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My first exposure to artist and photographer Marc Martin was in December 2017 during his much-talked-about exhibit Public Toilets, Private Affairs at the Schwules Museum in Berlin. Through found historical photographs and artifacts, current photos depicting men cruising public toilets and a recreated public restroom, Martin’s exhibit explored the intersection between the private intimacy of sexuality and the public spaces where cruising and gay sex occurs.
“Urinals have always had a bad reputation,” Martin tells Hornet. “I wanted to bring color and life to these long-gone meeting places that have been hidden in the shadows and forgotten. I wanted to restore that place where the disturbing and the sensual meet. These spaces have sheltered ecstasy and love, passion, and camaraderie for gay men.”
What struck me most about the Public Toilets, Private Affairs exhibit was how the explicit eroticism of the images mixed with nostalgia, romance and love. There was something beautiful in even the most filthy and degrading images; something ecstatic and hopeful radiating from these images.
“Before cruising apps, for men looking to have adventures with other men, public toilets were places for meeting and recognition,” he says. “All social classes came together, all ages and races mixed. I wanted to shed an optimistic light on the importance these places once had for the community. These public toilets — whose history is intertwined with the lives and adventures of so many gays, trans people, escorts and libertines — are also unlikely bastions of freedom. That’s what I am showing with Public Toilets, Private Affairs.”
I recently met with photographer and videographer Marc Martin (who splits his time between Paris and Berlin) in Berlin, and we sat down to discuss art, his latest installation and his pushback against the sanitization of queerness.
HORNET: Your art plays a lot with ideas of masculinity and sexuality, often turning the most base acts into something beautiful. What is the role of masculinity in your art?
MARC MARTIN: My photos often illustrate a fantasized virility, where the boundaries of reality are blurred. To my eye, virility is not found in images of genitalia. Proudly displaying a hard penis does not define a man.
I question the genre by playing with stereotyped roles, showing the fragility of muscular bodies, the modesty of tattooed men, the tender gestures of a boxer. I like to bring poetry into porn. I like pigs and flowers.
Tell me about your installation in the new exhibit Eroticism of Things at the Museum der Dinge in Berlin.
Eroticism of Things is an exhibition about everyday objects diverted to become erotic objects. The installation is a reconstruction of a collective locker room. The locker room is the site of collective experience — inherently sexual, smelly, rudimentary — it symbolizes for me the gateway between two overlapping universes: the moment before and the moment after.
Public toilets and collective changing rooms have in common the function to gather people of different horizons in a given space. Where did they come from? Where will they go next? In my imagination the key to a secret passage concretizes here. Transitory, furtive instants are what open up so many phantasmic possibilities for me. This exhibit is like roaming a world of blurring borders under cover — it is very erotic to me.
Being queer has become politicized in this new era of Trump and the rise of European fascism. We have gained freedoms, only to come under attack again for who we are and who we love, and I see queer culture become sanitized in an attempt to appear “normal,” so as not to come under attack and to hide from discrimination instead of standing proud.
Today everything must be smooth, sweetened, sanitized. I still love things alive, breathing sex and sweat. We spend so much time trying to convince the average straight person that queers are respectable people, not different from “normal” people. My personal philosophy is different: I claim my marginality as a resistance to this puritanical and hygienic time. Transgression is the motor of my creativity.
Originally the term ‘queer’ made it possible to recognize a difference without having to designate it too rigidly. Today, however, we would like to accept queer peoples and homosexuality as long as it is based on the heterosexual model. I want us to be accepted with all our differences. In our community, the visibility of minorities, including sexual minorities, is very important.
I claim this freedom to express, explicitly or not, a diversity of colors and sexualities. I’m proud of our strangeness and differences. But maybe I’m an outsider queer artist.