• Romeo Gatt x Deen Atger

  • Romeo Gatt

    We are mainly online mates and true admirers and followers of each other’s work (well at least for me). We missed the chance to cross paths in London. I left the city and came back to Malta for a while. I feel like I miss out a lot on not being physically present at your events. However  you make a really good job at delivering this to an online audience, and I guess you had no choice due to the pandemic. You’re creative project manager at Ugly Duck – it’s brilliant, it does everything that I truly believe in; supporting emerging artists and under-represented voices, which I find lacking with many organisations. It also excites me because personally I get to discover work and artists whom I didn’t know of before. And then there’s the Disturbance project which focuses on radical queer experimentations merging dance performance and video art

     

    Deen Atger

    Thanks so much for saying all this, it’s making me a bit emotional ah ! like, It's amazing when I hear people thinking of Ugly Duck as a good place to discover new artists as it’s truly what I am trying to create there: A platform, a space and different specific programs for artists to experiment and show their work. 

     

    Also It’s nice to hear it from you, I am definitely also a big fan of your work and there are obviously so many other personal connections between us, being trans but also being Europeans for example. It means that it has always felt easy and familiar to talk to you. I really enjoyed doing this lecture (Trans Artists in Conversation) with you a few months ago with Courtauld Institute of Art LGBTQIA+ Society and yeah I adore your work and resonate with your creations aesthetically and conceptually.  

     

  • RRG How did Ugly Duck and Disturbance begin, are you content with where it’s going, do you have any other...
    Disturbance - Photo: Yasmine Akim

    RRG

    How did Ugly Duck and Disturbance begin, are you content with where it’s going, do you have any other plans for it? 

     

    DA

    Ugly Duck was initiated by two friends who were looking for a large warehouse to put on an immersive theater project. When they discovered the building we are still in, they convinced the owner to let us stay. That was nearly 10 years ago and from the start it was about sharing this space with other creatives. What we are doing came from a need within the emerging art scene in London for more space to present work. I joined them to take on the artistic direction and tried to create an emphasis on supporting underrepresented voices in the arts with the desire to try out different models as an art organization moving away from the classic gallery or museum model. I feel there is a need for space and support from artists who finished university but not yet signed or exhibited in museums, programmed in theaters or institutions. 

     

    During the pandemic it was hard to continue our support to artists so, as many others, I decided to create an online program that would be recorded live from our space. It was the beginning of @Disturbance which quickly became a popular new program dedicated to support LGBTQIA+ artists. The idea was to blend the frontiers between digital and physical worlds by creating a very slick live stream but also having audiences physically present, having artists perform here and online. 

     

    Sometimes I feel my work is paying off when I see the community coming together or artists thriving but also sometimes I wish I had a bigger team, core funding and a permanent space!

     

    I am amazed that we still have this space, our lease keeps getting extended each time for 3 months so it’s really precarious but we exist within the cracks and loopholes of capitalism we can only make do with what we’ve got. I have managed to get some funding for @Disturbance turning it into a week long development program and online platform and I am waiting to hear on next funding 🤞. 

     

    I feel that at the moment I am receiving more and more positive feedback regarding the program we put on and I really see a community and audience who come to events recurrently so that definitely feels great. 

     

    @DISTURBANCE #3 from Ugly Duck on Vimeo.

     

     

  • DA What about you, where do you feel you're at in your career and how do you measure success, what...

    DA 

    What about you, where do you feel you're at in your career and how do you measure success, what does it mean for you? 

     

    RRG

    The meaning of success seems to have changed throughout the years for me. Maybe for a while I was looking at success from a very individualistic standpoint. I felt quite a lot of pressure trying to “make it” in the art world, but also I found myself critically questioning this. London can do that to you I guess? It is easy to start comparing yourself and your success to others, and it’s a pity really. I had quit football, something which I had loved and done for a very long time just because the competitiveness of it all got to me, I felt it became toxic. I didn’t want this to happen with my art, but I was seeing similar patterns emerge and for me this was wrong as much as it was depressing. Of course it is wonderful for one's work to be acknowledged and given the visibility it deserves, but this happens for each and everyone of us at different moments in time, and I think we should be aware of that, stay true to ourselves  and just keep doing what we’re doing at our own pace. As of recently the way I think of my career is a bit different, don’t get me wrong I still fantasise of having my work exhibited in some of my favourite galleries and museums and for it to be visible to a larger audience. Though thinking about it I have collaborated with quite a few artists whom I truly admire and for this I am so grateful. It’s precious. 

