Guest contributor Joshua Byron shares about the process of bringing Richard Fung to campus for Interrogating Beauty: Richard Fung’s Pure Sea/Queer Dirt scheduled to take place at CAHI and The Media School as part of Themester at Indiana University.
I never thought that I was going to curate. And I certainly didn’t think I would be organizing a retrospective of the famed queer Canadian videomaker Richard Fung.
Richard Fung is one of the premiere experimental queer videomakers on par with Barbara Hammer, Todd Haynes, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and others but due to his scope and form is not always curated in the same way these other filmmakers are. Fung often works on video in short forms and in fact has made only two features to date: Dal Puri Diaspora and Re:Orientations. The later of the two just came out this year and serves as a centering piece of our Themester event: Interrogating Beauty: Richard Fung’s Queer Sea/Pure Dirt.
The curation process started almost exactly a year ago when Dr. Terri Francis, one of the faculty sponsors, was reading Like Mangos in July, a book of essays on Fung’s work. Dr. Francis realized I might have a vested interest in Fung as an experimental queer videomaker myself. We discussed the way Fung considers himself an educator first and an artist second—something I wonder about to this day as someone who feels like an artist first and a curator second. I started binging on Fung via Dr. Francis’s advice. I read anything I could get my hands on—Fung’s essay, criticism on Fung, and watched as many videos as I could. Dr. Francis even suggested working on an essay for publication with her involving a talk-back after the Fung binge.
Fung for me encapsulated all the contradictions I was grappling with. How does work get seen? How does work travel? How does experimental work fit in the canon—or does a canon work at all in these contexts? I felt the weight of this in my own practice, but was attracted to Fung’s communal solution and a deep investment in the ways identity complicates and brings joy to video as a form. So I thought to myself, why not bring Fung to Indiana University? IU has a history of being involved with minority film and video from our Black Film Center/Archive to the New Negress Society visit to Ava DuVernay’s visit to John Waters’ visit last spring. I began talks with Dr. Francis and we discussed using Themester as a plug-in. Richard Fung’s complex engagement with beauty as a form in video and as a problematic in race, gender, and sexuality played perfectly into Themester 2016’s theme of beauty. So we tapped in Joshua Malitsky of The Center for Documentary Research and Practice and began the work to author a proposal to Themester. Emma Young of the Poynter Center provided invaluable help organizing and gathering sponsorship as well. Fung has a reputation that precedes him in numerous avenues. His experimental autobiographical documentaries draw in documentarians, his background and work on ethnicity draw in numerous people groups based on racial and geographic identities, and his work in social justice and education draw in many others. Numerous departments can come together around such a centered and powerful artist.
Contacting Fung was something else altogether. I was expecting some grand moment or cathartic reveal, but instead I just emailed him and he said yes. Artists love engaging with audiences of a variety of backgrounds. I began emailing back and forth with Fung to keep him in the loop and eventually Skyping with him to talk about the way the programs would work and possible thematics. It became another part of the process.
Of course, Themester did provide us the grant and we began the work of covering the other financial gaps and organizing the visit. We’d want to make sure Fung was engaged in events, that it tied heavily into beauty, and that the videos would be seen! We worked hard to ensure the venue tied into our mission to coordinate intimate discussion. We got our sponsorships from numerous departments, organized a talk for the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity Studies at CAHI on Friday December 2nd, made a Facebook event, and finalized the video programs for the Shorts Night and Feature Night in Franklin Hall Room 312. We set the flight dates, decided on the Q and A formats, and began the publicity! Themester helped us put up posters, made sure we were on track for the event, and coordinated the blurbs that are being dispersed around campus in various forms as we speak.
Working with the Media School at Franklin Hall was a simple fit— the Media School can become and is becoming a hub for innovative and experimental filmmakers and theorists to collaborate.
Richard Fung’s visit is the culmination of numerous people from various departments bringing someone at the forefront of his field to IU. His work is at the crossroads of gender, race, sexuality, form, video, and international borders. For me, this serves as a powerful reminder that queer art is here and that queer art matters in the form of one of the masters coming to Bloomington.
For the complete line-up of events, including the two nights of videos and the CRRES Talk, please visit our Facebook event page.
IU Cinema programs exploring queer filmmaking have included Queer Disorientations Film Series (2016), Exploding Lineage: Queer of Color Histories in Experimental Media (Underground Film Series 2013), Fleshpot on 42nd Street (2012 Midnight Movie), Kenneth Anger Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture (2011), and more.
Joshua Byron is a Senior in the Media School studying Cinema and Media Production. Their work has been featured in the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, the Iris Film Festival, the Crimson Film Festival, and in various pop-up art galleries such as their debut solo show “You Were Hard 2 Find” and the LA-based group exhibition “Petal Tears.”