(This interview was carried out in Spanish and has been translated by La Erreria (House of Bent). The original text can be consulted here )
“To mix, to mess up, to bring the domestic and the private into the spotlight in order to contrast the relational process itself with the verification; the insignificant with the meaningful.”
These are the intentions which distinguish the discourse of La Erreria (House of Bent) collective, led by the artists Anna Maria Staiano and Graham Bell Tornado. Their work can be seen in the De Reüll: 1990-2020 exhibition at the CCCC Contemporary Arts Centre which “compiles the artistic trajectory of De Reüll, an artistic group founded in the Marina Alta (Alicante), and analyses the context in which contemporary art has developed in the Valencian region from the Transition to the present.” (Milagros Pellicer)
An atypical and productive creative group whose curiosity and work on art and nature led to an inevitable meeting, in 2010, between the vertebral discourse of the Grup de Reüll and the peripheral, queer idiosyncrasies built on the foundations of La Erreria through its Ecogender project, elucidated from its headquarters in Xàtiva and with subsequent spinoffs in Valencia.
However, to delve into the foundations that establish the central concepts of La Erreria (House of Bent), the retrospective gaze must go back several decades to when Anna Maria and Graham laid roots down in this land, leaving behind their luxuriant manifestations in the unorthodox basements of the London performance scene.
“We arrived in Valencia in 2003”, recalls Graham, “and began to do performances, cabarets, then we did our first coronation in 2006. They were very difficult years in this city. The worst. We came from a situation in which, from time to time, you could make subsidized art” and they ended up in a Valencian artistic context at a time “when everything seemed impossible.”
It would be in 2009 when the extent of their concerns would take on an experiential morphology in their house museum, in the very epicentre of the capital of the Costera region, which opened its nineteenth-century doors with the dissident talent The World of Rampova Cabaret, an artist whose paintings, drawings, texts, comics, performances and costumes would dignify not only their own memorable legacy but also that of their political cabaret group Ploma 2 (together with the ill-fated Clara Bowie). This exhibition would also allow La Erreria (House of Bent) to constitute, from then on, an unprecedented way of being / thinking / exhibiting.
A way of being and remaining in the Valencian artistic cosmos that has allowed Graham and Anna Maria (both of them driven by their “love for a unnatural nature influenced by punk, baroque and retro modernism”) to endorse the work of a vast list of creators whose discourses evolve from concepts such as gender, ecology and feminism in La Erreria, through “exhibitions, concerts and guided tours of the space.”
Distinguishing characteristics that, within the exhibition De Reüll: 1990-2020, are expressed through their facet as “collectors and collected, since in a world full of objects we need to ask ourselves how we relate to the present and the past, how we share space and if they will be with us in the future (if there is one)”, as stated in the curatorial text.
A common bond of relationships ordered by the central, fundamental concept of the aforementioned (geographical and semantic) backlands, through which “we have gathered, through emotional ties, a small collection of friends work. Queer, feminist and eco artists”, repeats Graham Bell Tornado.
More than twenty artists and almost fifty works amongst which “there is no hierarchy of what is and is not art. What is fine art, craft, kitsch?” Graham wonders. “Everything is mixed together.”
Pieces by Alice Roth, The Divine David, Amaury Grisel, Angela Dalinger, Simon Murphy, O.R.G.I.A., Almudena López, Toni Cordero, Cabello / Carceller, Rampova or Chris Korda, amongst others, alongside anonymous works rescued from the rubbish at the Valencian flea-market, maternal embroideries, cruising beach scenes, hair pieces and fetishes “that form part of queer practice”, heraldic shields and pastel drawings, as well as some pointed acronym wordplay such as U.D.M.A.D. (Uniform of Director of Museum of Decorative Arts) ’and‘ H.M.R.C. (Tools and Mementoes of the Royal Coronations)’.
An iconoclastic anthology which interferes in the workings of the institution, opposite which Graham, dressed in 2011 as the illustrious Consuelo Ciskar (at the time director of the Valencian Museum of Modern Art), would vindicate, “a diverse museum, open… to fags, whores, blacks… the whole world.” A time of high heels and banners during which, they explained “I was very vulnerable”. However, taking that oppositional stance “was important. Nowadays it would probably be much less scary to carry out an action like that.”
Not so distant times of feverish “street fighting, (LGTBQI) pride”, which, “thanks to the goddess, younger generations can enjoy.”
