Don’t Sleep on Homophobia

Installation view of Bedtime at Arsenal Gallery. A four poster bed of raw wood is in the middle right of the frame, and sitting pads and pillows spill off the bed into the foreground. There are tables and a view of the gallery walls, with writing and gauze on them. The scene is lit with natural light.
Bedtime installation, Municipal Gallery Arsenał, Poznań, Poland. 7 September - 7 October 2018. Photo by Irek Popek.

COVEN BERLIN, in collaboration with the collective Dziewczyństwo (meaning ‘Girlhood’ in English), are currently exhibiting Bedtime at the Municipal Gallery Arsenał in Poznań, Poland.

Bedtime has been a chance for us to work more creatively and stray from strictly curatorial work by using the gallery to restage our girlhoods, and the erotically charged confusion that was our youths, before we had the vocabulary to claim the identities we have now. It has been a celebration of that time, as intermittently painful and joyful as it was, and a chance to recontextualize the women, men, trans*, and gender non-conforming folks we are today. It’s been a lot of fun, actually.


Bedtime, Municipal Gallery Arsenał, Poznań, Poland. Photo by Irek Popek.


We just had our first sleepover on September 8th, led by Dziewczyństwo! We, COVEN, will lead the next sleepover on September 22nd (if you’re in Berlin it’s only 3 hours away!). The last sleepover will be a collaborative event by both collectives, on September 29th.

Before our first event we received inflammatory bad press from conservative Polish media, which came in the wake of previous events held at Arsenał that received similar scrutiny.

From May 22-24th, Arsenał held several workshops with Gyne Punk, the Cyborg Witches of Gynecology, as part of their series Workshops of Revolution. On May 24th, Radio Poznań reported that Gyne Punk was teaching participants to perform home abortions, which immediately caught flame in Poland, where abortion is still illegal, and prompted a protest outside Arsenał that same day. In the article, interviewees called it “sick” and compared it to showing the public “instructional videos by terrorist organizations”. In a public statement, the deputy director of Arsenał, Zofia Nierodzińska, denounced the accusation and insisted that no one was persuaded to have an abortion or shown how to perform one, but rather, they were shown the instruments that are typically used and taught the colonial history behind modern gynecology (see the horrifying history of J. Marion Sims, for example).


Sleepover, 8 September 2018, Municipal Gallery Arsenał, Poznań, Poland. Photo by Karolina Wojciechowska.


On August 8th, Radio Poznań dug up articles we had written on a previous beloved theme, Assholes, in particular an interview we had done with sex educators on anal play at Other Nature, a feminist, queer, and trans focused sex shop in Kreuzberg. Radio Poznań claimed that we promote “anal eroticism, pornography, and feces play”, implying that the sleepover event would host activities like scat play. Although we do love the anus, and porn, we will not screen pornography at Bedtime (sorry!), nor will we provide a space for sex or scatophilia (for the record, you should educate yourself through extensive research or see a sex worker for examples of how to practice scat play safely). They went on to interview Dr. Zbigniew Mańkowski from the Institute of Art Sciences at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, who said that projects such as ours aim to destroy traditional life and culture in Poznań, and are particularly damaging for the youth that may attend. The article also consistently refers to Nierodzińska as the director who hosted “abortion workshops”. On August 9th, TVP3 Poznań, a public television channel in Poznań, reported that Bedtime will promote “sexual pathologies”, one of which being scat play.

None of COVEN BERLIN’s members live in Poland (yet!) and therefore we have the privilege of distance from these attacks. But it hasn’t been easy for those at Arsenał and for the members of Dziewczyństwo. For that reason, among others, we feel it necessary to identify these tired tropes of homophobia and misogyny, using rhetoric that can be found in hateful campaigns occurring in increasingly visible and loud ways across the world. Pathologizing sex acts and reviling those acts as shameful and disgusting is an old strategy of homophobia, as fear-mongering attacks on women for seizing control of their bodies is a familiar turn of misogyny.


Visitors at Bedtime, Municipal Gallery Arsenał, Poznań, Poland. Photo by Irek Popek.


We recognize that this speech is not limited to Poland, and that this same rhetoric that claims to protect youth and families from a perceived threat to so-called traditional values is also being utilized in Europe to refuse entry to refugees, and against largely Latinx immigrants and asylum seekers to the United States, in order to justify imprisoning them and seizing their children. We think it’s important to remember that there isn’t a country or city safe from the micro and macro aggressions of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric, which indeed has effects more tangible and real than just objectionable words.


For your viewing pleasure, please find above a piece made by our very own Esther Nelke, that seeks to bring conciliation to the conflict by ‘translating’ the demagogic press Bedtime has received.


Bedtime installation, Municipal Gallery Arsenał, Poznań, Poland. 7 September – 7 October 2018. Photo by Irek Popek.


Look out for our next sleepover on September 22nd! We will be hosting performances by New York based activists and artists Denise and Rachel Atherley and Khamari Young.

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.



Text by Esther Nelke and Harley Aussoleil

Esther Nelke is a translator, cook, and writer based in Berlin. They are interested in food and community activism. They have collaborated with COVEN BERLIN since 2013.

Harley Aussoleil is a member of COVEN BERLIN. She lives in Berlin and is currently in graduate school at the Humbolt-Universität and volunteers part-time as an interpreter.

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