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“Drag Race on BBC can’t be the only thing available” Deen Atger is bringing the Queer Disturbance to you


Image: Deen Atger, self portrait.

“@Disturbance is for “everyone who can appreciate queer artforms.” Deen Atger

The LGBTQ+ community were one of the marginalised groups devastated as nightlife was wiped out of existence by the pandemic. Many had suddenly lost their source of income: their cabaret, club, drag or small venue gigs, all gone. But perhaps unsurprising for a community born out of adversity it is here where the idea for @Disturbance started to grow - an idea to support and showcase, a clarion call specifically for interdisciplinary LGBTQI+ performers.

Presented by Ugly Duck, part of whose DNA is supporting those underrepresented in the arts, @Disturbance was first conceived during lockdown when Ugly Duck Curator Deen Atger met with computer artist and Goldsmiths lecturer Robert Hall. The idea was to connect creatives around the world safely and Hall had just started a live streaming company that wanted to do exactly that but raise the bar - this wasn’t going to be just artists performing on webcams. The manifestation of this meeting is an alternative to mainstream breakthroughs like Drag Race, it’s a high calibre multi-disciplinary art @Disturbance IRL and brought directly to you digitally.

Featuring an incredible breadth of performers including 21-year-old Jake Wood’s humorous and inventive videos debunking the idea of fitness and exercise, Johannesburg-based Llewellyn Mnguni’s choreographic video artwork exploring the complicated story of a South African born LGBTQI+ activist raised in the country’s strict Setswana culture and Indonesian artist Kelvin Atmadibrata using physical performance, sound and projection explore the expression, desires and fantasies of homoerotic online behaviour. Along with artist and DJ Nwakke, Laura Lynes in collaboration with Billy Leach, Kelvin Atmadibrata, Puer Deorum and Anthedemos @Disturbance is presenting to you both in-person and made accessible to everyone online.

I spoke with Deen Atger to find out how Ugly Duck is finding “to different values within the vestige of capitalism” and why @Disturbance is for “everyone who can appreciate queer artforms.”

Jayson Mansaray: What was your intention when you first started to conceptualise what @Disturbance might be?

Deen Atger:
I started to think about @Disturbance during lockdown in 2020 in an attempt to support artists as well as to continue Ugly Duck’s creative programme.

The initiative started from a meeting with Goldsmiths lecturer Robert Hall, a computer artist who started his own live streaming company, in a wish to connect creative individuals around the world. Our purpose was to create an aesthetic high calibre livestream moving away from artists simply performing on webcams. As Ugly Duck is a very large venue it felt safe to be performing live and it felt very important for us, to re-introduce a feeling of togetherness and normality, giving the opportunity to performance artists and dancers who had no access to physical spaces to practice, rehearse and perform.

In particular, it felt important to support performers from the LGBTQ+ community as they were already in a precarious position, in that a lot of them lost sources of income mostly coming from cabaret, drag or small venue gigs.

I also loved the idea of bringing different content to what people would see on TV or online.


Image: Photo of Anthedemos Anthedemos

Jayson: For you personally, how important is exploring ideas of identity, gender and technology?

Deen:
My body of work focus mostly on this - I’ve been queer since I was 14 and my first university thesis was about gender subversion in punk music.

It feels important to explore these ideas throughout my programmes because these are still complicated subjects to talk about in society. There is still a serious lack of visibility and representation in the press and on TV for queer artists, especially non binary / trans and BIPOC.

I’m also interested and fascinated by how expressions of nonconforming genders and sexualities take form online, how the expanding minds of different realities beyond the physical, are also linked to expanding our own minds to different existences beyond the gender binary.

These are also concepts that I explore personally, in my own body, so it feels natural and amazing to work with like-minded artists.
 
Jayson: We live in a time where the binary, from bodies, to gender to sexuality is being deconstructed, how does @Disturbance approach this?

Deen:
@Disturbance’s approach is to explore the ‘inbetweens’, grey areas or what we can also call liminal space... For example, we are drawing a parallel with the liminal space that exists between digital and physical territories and the spectrum that exists beyond the gender binary.
 
We are using the latest technology such as moving cameras, projection mapping and livestream software to create new aesthetics as well as working with artists who create and use different visual and physical references.

By offering new artistic representation of bodies, genders and sexualities, we are also trying to deconstruct the idea of a show, a TV set, the live experience and a livestream.  


Image: Kelvin Atmadibrata, Forcing Hyacinth, photo by Peter Easton

Jayson: How did you approach making sure your programming attracted underrepresented bodies and voices?

Deen:
The open call for the project was only open to artists identifying as LGBTQI+. To make sure we could reach out to those artists, we partnered with different organisations, influencers, universities to share the call. (Le Chateau, Raze Collective, Fringe Film Queer Festival, Mind Ur Head etc).

Ugly Duck has been supporting underrepresented artists for 11 years now so we also have a fairly extended network of potentially interested people.

We then invited a panel composed of different artists and professionals to help us select the projects.

