Ian Giles: After Butt: Chelsea Space, London
When does a cultural artefact – a magazine, a film, an artwork – cease to be considered what we might call ‘contemporary’ and enter the realm of the historical? A minute ago? Yesterday? The turn of the millennium? Once its creator/s have passed away? Not until it starts to have what might be called a legacy?
‘After BUTT’, British artist Ian Giles’ new film currently showing at London’s Chelsea Space, intentionally blurs any clear answers to this question, at least where a particular magazine is concerned. In a convincing artistic power move, Giles has subjected BUTT Magazine – the iconic, Amsterdam-based publication made by and for gay men between 2001 and 2011 – to his idiosyncratic brand of creative investigation. In doing so, he is historicising “the liminal cultural moment” that constituted the first few post-9/11 years of the twenty first century; placing what we now recognise as a crucial era in the development of gay culture in his own gently incisive inverted commas. In the interests of journalistic transparency, I should note that I lifted that expression from the slick accompanying text by Jeppe Ugelvig. It’s presented on pink paper and interspersed with Giles’ script in a single, neat publication – together they provide an excellent addendum that offers its own, erudite and yet wonderfully personal take on the film’s subject and structure. In tandem, the film and publication redefine the gap between script and realisation as a concept that deserves to be investigated on its own terms. Oh for more considered exhibition publications of this calibre …
Giles’ process was initially more akin to journalism than what we typically think of as artistic research. He interviewed the magazine’s Dutch founders, Gert Jonkers and Jop Van Bennekom, as well as a selection of other publishers, producers, journalists, artists and photographers who contributed to BUTT Magazine during its decade of extraordinary cultural influence. He then edited these conversations into a script, before recruiting a group of young gay men – some professional actors, some not – to perform it in a series of workshops.
The resulting film, made at the last of these sessions, is a meditation on times recently passed as re-narrated by this group of young men who would barely, if at all, been aware of BUTT Magazine’s existence. Given that the magazine’s candid interview style is now widely acknowledged as groundbreaking, it seems only appropriate that the film offers such a thoroughly meta take on the interview as an authentic means of truth telling. The camera’s eye lazily wanders past each of the participants as they re-narrate the script’s reflections and anecdotes: on the founders’ desire to offer “a far broader constellation of being gay” than the buffed, hairless male bodies that were so ubiquitous in late 90s gay publications; on the reinvigorated club culture that emerged after combination therapy started to become commonplace; and on the Eurocentricity that meant that BUTT Magazine’s pages were overwhelmingly (and controversially) white. All these voices are unnamed and unidentifiable – we have no idea who is supposed to be which founder or writer, there are no distinct characters. Lolling on the giant mattress in the centre of the space, you simply take in the memories as retold by these fresh-faced, occasionally awkward actors, and think how rapidly now becomes then.