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Exhibition sheds new light on a key figure in French literature and queer culture at the turn of the millennium
Guillaume Dustan, Songs in the key of moi, 2000. DV video. View of Fri Art Kunsthalle, 2021. Photo: Guillaume Python.

FRIBOURG.- Writer, editor, magistrate, artist and public figure, Guillaume Dustan (1965–2005, Paris) made 19 films between 2000 and 2004 using a DV camera. These films make up a part of his oeuvre that is little-known to date. The exhibition in Fri Art Kunsthalle sheds new light on a key figure in French literature and queer culture at the turn of the millennium.

In his final book, published in 2005 (Premier essai, Flammarion), Dustan releases his complete filmography. He describes these then unknown and daring films as follows: “My films are shot according to the Warholian dogma: in DV with a very pretty Sony camera that gives a very strange image, without credits, with live sound, without editing. They are edited-whilst-filmed.”

In this act of filming the author/artist carries further the personal approach and moral style he has until then been shaping through his writing. For Dustan, video recording becomes a very effective way of reappropriating his own image and words, which are deformed by the medias at a time when his political positions on the AIDS crisis are used to expose him as an eccentric public figure. The self-definition and self-representation that are so dear to him become, in his films, a production tool. At once diaries, experimental cinema and intimate confession, the films immerse the viewer-witness in an era, a time stream, that is not so very far from our own and yet distant enough to negotiate dialectically.

The first institutional presentation of Guillaume Dustan’s films at Fri Art Kunsthalle Fribourg (13 March–16 May, 2021) offers a reprise of objects embodying the formation of a queer network in Europe, the politics of sexuality and the construction of an alternative gaze. It is structured around a central screening programme accompanied by four viewing stations. These stations show the films in four series: the Apartment films (Pop Life, Songs in the key of moi, [lost film]), the Series of Tristan (Pietà, Nous (love no end), Nous 2, Ratés), the Interview films (Poubelle, Nietzsche, Enjoy (back to Ibiza)) and the Community (Squat, Autrechose, montre † lèvres). Each series is contextualized and expanded upon with specifically curated readers composed of interviews, text extracts and unique archival material. These publications situate the films in a mental and historical constellation of friends, artists, theorists, musicians and other allies in Dustan’s artistic and political project, among which Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Paul B. Preciado, Béatrice Cussol, Elliot Evans, Thomas Clerc.

For the first time, an effort has been made to translate (using subtitling) Dustan’s live speech and that of the people he films and the music he listens to for an English and German audience. The exhibition also features the complete list of books he published as editor in chief of “Le Rayon” (Balland), the first French LGBTQ collection, all the sixty plus titles of which are presented, contextualising further the pertinence, beyond his own writing, of his work for a generation of cultural activists.

With the films as central protagonists, the exhibition therefore offers an updated evaluation of Guillaume Dustan as an artist whose scope reaches beyond the canonised subversive writer, locating a blind spot within contemporary polarization. What does Guillaume Dustan, someone whose life and art were inextricably intertwined, do to us now?

The exhibition is produced by Fri Art Kunsthalle and curated by Julien Laugier, Pascaline Morincôme, Olga Rozenblum, Nicolas Brulhart and Marie Gyger.

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