     

    Where I feel I’m at in my career –  

    I think my expectations of myself a couple years ago would have been very different to my expectations now. All I can say is that I feel content and I guess this is mainly thanks to having had the opportunity to work on Rosa Kwir. It is a small project but it has taught me a lot about myself and helped me define or come closer to what matters most not only for my practice but also for me as a human being. One small thing which for me was quite special last year, was to invite some school kids to visit both the Rosa Kwir project as well as my solo show Mama’s Boy.  I took the opportunity  to talk to them openly, unapologetically, proudly and celebratory about the trans and queer community. It felt close to “this is where I might be happiest in my career”.

     

  • RRG Being a curator and also a producer how do you manage to balance these two out? DA These two...
    Hèléne Alix Mourier - Second Skin_Yasmine Akim

    RRG

    Being a curator and also a producer how do you manage to balance these two out? 

     

    DA

    These two go quite well together and Ugly Duck is a small organisation so we all have to multitask quite a bit. 

    I curate our yearly creative program where I work closely with artists, collectives or young curators and support them for 2-3 months to put on their project. 

     

    I also create in-house shows that I produce. Again the balance comes from the conviction that not only me should put on exhibition in this place, so the producing part comes more as support for others. I feel busy however I’m also extremely lucky to be able to work in such a creative environment. I constantly meet young artists and feel kind of rewarded when they later exhibit at Tate or V&A  (Which happens a few times recently)

     

    I think onward I am moving towards doing more art direction and curatorial projects but producing is always a very important skill for those jobs and also I mean I can get involved in other projects such as Kallida music festival or East African Soul Train  for example. 

     

  • RRG Following up from our Courtauld Institute of Art LGBTQIA+ Society zoom chat we had together a couple months ago,...

    Seeking Masculinity

    RRG

    Following up from our Courtauld Institute of Art LGBTQIA+ Society zoom chat we had together a couple months ago, I am really interested in talking more about your work as a trans curator? The responsibilities and roles of being a curator most specifically when working with trans and non-binary people.

     

    DA

    I think there is a need for visibility, we need to be seeing more trans people doing a lot of different jobs which is why I am as vocal as possible about my trans identity. It’s also super important for younger trans artists or curator to know they can be totally themselves if they work on a project with me.  So many times we have to tame our identities, trying to fit in, here I want to make people feel safe and supported. 

     

    Do you feel any sense of responsibility as a trans artist? I think it's also interesting to see it as something that is an inspiration also ! 

     

  • RRG

    I feel I do have a responsibility as a trans person and artist who comes from a privileged place, to firstly acknowledge this privilege, and secondly try to make use of it well. Also I feel we owe it to all the trans and GNC people who came before us, who fought so hard and also risked their lives for us. The reason some of us are able to do what we are doing is only thanks to them. I often say this but there will never be enough queer spaces / art / projects / content in the world. It is our responsibility to make this happen. I have been inspired by so many brilliant artists/ organisations/ writers / activists from the queer community. It’s clear that the inspiration to come and set up something here in Malta is only because of these people. The lack of queer contemporary art and art/project spaces here in this country was for me very painful as well as problematic. I wanted something to be more permanent and not just for that one month of Gay Pride. All I wish for is that people here will get to appreciate, educate themselves and be inspired by what is happening here at Rosa Kwir. And hopefully I can also inspire some people both young and old  to go on and do similar things. 

     

    DA 

    I also feel that one of my responsibilities is to help people share their stories as well as their artwork. We always try to do interviews or Q&A’s with artists to make sure they can share a deeper insight of their trajectories.

    It is crucial for me to be also supporting diversity, intersectionality and all forms of transness, showing that there isn’t just only one way to be trans but as many as there are trans people.

     

    I have started a new project called Second Skin which is an evening presenting different trans artists' work to explore multiple forms of trans identity. The choice of works for this first edition allows for some more abstract and poetic exploration of transness. I invited my friend Cuco Cuca from France to talk about their trans identity as well as their political engagement in a lot of social justice fights. We also presented Helene Alix’s Mourier film, HERMAN@S (SiblingX) for the first time in London. 

     

    I think of art as a vector of dialogue, it is crossed by the story of those who make it, it can be observed as a multidimensional and inclusive manifestation of time and spaces of metamorphosis. I work to create crossings for audiences to also learn and hear ‘other.ed’ stories. 

