Wide-Eyed Glances with Sumptuous Glimpses, Peeps and Peek-A-Boos into LGBTQ+ Creativity, the Year 2022, Decadence and “The Cosmology of Cosmetology”

LGBTQ+ Creativity In 2022 and Some Fierce Rhetorical Questions

In thinking about my subject position as an elderly Black Gay man and a conceptual visual artist, I propose that LGBTQ+ Art is not just about LGBTQ, intersexual, androgynous or pandrogynous identities but it is also consisting of a creative, imaginative practice in which people who identify as LGBTQ+ see ourselves in the world in ways that makes the unconscious conscious and visible in the physical world. We courageously explore the realm of the subconscious and its contents and we inhabit various intersections of subjective experience and imagination with the Cosmic Feminine as we marvel at her ability to invent new forms and venture into uncharted territory that exists beyond hierarchical and binary categorization. Our creative impulse calls forth—out from the subconscious mind, through the repressive barrier, authentic revelations which capture the conscious mind and radically reorders, reframes or rejects what we previously claimed to know about ourselves and our connection to others and the Cosmos. As a result, LGBTQ+ creative activity moves us from private space into the public sphere, from the personal to the political in service to our individual evolution, the progress of contemporary organized society and the biosphere. The elan…the je ne sais quoi of it all is so absolutely sumptuous that I can hardly breath! But how will LGBTQ+ creativity be implemented to navigate the surprising shifts occurring in the current global system that’s unfolding before our very eyes?

In 2020, we are charged once again to creatively meet the challenges of another life-threatening global pandemic within the last 40 years, in addition to the existing threats to our right to exist. International drag superstar, The Divine David stated that death was used to give meaning to the 20th Century. Oh yes, he made a very convincing case for his claim. Now, for the next 100 years, the pressing questions seem to be: Will the increasing fatalities from coronavirus infection and the complete destruction of the Middle East and Northern Africa cause mass death to continue to be used to provide meaning for the 21st Century? Which innovative perspectives and approaches can we employ to break free from the binary logic of a decadent, habitually competitive, right-wing authoritarian, fascist, heteronormative, neoliberal, White male capitalist structure of full spectrum dominance and perpetual conflict?

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the pandrogynous genius who helped invent the genre of industrial music and an important member of William S. Burroughs’ inner circle, clearly articulated this historical moment when he said, 

“For me, the cut-up is probably the most useful creative tool of the 20th century because you can break patterns, and that causes unlikely collisions and combinations that would happen no other. way. Linear thinking is so ingrained in us that you need to break those patterns. Break the language, break the thought, even break the body in order to find out how can we truly change as a species. It’s important because we’re dooming ourselves right now, through the reiteration of failed processes, failed institutions and failed economic systems…Those in power create wars to maintain their opposition. But this is a revolutionary moment, and we cannot revert to the ongoing distractions of a binary system. We need to take back who we are and write the narrative of our own stories. It’s about stripping away our inherited archetypes and our distracting issues to look at our solid bodies, our experiences amongst people. Who is writing my story? Who am I submitting myself to? Who am I forcing to submit? What is it that I truly wish to be? That’s where the real battle will be: Will we have an evolutionary thrust or stagnation?”

Breaking away from conventional language/narrative structure, fracturing engrained linear thought patterns or stripping away hierarchical/binary ordering in the LGBTQ+ creative process is truly an eye-opening experience as the power of social programming and conditioning appears in sharp relief. But something else appears from the wreckage—a defining moment of choice and a newly discovered aspect of one’s self with a story to tell. Will the choice be to choose the choice picked by a system that makes all of the choices or will that choice rearrange the established relations between the knowable or the sayable? Will that story flatter those who claim authority over others or will the story speak of hard-won victories by being loyal to one’s self? We are required to clearly understand the structures and systems of control before we can look beyond their parameters. The Oracle told Neo in a scene in the second “Matrix” film, “No one can see beyond the choices they don’t understand. I MEAN NO ONE, NOT EVEN ME!” She continued to tell Neo, “You made the choice and now, you have to understand it—if you don’t, then Zion will fall.” 

The “Decadence” exhibition and the revision of the conventional definition of decadence are part of LBGTQ+ cultural labor to “break the language” in order to re-establish LGBTQ+ self-determination and authority over one’s own mind, body and sexual expression in a contest over oppressive systems of discipline and control. Noted French philosopher and historian of ideas, Paul-Michel Foucault elaborates on the strategies behind the exercise of authority in his book, “The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1,” 

“Sex was not something one simply judged; it was a thing one administered. It was in the nature of a public potential; it called for management procedures; it had to be taken charge of by analytical discourses. In the eighteenth century, sex became a “police” matter—in the full and strict sense given the term at the time: not the repression of disorder, but an ordered maximization of collective and individual forces.”

