Art off the beaten track

THE public toilet is art in a new Perth exhibition focusing on gay ‘beats’ – public areas frequented by men seeking sex with men.

Looking now anyone here? by artists Benjamin Bannan, Brent Harrison and Wade Taylor examines the function, aesthetics and architecture of public toilets that served as a refuge for male sex in an era when many people still had to hide their identities.

Late last year a toilet door with a “glory hole” drilled through it for sexual contact was accepted into the WA Museum’s collection as an item of historical significance.

The door had been salvaged from the demolished toilet block at Gosnells train station in 1998.

One of the door’s rescuers, Neil Buckley, also made the short film The Other Side of Glory around the same time, documenting beat culture.

Footage from the film will be part of the Looking now anyone here? exhibition.

Bannan, 22, had already been working on beats-related artwork when he heard of the glory hole story.

He contacted Mr Buckley to hear first hand from someone who was there at the height of the offline beat culture, and says he felt “a nostalgia for a time I never knew”.

Bannan says while chatting the video about the door came up.

The City of Gosnells had a VHS copy they’d converted to a digital file. The video was explicit, and after some internal debate the City decided not to accept it into their local history collection.

Bannan says it’s interesting to see “what museums choose to collect and what they don’t”.

The WA Museum accepted the door, but the Gosnells History Collection said no to accepting the tape, “such a pivotal object in relation to the door”.

He says it’s as if the official record keepers are saying “we’ll invest in your history – as long as it’s not confronting”.

“Part of my interest in reclaiming queer archives and queer histories, is that they haven’t been documented, they haven’t been kept for so many hundreds of years; It’s my generation’s job to reclaim those stories.”

In working the tape into the installation, Bannan says; “I felt like the work needed to be framed … in order to view the video, people enter a pseudo toilet cubicle, and kneel down and look through a glory hole to see the video”.

Another port in the cubicle turns the watcher into an object of consideration for other viewers, so the pseudo-toilet gives a false sense of privacy, upending any sense of the public and the private.

Looking now anyone here? runs at Paper Mountain, upstairs at 267 William Street, Northbridge from May 10-31.

by DAVID BELL

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