulling forward some of the making stages of the project.

Rhys: As you mention, creating these milestones was a good way to avoid last minute rushes. However, the other purpose they have served is in where objectives have fallen away in a necessary way to the shape of the project in actuality. In this sense they have also left room for a kind of live reflection, which when working through a project with a mentor is an important device, enabling me to realise the more crucial elements of the project being developed. In this sense the mentoring has encouraged a new way of thinking out projects for me, so far.

Workshop details from Rhys Morgan’s – Trans & Queer Visibility Workshop – held at Ocean Studios in August 2018.

Mark: Participation in Counter 2018 at Ocean Studios was one interim milestone. You made a new bookwork for this event, and developed work that was already in progress for FOMO. The form and content of the book work relates to both the ideas for the symposium / workshop, and the moving image work you are planning for PAW 2018.

Rhys: Having done FOMO a few months before, Counter was a very different experience. In FOMO I had relied on older work in a kind of novel, archival way – whereas for Counter I created new work, and was in the initial throes of researching new material. As an experience it very quickly accelerated the development of the work I had planned out for Platform, and also changed how that structure looked.

Mark: The potential workshop question “how do we find that thing that we don’t know we are missing?” was arrived at in a later mentoring meeting. It may seem deliberately obscure and off-putting, but there was a sense that for queer people in non-metropolitan parts of the UK there may be something missing in their lives. Because many of us may live lives of not being hungry, having a roof over our heads, having protection under the law in relation to equal rights, queer members of our communities may feel that they have it good and should be satisfied with their lot. But what are those niggling doubts and discomforts that rise into high colour each time we don’t find a friendly welcome, each time we feel not represented, each time that tolerance tips into not being seen, into invisibility?

Workshop details from Rhys Morgan’s – Trans & Queer Visibility Workshop – held at Ocean Studios in August 2018.

Rhys: On reflection, that question has kind of morphed into different things. Through all of the research elements of what is slowly being amassed for the installation work, as well as into the questions of visibility that the workshop will deal with. It kind of goes into different lines of enquiry, about unknown needs and insecurities, which in ways reminds me of the idea of ‘sehnsucht– but maybe in a slightly less knowing way. This idea of being a queer person from a bucolic setting, and that causing a potential schism in what that experience is ‘supposed’ to be, is very much my narrative within the posing of this question – but as the research goes on I see that it has many possible applications to different people.

Mark: The workshop topic connects to the topic of your video work and the publication, as these also address representation of queer identity in media, or mis-representation of queer lives and bodies and experience. The work engages with this both from the aspect of the language used, how popular media, social media, mass media describe, categorise, label and dismiss queer experience; and in terms of the images generated around these issues, their distribution and their framing.

Video teaser for Rhys Morgan’s – D A D D Y G O G U E – shown at Plymouth Art Weekender 2018.

Rhys: Within this there is also another area being explored, which is that of pedagogy – and the potentially destructive patriarchal nature within it. I see that all of the above areas fall into this. I more widely have some misgivings about standardised modes of pedagogy – even in the running of a ‘workshop’, which is something I find challenging to really get to grips with. I guess to an extent then looking at the distribution of information, even in the forms of media, is kind of also looking at where this pedagogy ends – if at all.

Mark: The workshop took place on the 15th August, and trans activist Shon Faye worked with you on the event. Participants were recruited through personal and professional networks in the Plymouth area and South West region.

Rhys: Having this opportunity to have such an important trans activist and commentator as Shon at this event meant that the workshop had the opportunity to do as I intended it to. Which is, to decentralise the important conversations that are taking place so that more people can have a voice, and try and make places safer through this. I wanted the project to not be just an installation piece that has a presence and audience of people who are interested in art, I wanted to create an opportunity for the things I am exploring in the work to have a more open and personal experience for people as well.

Plymouth Platform is designed & coordinated by Visual Arts Plymouth, informed by previous mentoring schemes run by VASWa-n (review bursaries) and Hand in Glove (Bristol) and is supported financially through Horizon – a collaborative two year programme of visual contemporary arts, funded through Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence fund and supported by Plymouth Culture.