     

  • RRG We also spoke about the hostility that trans people are facing in the world atm from media, healthcare, government…...
    Joseph Morgan Schofield - Second Skin_Yasmine Akim

    RRG

    We also spoke about the hostility that trans people are facing in the world atm from media, healthcare, government…  but also on the other hand we are seeing the rise of trans and non-binary  people finding the courage to come out.

     

    How has the internet helped with creating environments for our communities to seek help from each other and create safe spaces for us to get advice and support especially when for many of us it is impossible to get any of this due to misinformation, gatekeeping and transphobic attitudes?

     

    DA

    We can observe links between the birth of the internet and other technology and the liberation of expression of more fluid gender identities. Whether it being the concept of avatars that offered a certain freedom of expression, the exploration of meta data and complex coding allowing space for deconstruction of gender binary or simply for the formation of online communities to provide the missing information. 

     

    Internet did also create a platform for the most horrific fascist, homophobic and transphobic content to be shared, but it has also bringing queer people together. I got so much advice and support for my top surgery online - it creates such a powerful network especially for those who live outside of big cities. 

     

    This online support has a limit and when it comes to healthcare this work shouldnt be and can’t, it’s often very case by case, be carried by the community itself. Or maybe it should but then we need access to more funding and support. I would love to see more and more LGBTQ Community center in London, or spaces like 56 Dean Street.

     

    With Ugly Duck we are collaborating with Kisesis collective, a transgender, non-binary creative collective led by artists and activists to host a weekly book club. It is also a way to create a network for trans people, something different from the party scene creates an environment where people can also exchange advice, share experiences etc. I’d love to see more of that, we are forging a new world via our bodies and identities and we individually really need to be supported. 

     

    I am actually part of a research group called Trans-net that is looking at imagining a better, queerer internet. 

     

  • RRG From what I understand your art practice's main focus is exactly this to provide a platform that prioritises people...
    Joseph Morgan Schofield - Second Skin_Yasmine Akim

    RRG

    From what I understand your art practice's main focus is exactly this to provide a platform that prioritises people who have for the majority part of it been ignored or given way less visibility and acknowledgement than they deserve,   and  most importantly of all you do this with a lot of sensitivity and care

     

    DA

    Thank you, this is at least what I am aiming at doing ! I am also working on my own practice preparing a lecture performance for September and  other gender based research and photography projects. 

     

    RRG

    This research Trans-net sounds ace, can you tell me more about it? 

     

    DA

    It’s called 'Transfeminist Web Working Group” and it’s an independent research-working group with transfeminist, anticolonial, ecological and anticapitalist principles exploring, imagining and creating alternatives for our digital (after)lives. It was initiated by Giulia Casalini in order to address the constant struggles that many of us dealing with bodies, gender, sexuality have experienced in the digital realm. 

    We meet to discuss, explore and imagine alternative social media, conceptualize safe internet providers, open online spaces with interesting graphics, places to meet and talk, organise without our personal data being stolen or spied on, without shadow ban, without censorship of diverse bodies etc. It’s only been a few times 

     

    RRG

    I think it is important  for these online communities to exist. It could be very lonely and quite difficult to navigate the world  as a trans, non-binary person if  platforms / groups of this sort didn’t exist. But sometimes I question how easy it is to stumble upon these particular platforms. Often these groups are closed/private, which means that one would already need to have some links. If not, it’s very likely that your first  google search will lead you to the dark abyss filled with hidden layers of  transphobia, misinformation and the big D (detransitioning) and it wouldn’t be  Detransition Baby that appears.

     

    I learnt a lot about anything trans through books and the internet, but this also happens to be my research area and passion, so somehow I have quite a clear direction of what I am looking for. I have learnt way more about medically transitioning through online resources + books  than through my endocrinologist. These communities are crucial for many of us, however as you say, this shouldn’t be our responsibility. We need the healthcare system to provide us with all the information and care that we need. I am part of The Trans Men FB group in Malta. I feel it is used as a functional tool rather than a socialising one. Members use it to talk and ask questions  about legal and medical stuff. We all go to the same gender clinic and so it is actually really helpful. I had joined another group called ‘Unpacked’ . This is a social space for transmasculine-aligned people to discuss media, our identities and our experiences with one another. The first time I joined it I realised how important it is for spaces like this to exist. I, as a trans-masc person, crave to be in the company of other trans-masc people, especially when our interests align. 

     

    Through social media mainly IG I have met really cool trans-masc aligned people who are brilliant artists/writers/activists etc… For me this is the best of both worlds and it feels exciting.