Recent sociopolitical developments in America and Europe make it apparently clear that maximizing the analytical discourses and policing of sexual desire, women’s bodies, Black and Brown Lives and a host of other things are contributing to the rise of authoritarianism as well as the rising resistance to it. So, is this resistance to tyranny simply a knee-jerk reaction within a vicious circle caused by a clash of opposites? Or is there something radically different being expressed in the hearts and minds of people that’s causing the masses to say No? Martin Luther King inspired all of us to dream which is, in my opinion, one of the most effective forms of protest especially when the dream destabilizes the uncontested dominance of the status quo while resonating deeply internally and externally with authenticity and inner truth. And for those who permitted themselves to dream; it is the wisdom and vision from this kind of dreaming that cause many to wake up to what they are meant to do and who they are meant to be. Legendary singer, actress, fashion icon and beloved diva Grace Jones is celebrated because she gave herself the permission to free herself from the oppression of false dichotomies and repression. Grace said, 

“It’s not “being masculine,” it’s an attitude really, being masculine…What is THAT? Can you tell me what is being masculine? I think that I act the way I feel…I think it’s ridiculous trying categorize people’s feelings or saying what one prefers. There is no comparison! You can’t just say one is better than the other, one is worse than the other or I prefer one to the other. It’s just a…Do what you feel, when you feel like it, if you feel like it. What’s shocking? To do what you feel, when you feel like it, if you feel like it? Just do what you want, do want you want. I do want I want and I don’t put it in a category. And I don’t make comparisons.”

Oh my delicious Disco Biscuits, what would happen if we all dreamed as deeply and luxuriously as Martin Luther King, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Michel Foucault or Grace Jones? What would we know and what would we see? What would the world look like?

Carl Pope, Details from “The Cosmology of Cosmetology”, gelatin silver print, dimensions variable, 1997-2006

The Transmutation of Decadence and the Poisonous Waters of Life

decadence[ dek-uh-duhns, dih-keyd-ns ]


the act or process of falling into an inferior condition or state; deterioration; decay: moral degeneration; turpitude.

unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence.

While considering this particular definition of decadence from Oxford Languages; what if we, for just a moment, resist defining decadence in a conventional way and re-contextualize what is defined as decadent within an active biological process? Then, decadence is no longer frozen within binary/hierarchical structures of meaning. Whatever is regarded as decadent is reframed as an important element of unknown potential as it releases primal life force energy in each stage of digestion and transmutation. By placing all things decadent within this metaphorical framework; describing a person, place or thing as “decadent” (with intention) can activate an alchemical transmutation. At the beginning of this essay, I used the word decadent in the last sentence at the end of the second paragraph to describe “a decadent, habitually competitive, right-wing authoritarian, fascist, heteronormative, neoliberal, White male capitalist structure of full spectrum dominance and perpetual conflict” in order to transmute and then transcend that oppressive structure in my evolutionary process. The human imagination is the primary space where each one of us utilize the ability to create and revise our perceptions and experiences. That interior space is the original location where every iteration our appearance in Nature and society is produced. And yes, it is also where we transmute the poisonous waters of life into life-affirming wisdom. 

For me, the fundamental purpose, value and gift of the LGBTQ+ imagination and its cultural contributions is about fully embodying and courageously projecting invaluable, subjective insights to others to advance the creative process of our individual and collective unfoldment. These contributions are important elements in the production of a cohesive LBGTQ+ cosmology, in alliance with the second wave of the Civil Rights Movement with Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Movement, the Poor People’s Movement, ANTIFA, the Environmental Movement, Land Rights protests and the human rights struggles of Palestinians and Indigenous peoples which are aspects of a unified progressive force in service to the human impulse to grow and evolve with creative freedom. Manifesting a waking dream of an inclusive, ethical world that fully occupies vital spaces and places in the real world is now a life-or-death matter since there are systems and structures in play that are overt and covert—political, militaristic and viral which are working to eliminate the formation of any imaginative space and/or physical place for people relegated to the margins in the social hierarchy. These very systems are fed by unthinkable sacrifices made by those at the bottom are rapidly increasing the manufacturing of psychic scarcity used to rationalize the eradication of the 99%. Masses of people all over the planet are alarmed by the recent turn of events and are protesting in the streets against all odds. What can I do as a conceptual visual artist to understand the choices I made to commit to social transformation in order to transcend the parameters of power and control in which I find myself?

Carl Pope, Details from “The Cosmology of Cosmetology”, gelatin silver print, dimensions variable, 1997-2006

The Cosmology of Cosmetology and the Gift of Transcendence 

I borrowed a few excerpts from a working definition of the philosophy of Cosmology from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s website to contemplate as a point of focus in my short meditation about Cosmology. 

There are two main issues that make the philosophy of cosmology unlike any other science. 

  1. The uniqueness of the Universe: there exists only one universe, so there is nothing else similar in which to compare it. 
  2. Cosmology deals with the physical situation that is the context in the large for human existence: the universe has such a nature that our life is possible.

