London's newest LGBTQ+ art space, QUEERCIRCLE, inaugurates first exhibition

Located on Soames Walk in London, QUEERCIRCLE founder Ashley Joiner talks to STIR about building an interactive art community through facilitation and dialogue.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Aug 28, 2022

When I look back at my time in art school, the one thing I recall is the ringing conviction in the potential of art in community building. I know I might forget what I learnt in the classroom but I will never forget the many evenings we spent poring over paintings or soaking in the songs of musicians who played us into the night. The collective experience of art possesses an irreplaceable magic. It is a catalyst for conversation, and community. Curator and director of Are You Proud? (2019), Ashley Joiner, leverages this spark to run QUEERCIRCLE (QC). Located on Soames Walk in London, QC is an organisation that plays many roles. It functions as an art gallery, an interactive art community space and charitable organisation. QC stands at the intersection of art, culture and social change, bringing together creative practitioners and art lovers to find a safe space for expression and dialogue. Joiner took some time to tell us about their journey in making QUEERCIRCLE a shared reality.

Let Me Hold You by Michaela Yearwood-Dan at Queer Circle invites viewers to sit on the art | Queer Circle | Michaela Yearwood-Dan | STIRworld
Let Me Hold You by Michaela Yearwood-Dan at QUEERCIRCLE invites viewers to sit on the art Image: Deniz Guzel; Courtesy of QUEERCIRCLE and Michaela Yearwood-Dan

While Joiner and I were catching up on a video call a couple of weeks ago, QUEERCIRCLE was hosting a Queer POC mentorship programme. The building was full of participants and bustling with activity. Joiner found a quiet spot in the library and began to tell us the story of how QC was conceived. "I personally was needing a new way to meet people that did not revolve around alcohol. There was also a community need. London has seen a closure of 60 per cent of LGBTQ+ spaces in the past decade. So really it was about bringing those two things together, the personal and also the community, the political. So, I started something called the QUEERCIRCLE which did not have much of an agenda other than to celebrate LGBTQ+ artists and provide a new way for us as a community to come together. It was very DIY with no funding. It just seemed to really resonate with people," they said. Joiner began QC with small showcases, group meetings and DIY exhibition set-ups. The initiative gathered momentum as more people volunteered to share their time and resources with the organisation. QC would host and organise screenings, history tours and any event the local queer community wanted to set in motion.

Painted furniture by Yearwood-Dan | Queer Circle | Michaela Yearwood-Dan | STIRworld
Painted furniture by Yearwood-Dan Image: Deniz Guzel; Courtesy of QUEERCIRCLE and Michaela Yearwood-Dan

In the years prior to setting up the building on Soames Walk, Joiner hosted regular consultation groups, bringing together creative practitioners from across fields. Joiner told us, "They shared their experiences as queer artists and creators, very much in line with the way the women’s liberation movement came about”. These groups helped Joiner better understand the social and cultural requisites needed to construct an interactive and evolving space.

If you are a regular frequenter of art galleries and museums, you are familiar with this recurring dynamic that plays out - the visitor delicately tip toes around mounted artworks, observing from a safe, specified distance only, and leaves without offering anything in return to the space apart from a ticket fee. Joiner, wanting to challenge this relationship, has conceptualised QC so that it is run by community interest and action. The space invites regular feedback from visitors and creates a safe container for exploration.

Detailing on Let Me Hold You by Michaela Yearwood-Dan | Queer Circle | Michaela Yearwood-Dan | STIRworld
Detailing on Let Me Hold You by Michaela Yearwood-Dan Image: Deniz Guzel; Courtesy of QUEERCIRCLE and Michaela Yearwood-Dan

Each year QC's calendar is divided into three seasons. Each season has an exhibition commission, an archive exhibition and a participatory residency. Each of those respond to an annual theme. Between each season QC opens up for a one-month long catalyst period, and invites a different LGBTQ+ organisation to take over the space. “We recognise that having this space is not something everyone has access to, and it’s becoming increasingly scarce in London so we want to share that," Joiner added. QC is going further into integrating the community by including them in a six-month long process to create an evaluation framework for curatorial direction to use going forward.

Installation view of The Queens' Jubilee | Queer Circle | The Queens' Jubilee | STIRworld
Installation view of The Queens' Jubilee Image: Deniz Guzel; Courtesy of QUEERCIRCLE and Michaela Yearwood-Dan

The theme at QC for 2022 is ecology. In consideration of the overlapping verticals of ecological destruction and marginalised communities, Joiner shared how bringing the conversation to ecology is the need of the hour. They said, "It is the most pressing thing we need to discuss. This is the arena where queer voices need to be elevated, particularly artists of colour. We know that climate change disproportionately affects marginalised communities, POCs and indigenous communities. The effects are local and the change is also local, and that is how we contribute to the global conversation." While keeping the concept universally relatable, Joiner hopes for QC to hold space for important conversations without placing queer artists into boxes, allowing the artist to decide when their own marginalised identity becomes relevant to the work.

The inaugural commission exhibition features Michaela Yearwood-Dan's immersive installation. The work encourages you to sit inside of it, walk over it and touch it, thereby dissolving the divide between viewer and art. Let Me Hold You is Yearwood-Dan’s expression of the interconnectedness between the human and non-human experience. The artist seeks to expand our understanding of what it means to be queer and to love. The archival exhibition on view, titled The Queens' Jubilee, shares rare documentary photography tracing the introduction of drag performance into culture and radical politics. Both showcases are on view at QUEERCIRCLE until September 8, 2022.

  • A closer look at The Queens' Jubilee | Queer Circle | The Queens' Jubilee | STIRworld
    A closer look at The Queens' Jubilee Image: Deniz Guzel; Courtesy of QUEERCIRCLE and Michaela Yearwood-Dan
  • Portrait of Ashley Joiner | STIRworld
    Portrait of Ashley Joiner Image: Courtesy of Rees & Co.

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