Lyónn Wolf and Tyan Fritschy
“Libidinous Memorial Flag for Peter Clemens” was written by Lyónn Wolf as a performative site-specific response in 2019. Wolf’s text (shown here in black) has since existed as performance, zine, video, and, most recently, as part of the monograph Text in Public – Zine Performances and Rants (2022) published by Archive Books with Scriptings, and digitally by EECLECTIC. For this manifestation in the context of From Multidirectional Memory to Multidirectional Moments (MDM), Lyónn Wolf invited researcher and author Tyan Fritschy to converse with the text through their own reflections, riffs, and concerns.
I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy.
How to connect across time and space and how to remember without slipping into sentimentality or nostalgia? How to be remembered? What might it mean to engage in projects of remembrance when our collective present proposes a bleak future?
Can we become cross-temporal peers striving for conviviality with the dead and the yet-unborn? Or cross-spatial peers striving for a collective unbecoming in the face of irreconcilable difference?
How to do the work of remembering those forgotten and side-lined histories occupying our cultural and political blind spots? Histories and lives that can be gleaned through traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things. What is forgotten is still very much with us, influencing who we are and what we imagine to be possible. To have any hope of unraveling ourselves it is perhaps necessary to spend time with the leftover ephemera of what has gone before.
We could not live in the shiny afterglow of our fallen heroes unless we remember against history, against a violently leveled history. The task is to unburden history from the dynamics of gatekeepers and gravediggers. The ritual of remembrance pieces together fragments of past lives and exploited fragilities. It’s not a matter of recreating an unbroken whole or of rectifying an unglamorous past but of crafting signposts for queer futures out of such brokenness.
It is these fragments that offer a wafer-thin skin between the busy, anxious, progressive logic of the present and the ghosts that loom large and ripe, ready to drench us in their knowledge of the void. Ghosts fogging up the sharp-edged clarity of language, smearing our realities with the non-necessity of our existence.
Rewriting, recasting, making over. The violence of the storm-trooper tactics with which presumptuous white middle-class self-proclaimed feminists once were raging against the oddly queer bodies that dared to speak and enact unspeakable desires. Once suffocated, the ghosts of the past now come alive. If there is no justice, can we do justice in remembrance?
This flag is a tenuous attempt to enact remembrance as art-making – in the face of the absurd needlessness of such a gesture. It is a libidinous memorial for Peter Clemens.
This flag is for those who occupy a queer-outsider position, bearing “disqualified identities” – living with injury, not fixing it. It is a memorial for the connective bodies’ past, present, and future, who transform that injury into libidinal practices and forms of experimentation that echo through and about us, stretching out the borderlands. People who transgress existing relationships between bodies and space, brave enough to attempt acts of making meaning on their own terms. Those people who chose not to secure a legacy through reproduction; people without a future.
Living with injury, not fixing it. I’ve been thinking a lot about injury in recent days and weeks. I’ve been thinking more particularly about the cross-generational Jewish injury and the both long-standing and most acute Palestinian injury and the relation between the two. Isn’t it the dangerous fantasy of fixing injury that causes the mechanic infliction of continuous injury and the eternal repetition of trauma? This is clearly not only a fantasy of the Jews currently living in Israel, but a fantasy deeply incorporated in the structures and the raison-d’être of this particular nation-state: an injury gone wrong, fixated in a statist architecture that became a genocidal war machine.
This train of thought is not intended to sidestep queer radical experimentation, but rather to show how generative it is to dwell with the queer radical’s refusal of fixing injury, its vulnerable openness toward the world.
Living with injury, not fixing it. Doesn’t this offer, in a nutshell, a relational conception of injury that connects us as vulnerable bodies beyond the fixity of identities and styles? I’m convinced that injuries travel from one generation to the next, from one afflicted soul to another. I’m convinced that some of my tears, particularly those shed in moments of bliss, are echoing the sorrow of my ancestors – as if queer happiness were criminal. This is the ground zero of queer affectability: the convergence of joy and trauma in the dizzying conflation of past, present, and future.
Living with injury, not fixing it. Doesn’t this denote the line between those queers who spark a breath of life in us even if they’ve deceased long ago and those gays and lesbians we’d prefer not to include in our collective remembering? The disturbing evidence of reading Bad Gays (2022), a comprehensive history of gay villains, was indeed that I had to acknowledge that these historical agents of gayness, whose acts and policies I find dreadful, were also wretched creatures having undergone trauma as sexual deviants.1 Trauma that has gone wrong. Even if we might be tempted to ascribe a moral superiority to those sharing the experience of injury, the painstaking lesson was: this belief cannot be upheld. The labor of remembering is indiscriminately the labor with injuries – no matter whether they’re mine or not-mine. But this is an ambition that comes along with risks.