An avalanche of realizations come to mind about the differences between the physical context for our existence, one’s experiential knowledge of the Cosmos and what we are socialized to think or feel about it. Now it’s easier to see the parallel reality produced by systems of power and its easier break away from binary/hierarchical categorization and the policing that comes with it. It’s much easier to demystify, cut up or fracture things to cause “unlikely collisions and combinations that would happen no other way…in order to find out how can we truly change as a species” as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge puts it. Transcendence is known through action, by stripping off the half-truths, the untruths and treacherous ca-ca from what is heard or seen to shift from the Matrix to the Real; where the realness is actually real! 

Well, I don’t know about you Pumpkin but all of this talk about reality really made me get real vernacular ‘cause I FEEL really REAL and ALL BRAND NEW honey!!

Carl Pope, Details from “The Cosmology of Cosmetology”, gelatin silver print, dimensions variable, 1997-2006

Excerpts and Cut Ups

Don Semen: Carl Pope AKA Sweet Corn from Indiana, could you tell me about your magnum opus “The Cosmology of Cosmetology?”

Sweet Corn: (lisping) My photographs are peeps and peek-a-boos into the fabulousness of the universe that loves me because I am here! Life provides me with whatever I need without me saying that I need it. Life shows me what I want and then Mother just GOES for IT with a quickness!!!

Mini Cooper: Please tell us about your work.

Sweet Corn: So, you want me to tell you in front of all of these people about my WERK?

Mini Cooper: No, I am not asking you about your WERK—I am asking you about your work, your artwork…

Sweet Corn: Oh ok, my artWORK is about seeing the world of abundance without war, without shady judgments or the censorship of fake decency. The photographs are definitely about the other side of the rainbow. The seductive side, the side that isn’t about genitals as much as a way of seeing the world where metaphor and break in narrative structure informs reality. Photographs often function as indexes of memory and my photographs index glances and glimpses that do more than recall the past. They speak of desire in present time, echoing and morphing glimpses of desire in the past into mind flashes of the future within myself and to those who also see those kind of glimpses for themselves. These glances are rendered by a frame of mind where the unknown is palatable and hangs in the air, where desire leads to choppy waters and rough and raunchy shores in a strange frontier that exist right in front of us but can be only seen with the inner eyes, the eyes of a hairdresser with an imagination not bound by fear but is quite aware of the danger he, she and/or they perceive.

Don Semen: “Ok Sweet Corn, are you masculine or feminine, gay, straight, trans or queer?”

Sweet Corn: Yes.

Don Semen: Anything else you would like say?

Sweet Corn: My good, Good Judy, which is me, always say, “Cupcake, there are no opposites; there are only complementary elements of various degrees on a sliding scale. There is no permanent stain of guilt or some unending eternal punishment for it. But there are actions and reactions, consequences and at times, hard lessons to learn. Hurry along but never rush—have fun but don’t get into trouble unless the trouble is ‘good trouble’ as the late Civil Rights leader, John Lewis once said.”

Trucker Hall and Son: And if you are a queer what kind of queer are you and if you use a pronoun which pronoun do you use?” 

Sweet Corn:“OK, Sugar-Britches…WHAT I AM is HERE, RIGHT HERE-RIGHT NOW livin’ MY BEST LIFE!!!”(mic drop)


And NOW you have IT!

Carl Pope (born 1961) is a conceptual artist committed to the idea that contemporary visual art and literature can be a catalyst for personal and social transformation. Influenced by social activism, war photography and the mainstream media’s role in the ending of the Vietnam War, Pope uses a variety of strategies to heighten public awareness to inspire individual and collective action in service to the evolution and duration of moral/ethical values, progressive human culture and the healing of the Earth’s biosphere. Since 1992, Pope received national and international recognition for producing and exhibiting trophy collections that map the history of police action killings and beatings of People of Color in the United States which anticipated the second wave of the Civil Rights Movement with the Black Lives Movement.

Pope’s recent text-based letterpress poster and billboard projects signal a return to his interests in advertising, mass media, public art and grassroots activism. “The Bad Air Smelled of Roses” is an ongoing, endless essay about referential signs of Blackness in poster form. The issues of police brutality and the Black Freedom Struggle were explored in an iteration of “The Bad Air…” which was published in 2018 by Name Publications in the book, “The Appearance of Black Lives Matter” with Nicholas Mirzoeff and Karen Pope. Two new posters published by the Lisa Martin and the Women’s Darkroom is another iteration of “The Bad Air Smelled of Roses” as an ephemeral public art project in response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

“Carl Pope’s work is at once a form of geography, re-imagining and imaging the forgotten histories, people and places in America, and a new psychology, creating a state of mind capable of sustaining the shocks of the present. It’s soul food for the mind, in sharp contrast to the quick hit of consumer pleasure that dominates the art market, and it’s all the more important for that.” -Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communications, NYU

Carl Pope, Details from “The Cosmology of Cosmetology”, gelatin silver print, dimensions variable, 1997-2006

To learn more about Carl and his work, please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Robert_Pope