Whitehot Magazine

How do Wussies Network?

Ian Lewandowski, Natalia in Cowboy Hat, Indy Pride, Military Park, Indianapolis 2023, 2023, photography. Image courtesy the artist.


By JONATHAN OROZCO February 11, 2024

There’s a really funny phrase in contemporary parlance: “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” It’s not a hard sentence to decipher and it implies the type of vintage gayness you would hear someone like Wendy Williams say, but it has an interesting connection to the actual river Nile. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian had a lover named Antinous who suspiciously drowned in the river while passing through on a flotilla. Scholars speculate whether this was an accident or intentional, but the theory that it was a conspiracy stands out. Antinous was defied, as was the practice of anyone who drowned in the Nile at the time, and as a testament of his love, Hadrian founded the city Antinoöpolis. 

It’s an interesting kind of salvation that very few queer people in the 21st century are given. 

One such artist-curator, though, is establishing these types of memorials in honor of contemporary queerness and its complexities. From rural Nebraska, Tannon Reckling is now living and working in New York. He specializes in the placement of queer contemporary art in current systems of power and visual culture, and very recently, he curated the show Wussies Networking: Some Queer Sensibilities at Bureau of General Services-Queer Division at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. 

The exhibition is primarily a retrospective of WUSSY Magazine in Atlanta, exhibiting the ephemera of the magazine, alongside other publications and artists. I spoke to Tannon virtually, and picked his brain on how his background and this exhibition came to be: especially its pertinence in an election year. 

Iván L. Munuera, Vivian Rotie, Pablo Salz, PrEP Bread, 2023. Image courtesy the artist.

Jonathan Orozco: Tell me about yourself and your background.

Tannon Reckling: I grew up down the way from where famously Brandon Teena was born and then murdered in rural Nebraska. This is a big biographical point for my larger practice and a throughline into the work I do today. 

I grew up in a trailer. My father brought a bob-cat home for us as a pet one time. My step-dad was indigenous Sioux; my family and the trailer park were mixed. 

It was rough, messy, and I never realized as a kid that most creatives I would encounter would not actually share this experience with me: instead being mostly suburban. This demonstrates my values and is a huge driver in my multidisciplinary practice.

Especially today when art and art communities are mostly encountered as a form of economics. Some of the most interesting, multi-faceted, and smart people I have known have been artists, and some of the worst, unkind, and uninteresting people I have meant have also been artists.

JO: What interested you in the topic of queerness? 

TR: I am mostly only seeing and hearing the word "queer" in art galleries and in academic settings today. I think this is telling how LGBTQ+ politics are manifesting into a new decade. It's seemingly been declawed. I am mostly driven by a mix of discomfort and spite in the past years about seeing a particular type of queerness being circulated and then normalized as aspirational. 

Alan Warburton, Soft Crash, 2016, HD CGI video. Commissioned by Southbank Centre. Image courtesy the artist.

JO: Why did you choose these artists for this exhibition? 

TR: The show itself is small but is very mighty conceptually. There's everything from rural midwest nonprofit work to recent work from the Venice Biennale. I wish I could have shown more international artists because non-American and non-Western queerness is so important. 

The show is expanding from what I am calling an experimental retrospective for Atlanta, GA-based WUSSY Magazine. It's been so interesting to watch WUSSY's networking sensibilities. They play the meme game very well. This was an important balance I believe is coming in queer organizing and queer culture production into this decade, especially one that is ok with being outside of New York City or Los Angeles.

JO: Of these works, what stood out to you?

TR: As a grouping they create a dialogue, so I can't choose favorites. 

A video from artist Marisa Olson can be placed at the origins of a "post-internet" net art canon. We had a studio visit a few years back and we discussed our queerness. "Post-internet" to me means, not "after" the internet, but speaks to our current circumstances where the internet is taken for ubiquitous, black-boxed, and for granted by the global north, including its mass violences as we are seeing in cobalt mines, flows and more. 

I also enjoy the PrEP Bread project from Ivan Munuera, Vivien Rotie, and Pablo Saiz from a recent Venice Biennale. We are showing a component of it for an access point to the larger project. This project is a great example of the theme of the show: how can we be self-reflective about prescribed queer norms today? As someone who is HIV-positive, this piece made me excited in ways most queer artwork does not. 

Chloe Dzublio, Calendar, Ink on paper. Image courtesy of Estate of C. Dzubilo and Visual AIDS.

JO: What do you aim to accomplish with this exhibition?

TR: I lean into the inter-leftist critique similarly to that of a Social Text issue from 2005 titled "What's Queer about Queer Studies Now" where some of our fave queer scholars insist LGBTQ+ politics has almost completely lost its edge in neoliberal ways. 

What's worrying is that isn't true for many places outside of LA or NYC and other places across the globe where there is doubling down on intersectional bigotry and horrific things continue to happen to brown people, queer people, women, and more. 

We need to reinvigorate our queer politics. Queer liberation is tied with all liberation as has been demonstrated for decades. I want to push this idea that if queer people move away to New York City or Los Angeles, or other liberal idealist spots, that they have "escaped” circumstances they should instead be engaging. 

JO: Why this space?

TR: The space is so interesting to me! What better place to push inter-queer community discourse than the NYC LGBT Center? The building itself is historic; it's an old converted school building. They also do many community services in the whole building from STI testing, counseling, social groups, and more. 

So many people that we would quote in LGBTQ+ history have passed through or have a presence here. 

I was told the particular room that BGSQD is located in is where some of the first ACT UP meetings happened one time. I love when elder queers pass through and tell me stories around the building. The space gets so many interesting people from all over with so much history if you listen to them. The building is subject to interesting politics for funding and ideas of what an LGBT center should actually look like today. It's alive, and complicated. This type of space is more important for me to work in than any fashionable gallery which would just copy these spaces in a few years anyway.  

Wussies Networking: Some Queer Sensibilities is on view at Bureau of General Services-Queer Division between November 30th, 2023 and February 18th, 2024. WM

Jonathan Orozco

Jonathan Orozco is an independent writer based in Omaha, Nebraska. He received his art history BA from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2020. Orozco runs an art blog called Art Discourses, which primarily covers Midwest artists and exhibitions.

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