Injury, if handled appropriately, has got the potential of diffusing the space between me and not-me and of erupting the dangerous fantasy of an encapsulated “knowledge of the void.”
Fixing injury: a phantasmagorical enterprise perpetuating the circularity of harm and injury.
Healing injury: the creative work put forward by compassion, ritual and – not least – libidinal experimentation that facilitates living with a sense of brokenness.
Can we think of not reproducing, or reproducing differently, as queer and radically generative in a world that still privileges the idealized, economically independent, outwardly happy and healthy nuclear family as the structural cell of civilization. Even in the face of apocalyptic visions of climate-related horrors.
Look about, backwards, forwards. Know better how people make and have made their own kinship formations beyond the prescriptions of law and state.
How people have co-parented and cared for one another outside of marriage ties and couple congealment.
Ascribe value through ritual celebration and cultural practices.
There is a myth that haunts many queer lives, an undertone that living a queer life risks an impoverished existence.
Punishable by loneliness, isolation, and an old age housed in degradation. As truthful as the claim that reproduction of the nuclear family will make you happy, the myth of the aged and lonely queer can be related to the old story of the barren woman. Childless, bereft, and tragic with a dried-up womb: the woman nobody wants or needs. Spinsters, lesbian sisters, maiden aunts, faggoty ones, mad, wild, and powerful ones. Witches. Why are we allowed so few stories of these barren queer folks who live and lived well, and who make and made family on their own terms?
Perhaps ritual and experimentation are about a belonging for those who are weary of the promises of capital accumulation, whiteness, and heterosexuality. Those who are not embraced by its exclusive rituals and practices or refuse them, yet understand that refusal is not enough, still being in need of consolation and comfort. Don’t they offer a belonging for those who don’t fit it? Yet it is not just another modality of what has been offered to us and to which we don’t want to get married. It is an improvisation in the void. It cannot be retrieved in locations, identities, doctrines, and communities, but rather in styles of thinking and feeling, bodily formations, whimsies, aesthetic experiences and perceptions. Such is the texture of what we desire to wrap around us to feel safe and not singular while the stranglehold of normal life becomes indistinct chatter.
They live in the history of this house and garden, in the traces and memories Peter has left behind, in how he and others chose and choose to live. These stories, images, and imaginaries are intergenerational and, in exchange between the living and the dead, they continue to “fuel and propel our political and erotic lives.”2
Let’s call it a barren landscape, this life outside the prescribed vision of familial blood and legal ties; we can consider the idea of the barren as a space of possibility. Not in the colonial mode of rescuing, propagating, and improving, but more in the inhabiting of our own barren non-necessity. Can we consider engaging in projects and practices that make and preserve space that is non-productive, un-progressive, overgrown, and open to interpretation? Spaces and states that can be understood in relation to the concept of the charged void, placing value where there is none established.
A kind of magical emptiness is what I found with Line Skywalker Karlström when we performed dyke cruising actions at the men’s cruising area near Teufelssee in Berlin’s Grunewald forest. We did this in the spirit of desiring such a place and never finding any that could accommodate us. The cruising grounds occupy a natural green space with a sandy clearing: quiet, peaceful, and populated by a diverse mix of men – sunbathing, reading, cruising, and fucking in and around the shade of the trees. A place offering possibilities “between relaxedness and intensity, separateness and connection.”3
Slowly and silently we engaged the space with the ritualistic installation of flags and clothes. Performative objects. We sent our bodies through a series of cruising moves and gestures, the fetish objects posing encouragement.
This flag for Peter is a continuation of that practice, a talisman for the holding of experimental spaces. Places that support moments of shared intimacy and pleasure. Places where you can do nothing or do something unproductive. Places where you can feel yourself differently. Room to breathe.
These interval spaces are being erased, bought up, filled in, and promptly put to use at a speed that gives the city and its inhabitants palpitations, bequeathed to the service of economic development. The charged void is built over with a different kind of void, closed to all possibilities except consumerism. Or perhaps, on the flip side, civil disobedience. The so-called public space that is built in and around these developments is an architecture of surveillance; only as consumer, property owner, or employee is one’s presence desired.
