Mudam – The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg presents Tourmaline: Pleasure and Pollinator from March 3 to October 15, 2023.
Screening and talk: March 4, 3pm, shorts’ selection by Tourmaline, followed by a conversation with the curators
Opening night: March 30, 7pm, joint inauguration of the exhibitions of Tourmaline, Peter Halley, and Michel Majerus
Tourmaline is an artist, writer, and transgender activist whose film and images depict meticulously constructed situations honoring LGBTQI+ movements and queer culture’s present and historical figures. Her work draws on historical research, critical theory, and fiction to demonstrate how erasure and amnesia have shaped the creation of a hegemonic historical canon. In her films, Tourmaline employs discovered video and archive material for its uplifting potential: granting political agency to those touched by the legacy of slavery and tracing an imagined genealogy of Black queer figures, of whom she is an important part.
Pleasure & Pollinator is Tourmaline’s first solo exhibition in a European institution, and it is centered on the film Pollinator (2022), which won the Baloise Prize and was donated to Mudam by the Baloise group. The exhibition begins in the Mudam Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Pavilion with a series of four images that serve as a prelude to the video, which is shown on the pavilion’s lower floor and features the artist costumed in early twentieth-century garb. Most photos show her standing magnificently in a garden, while others show her almost disguised amidst enormous swathes of her dress’s white fabric and plant leaves. This collection continues the artist’s explorations of the history of “pleasure gardens”—leisure areas that originated in the United States in the early 1800s—by evoking the relationships between nature and decoration, as well as the depiction and visibility of gay and Black bodies. While many of these establishments were “white-only” (to cite racist advertisements at the time), a few were Black-owned and served as havens of leisure and resistance.
Pollinator begins with a “upward spiral,” as the artist describes it. It starts with Tourmaline wandering through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Edwardian period halls at the Brooklyn Museum. They are interlaced with archival footage of Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson (b. 1945, Elizabeth, New Jersey-d. 1992, New York), a performer and figure of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion for homosexual rights who co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Sylvia Rivera (b. 1951–d. 2002, New York). While focusing on mourning, this montage serves as a pleasant reminder that Johnson was a caring figure for gender nonconforming and trans persons in New York: she was a “pollinator,” to use a metaphor. Tourmaline’s work, although evoking queer sadness, favors a joyful perspective that connects historical queer individuals with contemporary Black transgender communities—an approach that resembles what historian Robin D.G. Kelley (b. 1962, New York) terms as “liberation dreaming.”
Curators: Marie-Noëlle Farcy, assisted by Line Ajan.
Tourmaline (b. 1983, Roxbury, Massachusetts) has presented her work within significant survey exhibitions, such as the 59th Venice Biennale The Milk of Dreams (2022); Mountain/Time at the Aspen Art Museum (2022); The Slipstream: Reflection, Resilience, and Resistance in the Art of Our Time at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (2021) and Critical Fabulations at MoMA, New York (2021). Her work is part of numerous public collections, such as the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Tate Modern, London. Tourmaline was also granted the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2021. Together with Johanna Burton and Eric A. Stanley, she has co-edited the critical anthology Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (2017). She lives and works in New York.
Tourmaline is the recipient of the 2022 Baloise Group Prize. Founded in 1999, the prize is awarded annually to two young artists in the “Statements” section of Art Basel. Tourmaline is the seventh artist to join the Mudam Collection thanks to the support of the Baloise Group since the museum became a partner of the prize in 2015.