Useless Man

Clinton, Paul. 2019. Useless Man. In: , ed. Kiss My Genders (exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, 12th June 2019). London, UK: Hayward Publishing, pp. 34-39. ISBN 9781853323645 [Book Section]


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Abstract or Description

An overview of late-20th century gender-nonconformist art in Britain and the role of social class played in how artists disturb the norms of masculinity and femininity. The essay begins with historical context, drawing upon Matt Houlbrooks research into the popularity of drag in working class London communities. Following this is an analysis of classed forms of gender dissidence in British popular culture – Quentin Crisp, Boy George, Lily Savage – and contemporary art – Leigh Bowery, Sarah Lucas, Ajamu X, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings. I argue that televisions performances of working class womanhood often played with masculine toughness, and artistic works with a vulgarity distinct in its social identity from US forms of trash or camp deployed by artists such as Andy Warhol, Charles Ludlam and Jack Smith. This essay traces the often politically fraught distinctions between populist and artistic performances of classed drag, throughout the 1980s and 90s. Finally the essay alights on some of the tensions between performative accounts of gender and contemporary trans artists, who may want to hold on to some notion of the truth of their gender. This essay contributes to a history of late-20th century British artists engaging in gender dissidence, drawing connections between queer and feminist practitioners. It also seeks to address seldom acknowledged tensions between Marxist theories of class and queer theory, where the latter has almost no economic analysis and scholars in the former field have often dismissed sexual politics as merely matters of cultural acknowledgement, secondary to matters of labour and distribution.

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12 June 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

25 Jun 2020 10:25

Last Modified:

19 Mar 2021 12:53


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