For gay men who came of age in the era of Grindr, cruising may seem like a mysterious art akin to snake-charming. But for centuries, men looking for fast and easy sex in public spaces would signal each other in a furtive and dangerous dance.
This month cruising is getting the high-brow treatment at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
The Cruising Pavilion will be on exhibit from the May 24 to July 1 at Spazio Punch, a non-profit promoting contemporary culture through events, exhibitions and talks.
Curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos, Rasmus Myrup, Octave Perrault and Charles Teyssou, the exhibition will feature contributions from architects and artists alike. “Architecture is a sexual practice,” reads the show’s press release, “and cruising is one of the most crucial acts of dissidence.”
Cruising usually describes the quest for sexual encounters between homosexual men in public spaces, but it cannot be reduced to neither men nor homos. This sexual practice generally takes place in public sites like parks, toilets, and parking lots, or in dedicated establishments like bathhouses and sex clubs.
It’s a fitting topic for the Biennale, as cruising relies on disrupting the intended use of architectural spaces like libraries, public gardens and bathrooms.
Tom Burr, Circa '77 (1995) – Burr’s sculpture re-creates not just any urban green space, but rather a bit of Platzspitz, a riverside park in Zurich that was once a popular gay cruising ground. When Burr first created the work, for Kunsthalle Zürich in 1995, he was imagining that parcel of land as it had been about twenty years before, when it was a zone of eros and danger. It would then become a haven for drug users before being cleaned up by the city in the mid-‘90s, when Burr arrived.
“Relegated to the realm of depravity, it feeds off its most structuring disciplinary features. In the bathrooms built for cleanliness and the parks made for peacefulness, and also through the figures of the policeman and the flâneur, the modern city is cruised, dismantled and made into a drag of itself. The dungeon becomes playful, the labyrinth protective, and the baths erotic.”
The nomadic, large format cruising of trucking culture is a simultaneously covert and open minded world where a bisexual culture has existed for decades. In a network of interconnected truck stops, abandoned by the general public by night the dual unit cabins of the trucks become an intimate bedroom and the vast parking lots the hunting fields. In a 2013 interviewa truck driver (wishing to be anonymous) explaned how he thought himself as having a girlfriend from Friday to Sunday, and a cruiser from Monday to Friday.
But Mateos, et al, the Biennale’s theme of “Freespace,” defined as a “generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda,” fails to question the heteronormative standards of public spaces to begin with.
Whether gallery visitors will actually get a chance to get frisky isn’t clear but there will be poppers at the opening night party.