All Bar None

An interview with Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan about their project, UK Gaybar Directory 

Collaborative duo Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan have spent the past nine months constructing a filmed archive of gay bars across the UK. Currently showing as part of the exhibition ‘Utopian Voices Here & Now’ at Somerset House, UK Gaybar Directory (2016) is an archive of these spaces, raising important questions concerning the LGBTQ community, both past and present.

Hatty Nestor  The UK Gaybar Directory is a project where you collaboratively filmed 170 gay bars across the UK. What drove you to archive these spaces?

Rosie Hastings & Hannah Quinlan  The project started in November 2015, shortly after Somerset House commissioned us to start the archive. We had already been filming gay bars, but the idea for the archive came as a response to the rampant gentrification of the gay scene in London, and the closure of many historic and popular venues. There was a sense of urgency, that if we didn’t document these bars they would vanish into the chasm of unmarked history and be discarded as non-influential, out-dated spaces. We are drawn to gay bars as spaces for communities to congregate visibly, and their relationship to the civil rights movement and direct action. There is a level of self-awareness present in gay bars that is absent in heterosexual spaces, where information concerning mental health, safe sex and addiction is circulated, demonstrating that LGBTQ services can provide the services our government doesn’t. The commission gave us the opportunity to create a queer archive. To disrupt the narratives that we were simultaneously historicizing, working through the social, political and historical aspects of gay bars.


Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, 'Utopian Voices Here & Now', 2016, exhibition view, Somerset House, London

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, 'Utopian Voices Here & Now', 2016, exhibition view, Somerset House, London

HN  Whilst travelling around the UK you collected different objects, leaflets and memorabilia from the bars, which are presented in the exhibition as the piece Scarcity of Liberty (2016). Amongst these objects is the men’s magazine Attitude. Can you talk about it?

RH & HQ  In the initial stages of this project we purchased a collection of Attitude from the early 1990s. These editions of the UK mainstream gay magazine were being published at the tail end of the AIDS crisis. They focused on the white, young, hairless, healthy male body, creating a toxic model for what a queer body looks like. Through its content Attitude made apparent its commitment to masculinity and a lack of care for inclusivity, something that is universal throughout mainstream gay culture. It’s an agenda that we were frequently confronted with in the bars.

HN  Was your intention to disrupt Attitude magazine as an archive? Did including this material feel equally as important as a contemporary critique of gay bars?

RH & HQ  Yes, we destroyed it as an archive, it can no longer function as one. We ripped the covers off, and mixed up their chronological order. We reinvented it as an example of our fury and rage at the scene and its shortcomings as a magazine.

HN  You use mainstream pop music in the video piece, UK Gaybar Directory (2016). Does the music relate to the gay bars you encountered outside of London?

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Scarcity of Liberty, 2016, installation view

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Scarcity of Liberty, 2016, installation view

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Scarcity of Liberty, 2016, installation view

RH & HQ  For the music we collected field recordings from the bars and also recorded samples of the music that played in each venue.  We also inserted sounds from the natural world: glaciers melting, super storms and forest fires. We produced the music to create a highly emotive and visceral sensation – ultra-recognizable songs that draw the viewer into the empty spaces of the bars. We wanted to implicate the viewer by manipulating their sense of the past, present and future. These videos make apparent the nuanced temporalities of the gay bar: on the one hand they are incredibly nostalgic, on the other hand they are futuristic spaces, presenting an idea of a utopia that in the present moment they simultaneously fall short of.

HN  The metal sculpture Attitude (2016) overlooks the exhibition, and appears much like a motif. Does this work reflect community relationships you experienced whilst filming?

RH & HQ  Attitude shows the LGBTQ motif of a rainbow flag. It is intended to mimic the sculptural language of a community centre, be it a library, a hospital or a primary school. We were attempting to communicate the public image of LGBTQ culture, its front or facade – this need to appear acceptable and the desire for a false optimism that erases our history and cultural identity.

HN  Does exposing this false optimism, and questioning LGBTQ culture’s relationship to institutions, link to other elements of your practice? Or was this an issue that arose whilst documenting the LGBTQ scene in this project?

RH & HQ  Since the AIDS years the LGBTQ movement has focused on constructing an acceptable front in order to assimilate into the institutions that continue to oppress us. These include the police, the military, the state and big businesses. Showing this project in institutions such as Somerset House we are expected to operate within this contradiction, of complicity and critique. 

HN  Viewing UK Gaybar Directory, it is unclear where the spaces are. Was it a conscious choice to keep their addresses and locations hidden?


Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, UK Gaybar Directory, 2016, film still

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, UK Gaybar Directory, 2016, film still

RH & HQ  Showing the UK Gaybar Directory within an art context allowed the space to operate from the periphery of what could be considered an archive, to expand its context and field of references using audio and installation. The reality of filming was that we consistently had to seek permission to enter male centred or male only spaces, and were often denied access. In a sense it’s not an archive of the UK gay bar scene, it is a documentation of the spaces two white and presumed female identified people were allowed to inhabit. The necessity of providing empirical documentation was secondary, as we were more concerned with communicating the complicated emotional space that is under threat both from internal and external pressures and failures.

HN  Do you think the UK Gaybar Directory archive in the future will hold more weight because many of the spaces may no longer be functioning gay bars?

RH & HQ  Definitely, in a generation’s time people will look at these spaces and find it hard to believe they existed. In the same way we will look at the labour union or the NHS and free education, and other localized support networks – the decline of these community services are all linked by the vicious cycles of gentrification and austerity. The erosion of public services has given way to the neo-liberal homogenization of our cultural landscape; its demand for one model that can accommodate for a larger spectrum of needs. The idea that you could go to a space that is open 24/7 to have sex in public, take drugs or buy a £1 pint of beer will be completely alien. These are the spaces that are being taken away from us.

Rosie Hastings (1991) and Hannah Quinlan (1991) London and Newcastle are an artist duo living and working in London. Recent solo shows and projects include: ‘Gentrification’, presented by Daata Editions and Zuecca projects for the 15th Venice Architectural Biennale, Venice (2016), ‘How to Survive a Flood’, David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2016), ‘If these Fossils Could Talk They Would Tell You Who Got Fucked and Who Didn’t’ (2015) Room E10-27, Paris (2015), ‘Cruising Extinction’, Oslo 10, Basel (2015) & ‘Tifkas’, Arcadia Missa, London (2015).

Hatty Nestor is a writer based in London.

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018