The land surrounding Warschauer Brücke is now home to the Mercedes Benz Arena and the recently completed East Side Mall. It is dizzying to consider the history of that piece of land and be faced with the generic shiny plastic chrome glassy coldness of its current condition. The artist, writer, and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz described these kinds of built environments as “vacuums turned inside out.”4
The architecture represents a surface saturated with the promises of consumption, reproduction, and the accumulation of property. It is a landscape in which sexuality has found a fixed place as recreation, reproduction. Even sexual experimentation has become digestible. Nothing more than an intensified moment of consumption. Conflicted with the meaninglessness of capitalized sexual cultures, some of us are longing for scenes of criminal intimacies.
Scenes of criminal intimacies: spaces accommodating illicit existences, desires, and gender presentations and circulating affects, languages, and codes – unaffected by bourgeois senses of selfhood that govern present-day gay, lesbian, and transgender identities.
Arguably, the scenes of criminal intimacies have disappeared today.
Between 1998 and 2003 this was the site of Ostgut, a club operating in an abandoned railway warehouse, after which it moved and became the internationally renowned super club, Berghain. Ostgut was a place that connected queers and made space for experimentation with an embodied interval space, the charged void that lives between people during the physical intensities of dancing to techno, cruising dark spaces, and participating in acts of public sex.
This garden and house could be thought of as the manifestation of practices of caring for the ephemera so often neglected during transitional periods. Berlin post-’89 was surrounded and cut through by former borderlands – acres and acres of undeveloped urban landscape, miles and miles of charged void. Many buildings were left unoccupied long enough for people to form squats, self-organized community projects, rambling interconnected and disparate neighborhoods.
Peter bought this house for a small sum. It was in poor condition and he renovated it floor by floor with foraged objects, window frames, fireplaces, statues, and bric-a-brac. Functional and decorative pieces from abandoned factories, graveyards, government offices, and other unused buildings. Pieces and parts incorporated into his assemblage of the house and garden. A repository of fragments from histories recently demolished and built over. Materially present here are the remnants of meaning made in process and practice.
This flag is for the detritus of cobbled-together histories. The remnants that won’t be erased, sold, consumed, or upcycled amidst the cannibalizing gentrification of our times.
Peter and his community made this house and garden a place for non-reproductive sexual experimentation, for instinctive community affiliations, for ritual, for relationships sanctified through friendship, for parties, for illness, for care, and for death. Passed on to another queer family, the house and garden continue to pose an open question as to their prospective use. Together on a sunny afternoon we talk about how it could become a cruising garden for queer womxn. We discuss if a privately owned space could become semi-public. We imagine many keys and gestural codes. We think of the neighbors overlooking windows and balconies and are reminded of the restrictions put in place by the upwardly mobile, and also the importance of constantly transgressing presumed demarcations. This is the proposal held in Peter’s memorial flag, that amidst the numbing gentrification of the neighborhood in 2019, perhaps there is still the potential for something else. Maybe Peter’s legacy lies in our present imagining of what that something else can become.
Beyond nostalgia, don’t we find in practices of remembrance in the queer archive communist practices of interdependence and relationality, and yet-unknown relational modes on the other side of bourgeois subjectivity and biopower subjection? Not in the queer archive’s celebratory moments that paved the way to the consumerist gay and lesbian lifestyles as the epitome of gay liberation’s failure, but in the interstices of histories and ideas, in fanciful imaginations and in the cracks of intimate queer life . . .
This flag marks remembrance for Peter and his life practices, struggles, friendships, and loves, for his occupation of an outsider position and experimentation with how to live. Engaging the charged void of non-reproduction, the barren, pleasure and intimacy, a place stripped of illusion. And perhaps, if we take the risk to make it so, a place that offers the possibility of living and dying on our own terms.
“They go far back in our lost distance where what we never had stands waiting.”
— Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936)
Lyónn Wolf (formerly Emma Wolf-Haugh) makes work shaped by economic necessity, engaging forms of recycling, thrift, and ephemera that result in soft modularity, wild archiving, and performative intervention, posing questions about value, accumulation, and authorship. They see a cultural centering of thrift as part of a tradition of queer working-class vernacular and ethics, promiscuous and adept at working within limitations. Their pedagogical and publishing work posits the imagination as a political tool with radical potential that can exist and erupt anywhere and at any time. Their work is often collaborative, generating forms of temporary collectivity, intent on the erotic and energetic capacity of brief encounter.
Tyan Fritschy is a theorist and writer currently writing a dissertation on sexuality and property at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. In their philosophical practice they engage with political philosophy, queer theory, and decolonial theory and seek to expand the aesthetics of theoretical writing. They pursue a variety of political and bodily practices and are newly dedicated to the art of mushroom growing. They live and work in Vienna.