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Translated by Anna Knight

Interview with Gérald Kurdian

by Sophie Lapalu

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Sophie Lapalu: You are a musician, performer, dancer, composer, photographer, choir conductor, researcher, DJ, activist, and researcher at the Research Cooperative at the École supérieure d’art de Clermont-Ferrand. How do you introduce yourself?

Gérald Kurdian: I think that I’ve been gradually losing the taste for an image-identity, focusing instead on the practices of life, art, and activism. Praxis-identities, if you like. Cultivating an ambiguous, complex public presence has backfired in the past, but I like the idea of being able to change, to adapt my soi/self to the social and political circumstances I’m experiencing. In the present, I think. Like a kaleidoscope. So, at the moment, I’m trying to embrace the identities of various contexts that I’ve been contributing to: GÆRALD when I play music, Gérald Kurdian for the performance or contemporary art projects, Æ in the video games, an anonymous non-binary body in protest actions, a privileged body when I’m running a workshop, among others.

SL: You bring together some of the facets of this kaleidoscope within Hot Bodies of the Future, a vast project that includes Hot Bodies Choir.s, Hot Bodies Nights, Hot Bodies Club, Hot Bodies Camp, Hot Bodies Stand Up and X ! (a fantasy opera). Through these various forms (choirs, soirées, performances, workshops), working collaboratively, you pose the question of the way in which sex-positive minorities make use of music, activism, and artistic practices to spark their revolutions.

GK: It seems important to me today to put rebellious experiences and practices ahead of the idea we might have of revolutions. Under ultra-liberalism, we’re well-trained at conceptualising and representing for ourselves the things that we want to experience. Without always taking the plunge. We also experience paralysis. The Hot Bodies projects aims to respond to these fantasies by proposing forms of collective life in which we can do nothing but have an experience, allow it to transform us, and then give us the possibility of conceptualising it after the fact. Clubs, concert halls, and auditoriums (and demonstrations) are good places for that, for letting oneself be transformed by complexity, by bodily excitation. Also, in Hot Bodies we create contexts for bringing back to centrestage and restoring power to marginalised forms of life, by creating contexts in which they themselves decide on the political fabric, proposing their own inter-relational ecologies. I still have in mind this idea that, as minority bodies, you develop tools, practices and political thinking that can serve collective political praxis. Contexts in which you experiment inclusive, reparative, and critical forms of collective life, in order to work out together the question of potential means of fulfilment and damage provoked by our political choices. And for that, artistic practices are quite ideal. 

SL: Clubs, concert halls, and auditoriums are places that we frequent at night. It seems to me that the night can be considered a marginal, counter-hegemonic space, a place of experience in which the invisible becomes visible, where “the cogs of the dominant systems are made manifest” (Rachele Broghi on marginal spaces), “a place of radical possibilities, a space of resistance” (bell hooks). Night as a site of privileged creativity for forms of resistance. How do you perceive it? How does it influence your work? 

GK: Firstly, the night is something that heteronormative cultures choose to avoid. Along with old age, obesity, or the very idea of death. I was an insomniac for years and it’s partly thanks to clubs that I was able to fill these marginal hours. Nighttime is what we associate with mystery, what is hidden, the subconscious, the dream, but it is above all a dimension in and of itself, in which it is easier to hide oneself, so as to exist. I’m thinking, for instance, of open-air cruising sites. But also black and American Latino clubbing communities, around disco and house music, have connected the history of the resilience of LGBTQIEA+ to that of places where these communities meet by night. These have become places for expression for those who haven’t had time or space for themselves during the daytime, a place to flirt without the risk of being attacked and a place to allow oneself to assume one’s desired forms.

For me, the club is heterotopic, a place where I attempt ways of being before trying them out in public by day. Clubs Hot Bodies is the idea of bringing about, in a club, a set of experiences that allow dance to be approached after a series of artistic or theoretical encounters, as though we were trying to reveal and charge it with what it means to dance together as minorities. Night is also a bodily state, which is liberated of diurnal efficacy, of the relationship to labour, productivity, and all the interpersonal relationships associated with it. By night, we can lose that, we can become Other, and rewrite our social relations.

SL: If the body is the site of oppressions and resistances, Hot Bodies of the Future enables us to invest this site collectively. You are also learning sex work – illegal and therefore hidden, marginalised work, often associated with nighttime. You also did a radio documentary in 2006, Je suis putain: a series of interviews with sex workers, while Sarkozy’s laws against “passive soliciting” obliged them to remain hidden. For you, are performance, music, dance, and sex work political tools?

