âA gay bar is worth something different to a gay person,â says Lucy Hayhoe, âthan a pub is to a straight person.â Responding to the rapid closure of queer spaces over the last decade, the London-based live artist has created a new installation which fits an entire gay bar into a space little larger than a telephone box. âDonât worry,â Hayhoe says about One In, One Out: Leedsâ Smallest Gay Bar, âthere is room to dance.â
Designed for one audience member at a time, the experiential installation offers a five-minute night out in minuscule proportions. A bouncer takes your coat, offers you a drink, and welcomes you into the tiny, shiny space. Presented at Compass festival in Leeds, the piece reflects on the shrinking of queer spaces, and what exactly makes a place gay, if not for the clientele. âPart of what I was interested in exploring was how spaces shape identity,â Hayhoe says. âAre we queer in relation to other people, or can we be queer by ourselves and on our own?â
Hayhoe, who toys with recognised environments, frequently makes work as part of Haworth + Hayhoe with Lara Haworth. For The Library Project, they built a library where all of the books are authored and bound by local communities. Mobile Border Unit created international border crossings in absurd places like toilets and bars. Over the last few years, Hayhoe has become more focused on the relationship between queerness and the dwindling space itâs permitted in public.
In the last decade, London has lost almost 60% of its queer spaces. âThe number of gay bars in Leeds that have closed due to Covid,â Hayhoe says, âis proportionately way above the numbers of the straight places that have closed. They seem to be much more quickly susceptible to the economic downturn.âYouâre on the list â¦ âIâm interested in exploring how spaces shape identity,â says Lucy Hayhoe. Photograph: Lizzie Coombes
Queer spaces have a history of impermanence. To have a solid structure with a proud queer history is rare. In Jeremy Atherton Linâs new book Gay Bar, he explores the relationship between buildings and the heated nights they host. Looking back through history, he asks whether a subculture like queerness can be recognised in a heritage space. âYouâre never going to capture everything of the energy of what that place may have held at a specific time, for a specific group of people,â says Hayhoe. Which buildings are deemed worthy of preservation is also a question of value, she says. âThe problem is that at the moment, queer people donât control the value system, so these spaces are only just beginning to be thought of as important.â
When queer spaces close down, we donât just lose the scrawled-on walls and sticky floors. âYou lose the diversity of spaces, and the choice,â Hayhoe says. âThe spaces that cater for more minority groups within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, they go first. So what you get left with is the homogeneous white cis male-dominated gay spaces.â When researching for One In, One Out, she mapped the now-closed queer spaces that she used to visit regularly. She found that âway more of those spaces aimed at women and non-binary people have closed versus the male-oriented onesâ.Hottest front-room seats: the best theatre and dance to watch online Read more
Hayhoe wanted to rebuild the world she missed. âGay is an identity of longing,â Atherton Lin writes in Gay Bar, âand there is a wistfulness to beholding it in the form of a building, like how the sight of a theatre stirs the imagination.â With this show, Hayhoe wanted to capture the way the aesthetics of a gay bar often reflect the meaning the space holds. âItâs the sense of potential,â she says, âthe break from the heteronormative gaze, a rejection of the domestic.â So many queer spaces have been relegated to pop-ups, one-off nights, or, over the last year, hosted from home over Zoom. In these scenarios, classic gay-bar decor like tacky mirror balls and cheap glitter curtains arenât just easy ways to get good lighting, but instead they become an embrace of fantasy.
Anyone is welcome to attend One In, One Out, but Hayhoe makes it clear that the queer audience are her priority. Although the show was made pre-Covid, the piece has gained a new significance as we come out of a year of isolation, when queer spaces have been closed and many young people have been separated from their queer communities. This show is a space for celebration. âI donât want it to be a novelty for straight populations,â she says. âThat happens in a lot of gay bars. You have hen parties coming through, because itâs fun, itâs a trip into a different world, something to laugh about.â Gay bars, Hayhoeâs piece says, are worth far more than that.
One In, One Out: Leedsâs Smallest Gay Bar runs 28-30 May, Leeds.