51 Voices artist

Oren Shoesmith is an artist and writer originally from Cornwall and currently based between Reading and Glasgow. Writing to explore queer masculinities, erotics, religion and rural communities, Oren’s research is focussed on Christian iconoclasm, drawing from a method of desecration as a way to reconstitute a queer and trans spirituality. Oren is interested in communion between the land and the queer body, making a place for this through writing, archives performance, and image.

51 Voices object

Oren chose selected pages from the May 1951 release of Farmer’s Weekly.

I found the language and adverts surrounding industrial agriculture of the time a heady mix of fear, crisis and control of the land. I was interested in the distinction between the farm as a territory that bordered the unruly wilderness; in the text the wilderness seems to be recorded as a site of undesirable unknowns, risk and financial precarity- it is a place that brings weeds, disease, ruin and disaster. I wanted to explore the similarities to the wilderness and a queer way of being through this text and two others from my own research, Queer Spirits by AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs and The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions by Larry Mitchell, Illustrated by Ned Asta.”

51 Voices activity

Oren worked with twelve participants – a small and intimate group of queer and trans people interested in exploring the land, place, belonging and rural contexts. They chose to work closely together in a closed group – “to explore feelings around a topic that is lacking representation, archival material and platforms.” Their conversations around their queer identities and their relationship to the land focused on text from The MERL’s archive and two queer and resistant texts around bodies in the landscape, selected as contrast to the voices of Farmer’s Weekly.

Using the language of all three texts we wrote poetry and elaborated our feelings together, weaving hope of a new archive which can contain us. This Queer Lands publication acts as memorial to some of these thoughts. In it are erotic longings for a land that leads into the wilderness.”

Participant feedback

Oren shared that there was a variety of experiences of queer relationship with the land in the group, but everyone seemed to find it isolating to some degree. Participants commented –

It felt unifying to come together and share those experiences, compare what we had in common and hold what was unique to each person’s experience.”

The pace of the workshops was perfect. Everyone was able to contribute and it wasn’t rushed, but it still felt exciting and dynamic.”

I felt supported to create my own poetry between sessions with the resources provided. It was also very affirming to hear everyone else’s contributions.”

Artist reflection

(This was) very special for me, I hadn’t realised how necessary conversations around rural contexts and queer identities felt or how lacking they’d been in my own life up until that moment. I was deeply moved by the generous insights and experiences people bought from their own lives. There were so many differences between us in our contexts and histories which felt so exciting to hear about. There were also a lot of shared experiences, feelings of exclusion from rural communities, difficulty with being in remote locations and also the peace and freedom that comes with finding a way to be close to nature. We used the three texts to make poetry from and all the written pieces were dramatically different with interlacing themes of gender exploration, oppression, resistance, emancipation and joy.”

Queer Lands was made possible through the generous support of Arts Council England and the Culture Recovery Fund. Even when we’ve been unable to welcome our communities in to The MERL Galleries, we’ve still been #HereForCulture.

Visit the 51 Voices online exhibition