Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith and artinliverpool.
Camp & Furnace is host to Alien Sex Club, an immersive installation into a world of misconceptions and cultural satire. At times, the exhibition comes on a little strong for the faint hearted, but it serves to deliver a strong message. The exhibition, the first of its kind, also serves as a free clinic for HIV testing, providing NHS home testing kits, with a nurse available between Friday and Sunday to offer advice on site. This, supported by the incredibly friendly, brilliantly informed invigilation team, provides a wonderful environment to explore these issues.
It’s been a while since anyone has been able to convince me to engage in a Tarot reading, but in this case I had been on such a journey through the exhibition, that it felt wrong not to end it with something more concrete. I’ll be keeping my reading to myself, other than to say Barbara Truvada will be available at The Walker on December 1st, and I strongly recommend it as a fantastic take on Tarot readings.
What is explained to me on first entering the space is the aptly named Intestinal Corridor, which truly takes you on a very strange and very visceral journey, at the end of which is a huge sense of relief on having escaped it. It is that immersive and visceral experience that John Walter seems to have been aiming for; giving his audience an experience of 1980s ‘cruise mazes’, and other historic public sex environments. But with a sort of pre-warning that historic might not be the right word, with modern sex cruising apps like Grindr becoming hugely popular amongst gay men, who remain one of the highest at risk of HIV in the UK.
The exhibition satirises the experience of this sex cruising in order to make it more palatable as a subject, with large scale wall works showing the extensive collections of medicines, virus warnings and contraceptives advised to combat STIs. These are supported by dozens of comic sketches which from a distance are just club scenes, but again highlight the aggression and consistent whimsy with which public sex has been portrayed through Walter’s experience.
What reminds us that this is all satire, and reminders, rather than a celebration, is the free clinic at the rear of the exhibition, giving advice and treatment for HIV and other STIs – marking out for all to see, the dedication of this exhibition, and of Homotopia, in tackling the issue as well as the virus. The show is well worth a look, regardless of your own experience, leaving me for one with far more knowledge than I entered with.