Backrooms, Bookstores, Balconies, Meatracks and Tearooms
28 October - 2 December 2023
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Backrooms, Bookstores, Balconies, Meatracks and Tearooms, a solo exhibition by Ben Orkin.
Queens never build their own cities, but meet on the periphery of the men’s ones. They find each other in Backrooms, Bookstores, Balconies, Meatracks and Tearooms.
To the men, the names of these places mean one thing, but to the queens they mean another. Queens borrow words from the men’s language, then change definitions and meanings of places or things to construct their own world in secret. Tearooms become public meeting places for quick pleasures and Meatracks turn to benches for the exhibition of beautiful bodies.
A lonely queen will wander endlessly through the men’s city until they discover what feels like a garden with trees carrying heavy fruits containing seeds on the edge of bursting through skins. Just to look at the trees is enough to please their appetites and soothe their endless lonely wandering, but they step inside for more; past the doors which separate queens from men.
Inside they are mostly strangers to each other. Their anonymity is important. It means any of their actions are without consequence to their identity. It also means they can be loud about their physical bodies but keep their inner feelings quiet and hidden.
The queens make use of an invented language of gesture-making and signal-sending to attract toward or repel away. Eyes scour across space searching for other sets of eyes looking back at them. A smile signals interest, a sudden diversion of sight indicates rejection. Heads bow in greeting, eyebrows are raised, bodies pull towards each other, hands wander and queens become bound in the act of giving to and receiving from one another.
They’ve learned this language after keeping their intimacies and forms of expression mostly hidden from the men. To be a queen in a public setting is to always observe before acting, to always operate in secrecy, to always suggest actions rather than outwardly expressing them, to always appropriate the men’s culture and then modify it slightly. Leaving too strong a trace carries the risk of being discovered and then attacked by the men, which always happens anyways.
Meetings between queens are spontaneous and fleeting. After being bound to one another, they suddenly escape their meeting places leaving no trace of their bodies behind. What does remain is the infrastructure which facilitates their meetings, like the glory hole which enables anonymous intimacies between queens.
Infrastructure is markings made across a landscape by authority to indicate how and who is able to access space. The queens’ authority functions similarly to the men’s. The queens have no leader, although they are prone to govern. Queens can be very picky about who is allowed inside their meeting places. Their spaces function through noisy expressions of identity. Quiet queens might feel alienated from them. Noisy queens make no room for them because noisy expressions are their protest against the men and their chance to finally feel heard.
This behaviour of inclusion and exclusion was learned from the men. The men have judged and restricted the queens and so the queens judge and restrict their own people. It can become unclear, sometimes, whether they are removing outdated boundaries or generating their own new ones.
Backrooms, Bookstores, Balconies, Meatracks and Tearooms are witness to the constant comings and goings of queens. Their endless lonely wandering and secret fleeting moments of meeting brand them as a group belonging to no space; but Backrooms, Bookstores, Balconies, Meatracks and Tearooms make room for their expressions of pleasure, desire and nature; binding and holding them together.
Text by Ben Orkin