     

    Talking of Gendernauts, have you watched the film by Monika Treut? I watched it again recently and I love it every time. It’s 23 years old already!

     

  • DA Yes I initially put it down in our conversation as I wanted to share how much this inspired me...

    Seeking Masculinity

    DA

    Yes I initially put it down in our conversation as I wanted to share how much this inspired me and moved me when I first watched it recently at Fringe! Queer film festival. It was so inspiring but also so mad how much things have changed in a short period of time. Especially in terms of language and vocabulary that is used. Like there is some bad misgendering in it or stuff like that. Have you checked the most recent one she directed ? 

     

    RRG

    No I have not watched it yet, I have seen the trailer and read about it and can’t wait to see it!! 

     

    DA 

    It’s called Genderation and it’s basically 20 years after catching up with all the people from Gendernauts, it’s incredible and again such an interesting insight on trans lives. It got me thinking a lot about the generations before us who have led the path and about us when growing old and how much we need more community care and links for GNG people. 

     

  • RRG

    Have you made lecture performances before? I remember you had posted a story on IG with photographs by Marie Høig. Is your research and photography project going to be related to this at all? 

     

    DA

    SOOOO it’s a bit long and convoluted for now but : 

    No I have never made a lecture performance before but I have always been interested in this form. I’m very much at the beginning of my research but it is looking at the concept of crossings, how the fluidity with which I run Ugly Duck and the model I am trying to deconstruct and reconstruct is linked to the fluidity that I then got access to within my gender identity. 

     

    The thing you saw might have been the photography project called Seeking Masculinity which was a commission for a project by Impermanence Dance Theatre, for their project Decade ( 2021 ) an experimental project, about  sharing practice, ideas and money with people. They sent to 100 artists and created an item. Each would then produce something inspired or in response to this item. Mine was a 1920 french war poem without a signature or any info available on the author. I started to make a speculative scenario of the author as a trans man fighting in the army until he got killed. As part of the project I did a photoshoot where I embody soldat Lucas in different parts of this life. The idea behind the project is not only to offer more visibility for trans stories that have existed in the past but highlighting how hard they are to find as well which I’m sure you are very familiar with all this with your research Rosa Kwir 

     

    I’m also interested in the idea that if we can’t find those stories we can invent and imagine them as a way to remember forgotten existence. I am planning more stories to photograph and maybe some filming as part of the same project.

     

    When looking at your work I was interested in how do you ( if you do ! ) put boundaries in sharing personal stories while also keeping a secret garden or a certain intimacy? As an artists do you think much about this? 

     

  • RRG I feel that any work that I make will very likely have no boundaries when it comes to sharing...
    Anthedemos - @Disturbance_Yasmine Akim

    RRG

    I feel that any work that I make will very likely have no boundaries when it comes to sharing personal stories. I think there was such a long time in my life where I didn’t express anything I was unable to share any feelings (it was all a secret, I would not have been allowed to share what was going on inside of my head) when I discovered art this started changing, I started slowly putting myself out there, working with these vulnerabilities. I think it felt strange for many people (in particular those who knew me) including myself to start making work in this way, because I was known to be a very shy and discreet person. But somewhere inside me had an urge to get all of this out in all its rawness and truest. I feel the use of poetry is what creates a space for this secret garden to exist as well as  allows this certain intimacy you mention to bloom/grow. I guess part of me does think about it (and this is when there is someone else involved which isn’t me) but also all the work I make really takes off from writing, and this part of my practice is where I am the most authentic maybe. What I have been trying to think about since I have been making work is how to be less literal, so as to leave a room/space for imagination as well as make space for an alternative interpretation for those who relate or feel a connection with what I am saying, but then can wonder / drift off to their own personal journeys.

  • ARTIST INFORMATION Pronouns: They/He Location: London Deen Atger (born in France) is a trans non-binary art curator and producer based...

    ARTIST INFORMATION

     

    Pronouns: They/He

    Location: London

     

    Deen Atger (born in France) is a trans non-binary art curator and producer based in London. Their work mainly focuses on contemporary and new media art exploring notions of identity, gender and intersectionality at the junction of virtual worlds and technological innovations. They are currently Artistic Programme Curator at Ugly Duck, an experimental creative venue and organisation that supports emerging, underrepresented and minority voices and artists in visual and performance arts. At the same time, they collaborate with several organisations in East Africa (East African Soul Train) by creating artistic networks and online residences as well as with the magazine Agora Digital Art and the space Gut level in Sheffield.

     

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