On November 15 the University of Southern Maine Art Department and Galleries and USM Women and Gender Studies Program hosted an artist's reception and evening of local storytelling at the AREA Gallery, in Woodbury Campus Center on the Portland Campus. Visiting Artist Macon Reed was on campus for a packed house reception “See you at the bar,” activating her installation “Eulogy For The Dyke Bar.”
Almost a dozen local storytellers from across generations shared their experiences in and around queer bars ranging in location from local bars like Sisters, in Portland, Maine, across the country to The Full Moon Café, in San Francisco, CA, and as far off as Singapore. The event was organized in conjunction with Querying the Past: Maine LGBTQ Oral History Project (Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, LGBTQ Collection).
Macon Reed's “Eulogy For The Dyke Bar” revisited the legacy and physical spaces of dyke and lesbian bars, an increasingly rare component of the gay and queer cultural landscape. Made of simple materials that unapologetically reveal the hand in their making, the installation included a bar, DYKE BAR neon sign, archival images from dyke bars around the country and from local Portland history, and silk-screened faux-wood paneling.
As an interactive, community-centered space, the installation acknowledged the mass closing of dyke bars, asking a host of questions.
The exhibit was organized in conjunction with USM Women and Gender Studies and Sociology Professor Wendy Chapkis and featured video and audio archives from Querying the Past: Maine LGBTQ Oral History Project.
In a Maine Public Radio interview, Reed explains how the evening served as an opportunity to discuss the questions her exhibit raised.
"I wanted to bring people into the room and talk ... and say if these spaces are closing, what are we losing with their closing? And what do we want to create in their place, to both celebrate and think of where we're moving forward as a queer community?" she says.
“I think assimilation may be playing an interesting role as queer people gain more basic rights and mainstream acceptance in our particular moment in history. We don't have to only go to places that are safe for us anymore as much. There are options. I think there are many great things about this shift obviously, but we may lose some really special cultural spaces and ways of organizing community. The risk is assimilating into a heteronormative culture instead of continuing to build outside of it” said Reed in a cover story in the Portland Phoenix.
Watch the full evening of storytelling at USM via Vimeo, and read more about USM Professor Wendy Chapkis and her work collecting oral histories with local filmmaker Betsy Carson as part of the "Querying the Past" Project.
"One of the things that concerns me is that the voices of marginalized people are often not recorded history. We disappear. So unless we gather the stories of our people, queer history will disappear as we die," said Chapkis.
Macon Reed is an artist working in sculpture, installation, video, radio documentary, painting, and participatory projects. Her work has shown at venues including PULSE NYC Special Projects, BRIC Media Arts, ABC No Rio, The Kitchen, Art F City FAGallery, Chicago Cultural Center, Mana Contemporary, Roots & Culture, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, ICA Baltimore, and Athens Museum of Queer Arts in Greece. Reed completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a University Fellow in 2013 and received her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. Additionally, she studied Radio Documentary at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and Physical Theater at the Dah International School in Belgrade. Most recently Reed was an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and a Research Fellow at Eyebeam Center for Art+Technology. For more info, visit https://www.maconreed.com or see video documentation of Eulogy for Dyke Bar.
The Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at USM collects material documenting the ongoing histories of diverse communities. Current collections represent the African American, Jewish, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer+ communities. The Center promotes diversity and civil rights through research, education, and outreach.