Terre Thaemlitz - Deproduction

  • Share
  • In 2011, while the same-sex marriage debate raged in the US, fast-food chain Chick-fil-A was found to be donating millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ organisations. By way of defence, the company's president, Dan Cathy, said, "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. […] We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families." Activists and college students called for a boycott of the restaurant; former Republican governor Mike Huckabee announced a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," which saw supporters boost the restaurant's sales by an estimated 30%. Stand-up comic Paul F. Tompkins did a routine on the issue mocking Cathy's comments: "[Chick-fil-A are] apparently very anti-gay. Excuse me: they're very pro-traditional family. Which is under attack by gay people just being around. Like, just the idea of them is corrupting families, where they're like, ‘Wait, there's another way!?' And then [the] families break apart." The passage appears in "Admit It's Killing You (And Leave)," one of two extended video pieces on Terre Thaemlitz's Deproduction. Muffled and slowed-down, Tompkins' lines drift through an impressionistic landscape of piano and swirling electronics. On screen, scenes from gay porn flicker and blur, while a 6,500 word text unspools in patient paragraphs. Those casually aware of Thaemlitz—a transgendered, pansexually queer artist living in Japan—might assume she's sampling Tompkins approvingly. But it's not quite that simple. The recent legalisation of same-sex marriage in many countries has widely been seen as a landmark moment for equal rights. According to Thaemlitz, this is the culmination of a tactic developed by US HIV/AIDS activists in the '90s (back when the artist was active in New York's queer deep house scene). By boiling down a fight for gay people's access to various social privileges into a simple ethical argument, they could more easily reach the wider public. As the piece's text points out, "These days, supporting same-sex marriage just seems like the liberal thing to do." This isn't necessarily a positive. In Tompkins' telling, it's absurd—literally a joke—to suggest that gay peoples' empowerment might lead to families "breaking apart." Thaemlitz, by contrast, thinks we should all be trying to break apart oppressive institutions like the family. Society's newfound willingness to welcome gay people into these institutions is actually a kind of failure. "Business culture understands most of all that sexual orientation doesn't matter," he writes, "so long as the collective goals of private wealth, full-time labor, credit-debt, mortgaged home ownership, family, and military service are publicly upheld." Deproduction, premiered at this year's documenta and now released on the producer's Comatonse label, argues that Chick-fil-A isn't the battle we should be fighting. Among other things, it's a critique of an LGBTQ politics fixated on same-sex marriage, and of the institution of the family in general. Thaemlitz starts with two premises: "First, having children is unethical. Second, families make democracy impossible." To a good chunk of Thaemlitz's audience—those who love her for melancholic, melodious deep house tracks under names like DJ Sprinkles and K-S.H.E—this argument may be difficult to swallow. Thaemlitz's brilliance is partly down to his patient and persistent advocacy of these kinds of ideas in a dance music scene not particularly attuned to them. The club world may be rediscovering its social consciousness this decade, but even in this context Thaemlitz's views are often radical. Back in 2008, when the revered Midtown 120 Blues was released, she was an even more isolated voice. Like that album, Deproduction delivers uncomfortable truths with elegance and empathy. Even the staunchest skeptics might find themselves seeing Thaemlitz's point. Brevity helps. Deproduction follows on from 2012's Soulnessless in its multimedia format (a composite of music, text and video presented on SD card). But it's only a couple of hours long, instead of 30-odd, and its conceptual frame is tighter. You might head first to the bonus tracks: two DJ Sprinkles deep house remixes, which scratch the itch very nicely, and the artful solo piano track used in "Admit It's Killing You (And Leave)." Then there are the two central video pieces, each a hair under 43 minutes. The release's key argument, laid out on "Admit It's Killing You (And Leave)," is dense but punchy; "Names Have Been Changed" provides supplementary evidence. The music comes to the fore on the latter track, led by sweet elegiac string chords. The text, meanwhile, is a sequence of (presumably fictionalised) anecdotes illustrating the evils of the family. They start off brow-furrowing—unhappy marriages, absentee fathers—and march inexorably on to maternal death and paedophilia. The strings' gentle sorrow doesn't prepare you for the snowballing horror induced by these stories. The imagery, sourced from incest porn, is graphic stuff, but Thaemlitz's edit makes it smudged and allusive, its rhythms weirdly soothing. This puzzling contradiction between the gentle and the deeply unsettling is common to a lot of Thaemlitz's art. Maybe it's about sugaring the bitter conceptual pill we're being asked to swallow. It also reflects humans' contradictory urges: we want to shelter from the unpleasantness of the world even as we recognise the need to confront it. These urges play out in a particularly stark way on the dance floor, Thaemlitz's original beat. In the intro to Midtown 120 Blues, the artist torpedoed happy-clappy house music revisionism while gentle modal chords lulled the listener into a deep house reverie. "Let's keep sight of the things you're trying to momentarily escape from," he said. On Deproduction, Thaemlitz's gaze is as sharp as ever.
  • Tracklist
      Audio: 01. Names Have Been Changed (Sound/Reading For Incest Porn) 02. Admit It's Killing You (And Leave) (Sound/Reading For Gay Porn) 03. Admit It's Killing You (And Leave) (Piano Solo) 04. Names Have Been Changed (Sprinkles' House Arrest) 05. Admit It's Killing You (And Leave) (Sprinkles' Dead End) Video: 01. Names Have Been Changed (Sound/Reading For Incest Porn) 02. Admit It's Killing You (And Leave) (Sound/Reading For Gay Porn)