For this reason, and based on their long-standing commitment, “we are waiting for recognition from those social and cultural agents we have supported in the past and who are now in positions of power.” Nevertheless, as Graham cautions, “change is very slow. Although there are laws that improve our situation, mentalities do not change so quickly. There is more visibility, but in return, there are more and more reactionary people who come out against us.”
Exhibition De Reüll & installation House of Bent
Levante: Museari Awards 2020
Article on the Museari queer art Awards by Ángeles Sanmiguel published in El Levante newspaper on 22/07/2020 (in Spanish) here.
Levante: Natural Hysteria
In occasion of Pride day, the Levante newspaper published this article about Graham´s PhD thesis “Natural Hysteria: a queer response to ecocide” which has just been awarded the Excellency Prize by the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
Levante: Transgression becomes art
Article published by the newspaper Levante about the “Counter-culture. Resistance, Utopia and Provocation in Valencia” exhibition at IVAM till the 17th of May 2020.
When we organised Rampova´s first solo exhibition in La Erreria (House of Bent) in 2009, we aimed to promote their work in all its facets to a wider public, which was hard due to the LGBTphobic climate of the times. Now things have changed and it´s FANTASTIC to see Rampova finally getting the recognition they deserve at an institutional level with a room dedicated to their artwork in this exhibition. More information about Rampova´s exhibition at La Erreria, here
Hospitality as dissent:
a few words about the significance of La Errería (House of Bent)
Article by art critic/curator Juan Vicente Aliaga published on occasion of the Museari Queer Art exhibition at Las Naves (Valencia, July 2019)
In 2003 a very singular couple arrived in the Valencian region. In this duo, which saw the light in London, formed by Graham Bell and Anna Maria Staiano, different, polymorphic practises and cultural backgrounds are interwoven – the Italian south and the Scottish north. From a big capital city, already immersed in the neoliberal policies which have converted the body, and even sexual diversity, into pure merchandise, they landed in a territory controlled by a politically corrupt Valencian right wing party. In 2009, in this terrain decimated by greed, cronyism and nepotism, they decided to open a space called La Errería (House of Bent), located in the town of Xàtiva. Their own house, always hospitable and open, thus became a place from which flowed feminist practices and transmarikabollo1 rebellions with added bisexual dissonances. They soon attuned their concerns with sexual dissenters and all others who in Valencia and elsewhere had resisted the rot of over two decades of ruling conservatism.
With a great deal of effort, and habitually relying on the collaboration of many others, over time La Erreria (House of Bent) has managed to carry out a combination of exhibitions and activities totally independent of commercial circuits.
Amongst their activities I would like to highlight the exhibition dedicated in 2009 to Rampova Cabaret, an essential figure in Valencian dissident universes who suffered Franco’s persecution in the flesh and whose art work is a portent of imagination and audacity. Rampova is a versatile artist who goes beyond the limits of disciplines to exude a fine trans intelligence.
The Ecogender project, initiated in 2010, also stands out. It laid the foundations for one of their most fruitful lines of work in which a critique of strict gender binarism and a defense of environmental diversity and the need for its preservation converge. Amongst all the aspects of creativity that have been seen in La Errería (House of Bent) and in the individual trajectory of Anna Maria and Graham, it seems to me that the most distinctive hallmark resides in their necessary insistence on establishing conceptual and visual parallels between sexual and gender diversity and biodiversity.
We live in a world – the geological age of the Anthropocene – threatened by pollution and global warming, a consequence of the depredation of nature driven by an all-consuming capitalism. Many animal species and plants have already disappeared. Moreover we live in a time when, despite the social advances achieved by feminisms and LGBTQI + movements, the rise of thuggery and fascist violence pose a danger to individual and collective freedoms. Combining both lines of work, namely, cuir (queer) non-conformity and respect for the planet, shows a perspicacity uncommon in times of commercialist greed and meaningless discourses.
1Lit: transfagdyke. The radical political Spanish term for “queer”.
Levante: 21st Century Ecogender
Translation of the article Ecogénero Siglo XXI by Ángeles Sanmiguel published in the El Levante newspaper on the 24/7/2019.
