Younger artists, clearly inspired by P-Orridge, have gone on to create monuments and memorials to queer strength—but this new generation also examines its subdued and poetic elements. A 2017 sculpture by Joseph Liatela, for example, celebrates queer resistance while acknowledging the transgender community’s significant losses: The charred remnant of a redwood tree stands tall, but shorn of its branches, its blood-red trunk exposed, snaked with padlocks and chains.
In an accompanying film, we see the tree set ablaze on the beach, a purple sunset lighting the Pacific coastline. As it burns, we hear the words “I believe in the gay power” repeated. There’s something deeply spiritual, quasi-Catholic, about this scene, with the burning tree as a signifier of transgender martyrdom. Below it, the artist has placed 27 glass vessels filled with water from the Pacific Ocean, each one symbolizing a life lost to transphobic violence in 2016.
Increased visibility of transgender figures has coincided with an uptick in violence against them. We easily miss how dominant systems of power can literally shape our bodies, but this is a simple fact of life for transgender people. Like P-Orridge, Liatela cannot deny the connections between queer life and pain. In his 2017 endurance performance, Bound, we see the artist hoisted onto the gallery wall by way of ropes and a simple pulley system. While chest binding techniques can initially provide a feeling of security, they’re uncomfortable; at their worst, they can be extremely hazardous, leading to broken ribs and blood clotting. When Liatela finally returns to the ground, he exposes the bloody rope burns on his chest, which align with his breast removal scars.