Working with an amazing graphic designer / artists to have a cool visual / Encouraging previous artists to share the call as well.

Jayson: I like the idea of interventions to traditional narratives and spaces, could you call @Disturbance an intervention of sorts?

Deen:
Yes totally, I like the idea of intervention as well! We are trying to tell different stories as well as inviting people to discover or rediscover our Victorian warehouse in Tanner Street.

Anthedemos provides very surreal narratives and a simultaneous musical collaboration with their digital twin, Puer Deorum is an artist who, for @Disturbance, references the golden spiral, extending their practice via live, multidisciplinary performance. Nwakke merges music and choreography and Kelvin Atmadibrata presents a new performance in which he explores the expression, desires and fantasies of homoerotic online behaviour. In our cavernous video room we have Llewellyn Mnguni’s choreographic elevation of Black, femme, queer voices from South Africa and Laura Lynes & Billy Leach’s queer Sims avatars, bathing in a hyperreal landscape of pink water. Jake Wood’s audacious performances question masculinity, health and queerness.
Altogether, they create new artistic notions of queerness, satire and storytelling.


Image: Jake Wood's 'Exercise. I thought you said EXTRA FRIES! 2020'

Jayson: Accessibility is really valuable for works like this (and any public offering for that matter), was that part of the motivation for having it be digital as well as live?

Deen:
Totally, the project was born during the pandemic and as many other organisations we realised then how valuable digital broadcasting was. However we still had this amazing venue and many artists longing for dancing, so we thought we could merge this.

It also means that queer people can join from wherever they are and that’s super important. Drag Race on BBC can’t be the only thing available. I grew up queer in a tiny village and there were no representations of any kind anywhere so it’s really important for me to try to offer a more varied contribution.


All shows and video work will be subtitled as well so there is also the idea of accessibility to cater for non hearing folks. The venue itself is also accessible for wheelchair users.

Jayson: I’ve seen Nwakke perform but reading about the other acts that are new to me, is it fair to say a theme is combining multiple mediums/methods in their artistic approach?

Deen:
Yes totally, I love doing this, programming artists with very different approaches to their practice, to their queerness, using different voices. At the first @Disturbance we had Tyler And Vincent who are a queer clown duo followed by contemporary dancer Pierre with the Good Hair and then Inxesstuous sisters, providing more performative content, the whole evening was like a journey bringing different emotions to people.

As you mention, there is also diversity in the mediums that the artists are using, Anthedemos combines music, poetry and video fiction, Nwakke connect music and movement, Puer Deorum brings their sensational visions to create a visual installation in which they perform and Kelvin will offer a durational performance. For the three video artists we are installing a monumental projection room in which audiences will be invited to move freely.

 


Image: Work by Puer Deorum.


Jayson: Is this for queer audiences only?

Deen:
I think it’s for everyone who can appreciate queer artforms. I always have my brother and parents in mind as well as my queer family when I curate the show and when working with artists during the residency. For me, it’s about elevating voices, diversity of representation but also creating dialogue with audiences, offering space for learning, listening and holding each other. All chosen artists have such strong aesthetics as well it’s really a delight for everyone.

Jayson: What do you hope audiences might learn from ‘Disturbance’?

Deen:
I don’t know if I want people to learn anything but I would love for them to feel different emotions, to laugh and to feel empowered, also to build a better future. Mainly I really want audiences to feel inspired, I want them to want to dance after seeing the show, make installations in their room, film themselves with their phones, dress up and do whatever makes them feel good.

Jayson: Can you tell me a bit about Ugly Duck’s workshops and time bank?

Deen:
Ugly Duck is an arts organisation and also a space, we co organise workshops with creatives who want to share their skills, recently we worked with Blanca Regina on their video mapping workshop, Danni Spooner and Andrea Spisto for their neurodivergent creative practice and with Kinesis, a transgender artistic collective.

Time Bank is a programme that Ugly Duck has run since the start. It's a programme in which people swap time and resources instead of money. Ugly Duck uses time banking to facilitate free access to our spaces, and skills exchanges within our community. It is also an experiment to promote different values within the ruins of capitalism.

Jayson: Describe each of the following in three words:

Jayson: @Disturbance

Deen: Sensual, Surreal, Queer

Jayson: Ugly Duck
Deen:
Supportive, Inclusive, exciting

Jayson: Deen Atger
Deen:
Sensitive, passionate, creative

Follow Deen on Twitter: @Deen_Atg

uglyduck.org.uk 

@Disturbance
30th November, 7pm-10 pm
Ugly Duck
47/49 Tanner Street
London, SE1 3PL

General Admission £8.00 (+£1.21 Fee) | Tickets: eventbrite.co.uk
Concession £5.00 (+£0.98 Fee) | Tickets: eventbrite.co.uk
Livestream £3.00 (+£0.83 Fee) | Tickets: eventbrite.co.uk





Image: Photo of Llewellyn Mnguni by Travys Owen

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