To me, the idea that anyone can make art with no political connection is just a validation of the dominant cultural languages, and a perpetuation of systems of exclusion, discrimination, and hierarchisation. Between performance, dance, possibly music a bit, and sexology practice (which is what I’m learning, and that really should be distinguished from sex work on the street, in houses, or online), there are very strong connections in the sense that these are, among other things, somatic learning pathways. They bring us a flood of information on the way in which bodies feel, memorise, and translate. This is already a path towards the subjectification of bodies.

Then there is the question of pleasure and orgasm (sensorial and aesthetic), which are currently central to the battle undertaken for the reappropriation of our subjectivities, and that are therefore fundamentally political. Do I experience pleasure from ideas or from the sensation of pleasure? Do I find pleasure in the experience of this painting through sensation or through sociocultural adherence? The answer is probably a little of both. But it is important to me today to understand what is at work in my way of feeling and experiencing.

I was also able to cross paths in recent years with many artistic approaches, often performative or choreographic, which sought connections between reparative justice and art, bodily states, and social change – notably Anna Halprin, Keith Hennessy, Brian Lobel, Beth Stephens, and Annie Sprinkle. And all of these people have been or have supported sex workers. It gives me confidence in the potential of artistic practices to act on the social corpus. To literally use touch, intimacy, expression, and pleasure as tools for political deconstruction or creation.

SL: In Indiscipliner la langue : politiques de fugues et résistance cyborg et cuir, Pedro Tadeo Cervantes Garcia (translated into French by Sarah Netter) introduces a comparison between a gay AIDS patient and a cyborg, then adds: “Besides clinical additions, he uses mechanisms that construct what he is, that relate another possibility for his body that is not that of a heterosexual language: silicon, wigs, high heels, glitter.” On stage, in concert or as a DJ, you rework some of these aspects, notably those of the leather straps of SM culture or a long lock of purple hair. How do you use these attributes?

GK: In queer futures and mythologies, the heteronormative model, along with the identities and bodies that it produces, is to be deconstructed. All forms of subversion, irony, glitch, or “camp” represent opportunities to destabilise the foundations of these forms of power.

At the same time, they are strategies that allow the political choices that form the basis of our cultures and the identities deriving from them to appear. I like the idea of “choice of political fiction” that Paul B. Preciado uses to talk about identity. It is truly enlightening regarding the “toolbox” element and it makes an individual very responsible for the choice of what they are. The body (and I’m including in this technological appendices, chemical contributions, hormonal treatments, but also the collective body) is like a big line of code that we can decide to rewrite. And this resonates with my approach to artistic work. There are no more limits between true, false, organic, or artificial. What matters is both presenting the absurdity of the choices surrounding our identities and at the same time sharing the emotions pertaining to the fact of freeing oneself of them. 

Today, I want to leave the “male” label – an identity imposed on me because I’m a body born with a penis – to live in a state of fluid mutability, which would give me the choice and responsibility of the fictions that I disperse. This has as much to do with form (long or short hair, dressing for the club or to go jogging, make-up, etc.) as with my behavioural choices. Finding the body that allows me the greatest circulation, movement, and exchanges, while also emancipating itself from the labels imposed on it. The stage (concert, performance, DJ set, or any public moment) allows me to bring a multiplicity of bodies into existence that challenge heteronormative thought. I feel like much more of a mutant in this way.

SL: What do you think about a certain form of “queer fashion”? Would that be the route of fully fledged recuperation, or should we be happy that a non-heteronormative aesthetic is finally becoming more visible? 

GK: This popularisation of the term, looks, and a certain queer literature is obvious. We should fear it. Every day, it generates all sorts of catastrophes that range from tokenism to queer-washing, to many other appropriations that eventually create exponential forms of negligence – if not violence – towards the people concerned (whose everyday lives already require a lot of invisible labour). It is still a reasoning through the image/idea and not through practice. It is clear that “queer” knowledge and knowhow have the potential to be constructive for people beyond the strict members of our communities. This can be clearly seen in the way straight bodies think about their sexualities today (particularly in relation to the prostate, polyamorous relationships, use of sex-toys, etc.).

The only way for this to evolve in the most emancipatory way for all would be that we recognise the contributions of the minorities as a subjective participation, as an authority, as active members of the community (and of the political fabric). For me, queerness shouldn’t be “introduced”. We must draw various tools from queerness, some of which will benefit the people concerned, within dedicated and protected spaces more in the sense of reparations, and others to be shared with the dominant bodies in the sense of accepting responsibilities.

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