“Take the Earth as a lover” is Graham Bell Tornado´s exhortation in Las Naves. His transversal work describes ecology as “super sexy”, something which concerns all humanity without exception. But what about the tuna vessels that devastate species and the seabed through traditional and electric trawling, failing to respect quotas? What about the intentionally started fires and the undisclosed criminal liabilities? Are the victims of ecocides, species and specimens of animals and plants, quantified?
Caress the rocks, kiss the earth, hug the trees. In “Natural Hysteria”, a project by Bell Tornado, a cum laude PhD in Production and Artistic Research, people were summoned to join their voices in response to ecological murder. Anna Maria Staiano (Glamereuse) commented on this action: “We went to the mountain of Xátiva. We had the support of the council of Xátiva”, where, at that time, Alfonso Rus Terol was in power (from 2007 to 2015 he combined his role as mayor of the Setabense town council with his presidency of the Valencian Provincial Government, Translator´s note: Rus is now under house arrest on corruption charges).
Is it possible to bring up subjects which are incompatible for political health?
Environment and gender closely related to other species, merged in order to reclaim spaces; “We carried out the second cycle of Ecogender in the universities”, in the year 2012, and then Open Wounds: the Queer Ecology Encounters. Queer Ecology is a concept which has been developed by the scientist from Bogotá (Colombia), Brigite Baptiste, specialised in biodiversity, a former director of the Humboldt Institute and winner of the Prince Claus of Holland Award for Culture and Development 2017.
The tenth anniversary of La Errería (House of Bent) the house-museum, queer gallery, founded by Bell and Staiano had its place of honour in Museari Queer Art 2019, (an initiative which forms part of the Mostra La Ploma). Performances, interviews and exhibitions of activist and progressive visual arts are pure energy when carried out by multidisciplinary artists.
Diversity as the foundation of evolutionary equilibrium, a standard bearer of freedom. Antidote to Nothing; “People have begun to lose their hopes, and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger… because people who have no hopes are easy to control. And whoever has control has the Power.,” discuss Atreyu and G’mork in The Never Ending Story. Ricard Huerta Ramón, doctor of Fine Arts, writer and director of Museari presented the Museari Queer Art awards and the curator of the exhibition Germán Navarro, professor of Medieval History, presented commemorative diplomas.
Bell Tornado, Scottish by birth, for “La Errería Xposé”, chose a classic seventies outfit,, with a narrow black skirt, two-tone print blouse, heels and long earrings. Artist and activist at the time of Thatcher;
“Mrs. Thatcher attacks Judge Garzón and Spain:” What they are planning is a show trial, with a previously decided sentence: that Senator Pinochet will die in a foreign land. I’m going to tell you how Pinochet helped us during the Falklands War: Chilean radars warned London of the Argentine aviation´s attacks “(Garzón. El hombre que veía amanecer“, Pilar Urbano).
Bell longed to move transgender activism into other fields and that is how a multitude of actions arose as well as their recently published book Ecogénero X / Ecogender X produced in union with Transnational Temps, Rafael Tormo i Cuenca, Verónica Perales, William James and the pornoterrorist Diana Junyent Torres.
“A vision of nature as something queer“. In Spain there is nothing on this subject, says Eugenia Rojo, a doctor in Art History, invited to the X-centric conference programmed by Bell. “Nature and human beings are the same thing, nature is queer.” Rojo at the beginning of her studies realised that the History of Art focussed on the past, “A very rigid culture. Art as a political element”, and also that art and science, inexplicably, “have always been separated” in a system where environmental quality, was apparently obvious, so “Nobody talks about it.” Art, science and nature. Underwater diver and photographer, Eduardo Admetlla writes about atolls in ¡Fondo! Mares Tropicales: “Wise Nature, creator of beauty, has managed to make a wonderful island emerge, on a lonely offshore coral reef offshore, our island!”.
“The thesis of the Anthropocene (” metaphor of global environmental change “), centres the origin of the crisis not on the human being, but on capitalism,” reads Bell from the book being presented.
On exhibition, jewellery and body pieces by Anna Maria Staiano, photographed by Toni Cordero: “Shoot” worn by Mad Vicious and “Second Skin”, worn by Jennifer Picken, change the perception of the world “creating new queer anatomies where erogenous zones move and multiply and gender rules are overthrown. ”
Bell with a red and black waistcoat and the acronym CCCP (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) stitched in gold, interviews Rampova who, without mincing words, and with extremely expressive hands, similar to those of the New Zealand musician and actor Richard O’Brien, narrated very descriptive experiences of hypocrisy “What a sad time is ours! It is easier to disintegrate an atom than a prejudice. ” A whispered talk entitled “The World of Rampova Cabaret” in which Rampova, photo in hand, read what was written years ago on the back: “If you want to Americanize me, I will make myself a queen1.”
