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Pastures: Exploring queer woman body and the transitions and revelations as part of the aging process

Pastures: Exploring queer woman body and the transitions and revelations as part of the aging process

by Vanessa Dunn

Sometimes one has to know something many times over. Sometimes one forgets, and then remembers. And then forgets, and then remembers. And then forgets again.”[1]

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

My thesis project and installation, “Pastures”, is inspired by my own experience as an aging queer woman and the environments that have cultivated and nurtured my body. As a youth, queer urban nightlife allowed me to discover my queer woman body in a safe and electric environment. The late nights, parties, dance floors, alleyways, patios, bathrooms, and stages created a powerful, intoxicating elixir of youth, vibrancy, queerness, and sex, of which I drank whole. Now at 43 years old, I am on the precipice, the lip of something else – a transitional space to another, older version of queer, of woman. Wrapped up in this transition are questions and feelings of relevancy, mourning, knowing, and appreciation.

So much my queerness and womanness has been spent navigating how others see me and how I see myself. I’ve had to master the disorienting balance of being highly visible and invisible, depending on the environment and the audience. Desire and youth, a vital currency in the queer (perhaps, all?) communities, have impacted these environmental and social dynamics. As an aging queer woman body, how does the loss of certain patriarchal standards of relevancy impact my experience in the world? In this push to the proverbial pasture, to the outer boundary of visibility, how do I honour my body’s memory, its legacy, and its future?

In this transition to carve out new space, I ask: Where does my body belong?

Inspired by my research of queer feminist art, queer ecology and environments, and women and aging, “Pastures” is an installation that incorporates photography, textile, and printing, mixed with queer DIY punk motifs. For my installation at The 519 as part of Congress (accompanying my supervisor Andil Gosine’s keynote presentation), “Pastures” showcased pastoral cyanotype patches on denim and leather jackets – textiles that have a particular cultural and sexual significance in the queer community.

The jackets were hung on a standard, rather innocuous clothing rack in a central part of the room, visible but largely unnoticed by participants.

For me, however, their presence felt powerful, an act of radical space-making. A seismic shifting so magnificent, I said nothing. A signal so mundane, I looked up, and then out. A gesture, an offering, a wink from me to you, from my queer woman body all the way over here, at the edge of the pasture.

[1] Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Graywolf Press, 2016. 

Vanessa Dunn is a student in the MES program at York University. She is a multidisciplinary artist focused on the creation and exploration of spaces and projects informed by politics, identity, community, and performance. As lead singer of the feminist queer art rock band VAG HALEN, Vanessa has toured nationally and internationally, performing at the Venice Biennale, Luminato, Bournemouth Arts Festival, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and more. As a performer and director, Vanessa's work has been a part of Summerworks, Habourfront's HATCH, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Factory Theatre.