In November, our Feral Queer Camp marched with tent pins and rucksacks into Belfast’s annual Outburst Queer Arts Festival. As a group, we charted a trail through the diverse program, experiencing works ranging from mainstage queer opera, to filmic celebrations of queer fat activism, to acts of grieving, hearing from both local voices and visiting queer artists from Egypt and Lebanon.
Led by our camp captains Alyson and Steve, we formed an eclectic collective of queer makers and thinkers to dive into the pieces, allowing them to work on us. Our conversations considered how the works were made, how we were experiencing them, and what we had struggled with. Bringing our feral energy to poke and prod at the works, we asked questions of them, and considered what we might propose in our ideal version of the festival – what type of queer work might we like to see programmed? We interrogated where queer theory intersects with artistic practice, and how it might help us better articulate what we were experiencing. Despite an initial resistance to anything ‘overly academic’, the group quickly grew to love discussing the theory! We were given the opportunity to converse with some of the artists about their work, giving us a much richer perspective on it. But most of all, the heart of the Feral Queer Camp was in our group conversations sustained throughout the festival.
Each member of the Feral Queer Camp brought something completely unique to the table, with a wealth of knowledge, lived experience, opinions and artistic practices. Our conversations constantly revealed new things, and the group was unafraid to unpack issues of intersectionality, inclusivity, trauma and queer misogyny. Particularly striking were our at times vastly different responses to the performances, allowing us to think of them as porous and fluid. In this sense, they often didn’t fix a single didactic ‘meaning’, but rather permitted an unfixed richness of interpretation, which allowed multiple truths to be possible and each person to experience them differently. (See the writings of Alyson Campbell and Elizabeth Freeman for more detailed reading on porous dramaturgies). Often, the works that we responded to most gave us room to explore what we had ‘made’ of them, and what conversations could be had about them.
In this sense, our Feral Queer Camp gave these works a life beyond the performance moment – in conversing about them, they became revived and dynamic things. The Camp became an evolving conversation – because we journeyed through the festival as a group, we developed a common vocabulary, allowing our understanding of what we were experiencing to shift. This allowed us to revisit works we had seen earlier, even as we were constantly watching new things and expanding our frames of reference, excavating layers of meaning from what we’d experienced. The camp, then, was an entirely different encounter with queer performance. We became an archive of what we had seen.
The Feral Queer Camp formed bonds between the future generation of emerging queer artists, thinkers, and people interested in queer work. It asked us to consider the future of queer performance: what we felt was missing, what queer work might become, and what we might be able to contribute in the future.
While we, of course, appreciated the works, we were also given the somewhat rare opportunity to approach them critically and be part of the thinking strand of the festival , hosted by Queer at Queens. In doing this, we considered the intersection of queerness and the institution; queering storytelling; and the impossibility of generalising a ‘global queerness’. We were able to see some works in development and were invited to give feedback, possibly influencing the future of the works.
The Camp allowed us to bring our feral energy from the fringes of the festival to observe, think, talk, and perhaps eventually (hopefully!) make.
– Meta, Feral Camper