“The US plans to ask Spain to pay for its military presence in Rota and Morón” (infodefensa.com, 03/11/2019)
An ecoqueer video and ritual dedicated to the luz de las divinas (light of the divine- female- ones) . A recorded tribute to the Sevillian artist and LGTBQ + activist Ocaña (José Pérez Ocaña), in which Bell sings to him in a flamenco style. “The “cante jondo” (deep and most soulful flamenco style) approaches the trill of the bird and the natural music of the poplar and the wave”, (Federico García Lorca: Prosa. The cante jondo).
“Ritual to heal the world bank”. Maria Fraile an expert from SETEM (Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development), during Fair Trade Day, declared that “The institutions themselves are also financed with armed banking”. Gregori Sabater of ENCLAU (Network for Alternative Financing) said: “We are fighting against dinosaurs, giants.”
Millionaire interests promote ecocides, will they be stopped, prosecuted, punished some day? When? – Now!Already! Ya! The young people shout every Friday.
The ritual continues and several people stand next to two candles placed on a female star inserted in the circle, drawn with flour on the ground, to immediately name paradigms: panthera tigris, Annie Sprinkle “The goddess of ecosex”, the cry of the animals in a slaughterhouse and Dani ayoung indigenous, lesbian activist in the Amazon rainforest.
Prizes and speeches in Museari Queer Art closed the event that celebrated its five years: Rosa Sanchis, teacher; Nazario Luque, pace setting artist of the Barcelona underground in the seventies: “To reward what each one of us has done for the normalization of homosexuality”; Mili Hernández from the publisher Egales: “We were editors by necessity”, the lesbians asked us for “Novels that end well and not in suicides”, Tatiana Sentamans: “Don´t stop culture and the struggle”; Juan Vicente Aliaga, from his teaching experience in Fine Arts proclaimed: “We cannot go backwards, there is a very strong threat”; Ventura Pons, Barcelona film director, author of the documentary Ocaña: “Movies determine things.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show directed by the Australian Jim Sharman, is a generational fetish, a film where the characters Magenta and her brother Riff Raff, say goodbye commenting: “Sweet transexual. Land of the night. To sing and dance your dark refrain, to take that step to the right. But it is the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane.”
1A play on words between americanizar y amariconizar- maricon is Spanish for queer/queen.
El Mundo: “The enemy of the book is the best-seller”
Extract from the review of the Sindokma book festival by Salva Torres in the “El Mundo” newspaper: http://www.elmundo.es/comunidad-valenciana/2016/11/17/582d755422601d5e238b4593.html
“They were at pains to differentiate between book fairs and book festivals. The former, is unequivocally aimed at sales and business, and had nothing to do with the meeting of different artistic disciplines (performances, poetry recitals, workshops, dramatized readings) that were to take place at the Sindokma Festival which celebrates its first edition at Russafa Gallery and follows in the footsteps of the 2014 Russafa Book Weekend.
Organized by MAKMA, Mostra LIJ and the Ministry of Education, Research, Culture and Sport of the Generalitat Valenciana, the festival brings together different independent publishers, small bookstores and artist books from 18 to 20 November, and plans to become a showcase for books which expand beyond their traditional format. They count with the support of Valencia City Council, the Provincial Council, Gandia Blasco and Cervesa Turia, with a large number of collaborating entities encouraged by the uniqueness of a festival born to consolidate itself in the city of Valencia.
Ximo Rochera, director of the art and literature magazine Canibaal, Jesús Garcia Cívico, editor-in-chief of the same publication, Eva Mengual, manager of the seiscuatro (traditional printing and binding workshop), Graham Bell Tornado and Anna Maria Staiano, both from La Erreria (House of Bent), and Piermaria Zavarese, one of the partners of Ubik Café, the venue where the meeting was held, talked about their participation in the festival, its meaning (that of the festival and that of their own initiatives) and the importance of both: the festival and its small publishing houses struggling to make their way into the thick jungle of mass culture.
( our translation)
Levante: The House of wrongs… and rights
article by Agustí Garzó published in El Levante newspaper 10/10/2010