Bruce LaBruce takes us on a deep dive of his ‘incriminating’ archive

And what a worldview it is. The Revolution Is My Boyfriend is so wonderfully Bruce LaBruce, which is to say it is wall-to-wall cocks. Cocks from LaBruce’s early days on the Toronto punk scene, through to his 90s party days in New York, with screenshots from his films speckled throughout. There’s a fetish tableaux, portraits of twinks, dolls and muscle daddies, editorials from over the years, and so much bloody sexualised violence. It’s a perfect stocking filler.

Signing onto Zoom, I immediately want to know what LaBruce has been consuming lately. He explains that he’s been trying his best to steer clear of social media by turning to books. He’s been reading a lot of female autobiographies – by Sinead O’Connor, Julia Fox, Peggy Guggenheim, and Elsa Lanchester. He read Edward Said’s Out of Place. He’s been bingeing Curb Your Enthusiasm and watching Apple TV+’s Foundation. “Oh,” he adds, “and to counterbalance that, I saw Saltburn, which I thought was awful.”

Below, we talk to Bruce LaBruce about The Revolution Is My Boyfriend, living through a series of 20th century revolutions, and the dangers of self-censorship. 

Yessssss [agreeing about Saltburn].

Bruce LaBruce: You know, people accuse me all the time of being shocking for the sake of being shocking, and I support that idea on a certain level. Doing shock for shock’s sake has its place because, by its very nature, shock challenges people and makes them think, but it’s about the way that you shock. I just found the notorious ‘shocking’ parts of Saltburn had no context and they don’t express anything about the characters or their class or significance. After these scenes, the characters don’t transform from them. They just do these shocking things, and then go back to the status quo – the film was kind of pointless. 

The Revolution Is My Boyfriend is a major overview of your work and career – what was the process of assembling it?

Bruce LaBruce: I’ve been wanting to do a book that’s a little more ambitious. The great thing about Baron [Books] is that they’re pretty fearless in the books they do and in not censoring the artist. In the past, when someone would propose a book of mine, they’d say, ‘Oh, we don’t do sexualised violence’, which is a core component of my work. I got that out of my system with my first book with Baron – Death Book – which explored the way porn and horror intersect in terms of the representation of extreme imagery; so, in horror movies, the stabbing of the usually female victim is coded as an orgasm, and that always fascinated me, how violence is coded as sexual in mainstream culture. 

With this book, it was about emphasising the people that I’ve known and crossed paths with over the past 25 years, as well as portraiture and screen grabs of my movies. I loved the process of making the book. In terms of how to present the work, it was more intuitive. We started with a very large pool of images and narrowed it down. Instead of trying to do it chronologically or make sense of it in terms of how my work progressed, it’s more making connections between different photos and how they’re laid out. Sometimes I found unexpected juxtapositions or ironic connections between images, so the process was really crucial.

“In horror movies, the stabbing of the usually female victim is coded as an orgasm, and that always fascinated me, how violence is coded as sexual in mainstream culture” – Bruce LaBruce

Did you rediscover any images or moments in your career that you had forgotten about or perhaps not fully appreciated?

Bruce LaBruce: I’m not a good archivist. I started off doing analogue so I had a lot of random slides thrown in knapsacks and put in storage haphazardly. I did discover some stuff that I hadn’t seen since I’d taken it, so it was really a deep dive into my work, even for myself.

Are there any images in particular you were happy to discover again?

Bruce LaBruce: Well, there was some stuff from my film, Skin Flick, which came out in 1999. There are some portraits of people that I took offhand on the street – there’s a picture of Harmony Korine with David Blaine that I snapped on the street of Manhattan one day. There are lots of shots of when I was partying in New York in the late 90s with the IRAK crew and Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow. There were a lot of photos that I could have published that I didn’t because they were a little too… incriminating, but I tried to get a flavour of what was going on. There are some very intimate shots of Dash with his wife, Agathe, that were taken in the bathroom of Gavin Brown’s Passerby bar – it was quite a hotspot in the early 2000s. I did this impromptu shoot of them having sex in the bathroom there. I’ve published them here and there as single images, but it’s one of my favourite moments [capturing] the spirit of that time.

Hearing you talk about that time and looking through The Revolution Is My Boyfriend, it’s such an incredible life! I’m almost jealous of that lack of restraint and that freedom, which is nonexistent now. 

Bruce LaBruce: There’s nothing to be jealous about [laughs]. A lot of [that time] was dumb and spent in a blackout or a K-hole, which you could still do today, nothing’s stopping you. But it was a bit of a golden era, I think, that I serendipitously ended up in – born in the early 60s, teenager in the 70s and early 80s, then riding out the Millennium into the 90s. If you didn’t live it, it was weird, because there’s something that happens at the end of a century where everything is being created without a lens of retrospection – it was all being spontaneously lived without being influenced by all the eras of the past. 

That was until the 90s when culture started eating itself and being super self-referential, which has accelerated into this mass of references where nothing new is really being made. At that time it felt like things were being spontaneously generated. There were also eras of liberation. I existed pre and post-gay liberation, lived through the progression from film to digital, lived through the era of pre to post-Internet, from pre to post-social media. It was like living through a whole set of revolutions which all seemed very positive and utopic as opposed to now where everything seems dystopian and AI is going to destroy everything, you know. 

“I very much believe in the school of killing your idols and questioning authority at all times” – Bruce LaBruce

Travis Jeppesen’s introduction in The Revolution Is My Boyfriend discusses your influence on queer creatives today. I was curious about your thoughts on being seen as an icon and, I guess, a queer elder, particularly as an artist who is still very active?

Bruce LaBruce: I very much believe in the school of killing your idols and questioning authority at all times. That was instilled in me by my film professor and mentor, Robin Wood, who was a famous film critic. That was his main rule: question authority, including his own. That’s always stuck with me, so I’m very wary of people who idolise artists without their own critical apparatus at work. I take it with a grain of salt, and I realise that my work has an activist angle to it but I’ve never really considered myself an activist in any direct political way.

My work is very much about ambivalence and dialectical thinking. It’s hard to even place it on any kind of fixed political spectrum. There’s a quality to my work where people always say that they don’t know whether I’m joking or not. My rule of thumb used to be, if you think I’m being serious then I’m probably being sarcastic and if you think I’m being sarcastic, I’m probably being serious. That quality to my work makes it less something you can unproblematically attach yourself to. It’s not meant to be definitive and I don’t claim to be an authority on anything. 

Bruce LaBruce: It’s part of the contemporary cultural discourse, with the constant filtering, policing and monitoring of representation. It’s about being so self-conscious about the production of work that it leads to a lot of self-censorship. Part of that is because of social media; for example, my work has always been very sexual and quite explicit with nudity and violence, and a lot of it can’t be shown on social media. I started making my work before the social media landscape became the only platform for your work so for a lot of younger artists, I’m wondering if they’re already pre-censoring themselves and thinking about having their work be more digestible in a corporate environment. So, yeah, it is a bit tiresome. The left is also a bit of a circular firing squad, where they’re interested in hierarchies of legitimacy and of virtue. That all seems pretty unnecessary and actually impedes creativity. Harping on all those issues all the time is not conducive to pure creativity. 

The Revolution Is My Boyfriend is published by Baron Books.

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