Site-specific VR installation
The Bomb Factory, London

09.11 - 16.11.2019

The story of cities is a one of constant change, where physical space becomes historical space, and by becoming historical, becomes virtual. Queer spaces trace this trajectory in interesting and compellin ways. Marginalized communities have long created physical spaces that allowed them to come together creating their own unique lived culture which persists long after the physical space is gone. This churn of change is constant, as marginal places in the city which once provided physical space for queer communal gathering give way to gentrification.

The names given to these physical spaces connote the contemporaneous sense of shame but also the sense of humour, excitement and subversive sexuality that they represented. The south side of Finsbury Square still exists as a physical space, but “Sodomites walk” as that block was known in 18 th century London exists only as a virtual memory. In its day it was a well-known cruising ground for casual sex but carried the risk of public shame and imprisonment.

At the time, men caught in flagrante would be pilloried in the spot where they were caught, whether it was Sodomites Walk, the arches of Covent Garden, the bog-house in Lincoln’s Inn or St. James’s Park in front of the barracks. This had the unintended consequence of signaling where the action was. Laws against sodomy in the 18 th century referred specifically to buggery, which at the time was a capital offense. Gross indecency was added to the Buggery Act of 1533 through the Labouchere Amendment in 1885 which criminalized all sexual acts between men.

A molly house would have been a known tavern or public house in 18th century England where gay men could congregate and engage in what would eventually become a well-defined culture with its own rules, language and set of traditions. A specific aspect of the molly house that reflected both its physical space as well as its connoted culture was a separate room which would have been designated as a “chapel” where two men would be “married”. Molly houses are among the earliest recorded queer gathering spaces in London, and while modern gay bars survive if not exactly thrive, molly houses exist only in the historical/ virtual imagination.

Queer lived experience has always been reflected in the physical spaces that were created as much out of necessity as creativity or ingenuity. From molly houses in the 18 th century, to the Cave of the Golde Calf in the early 20 th century to the advent of the modern-day gay bar after the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967, to the heyday of gay saunas in the 1970s, queer spaces have always reflected changes in queer culture and attitudes toward sex in the wider culture. Early 21 st century gay culture has seen the arrival of new virtual spaces with apps such as Grindr which make the tension between physical/virtual space explicit, and which certainly reflect changes in attitudes towards sex, sexuality and sexual identity.

Theodoulos is interested in site-specific responses to space and engagement with open forms of audience participation. Through this project, the artist invites viewers to engage in body-less cruising, thus challenging notions of ‘presence’ and ‘embodiment’.

With its promise of transnational instant connectivity to remote others, the installation draws attention to post-queer theories while putting the virtual at the heart of the experience. It seeks to explore the ways in which networks and virtual environments play a critical formative role in the constitution of self-hood and desire as well as a crucial role in extending the parameters of lived experience.

Molly House investigates the amalgamation of traditional materials such as wood with approaches to virtuality, whether the historical, the logical or the technological. The work is concerned with the digital, the virtual, the invisible body and investigates ways in which perceptions of reality can be altered by what has not been seen, thus defining the unseen as matter with agency. It also reconsiders the ways in which a place is bound to identity when the “online” and the “offline” analogues are considered as alternatives to physical/geographical positioning.
By focusing on the architectural narratives that outline queer spaces in an era of gentrification and displacement, the installation explores the politics and social structures of spaces in which humans are invited to acknowledge their potential to feel and sense, to be intuitive, to be animals.

Text: Brent Barnette

Architectural design:  Dakis Panayiotou
Sound Design: CrystalMess
Scent: Floricienta Iuvenalis