Macon Reed has said she created her immersive “Eulogy for the Dyke Bar” installation “to push people to really consider what it would mean to have these spaces—dyke and lesbian bars—actually not exist anymore, kind of be extinct.” It’s her response to the “mass closing of dyke bars,” a place to consider the ramifications. (Reed stresses that she’s using the “reclaimed term ‘dyke’ in its most expansive sense and recognizes that gender and identities are complex and fluid.”)
When it debuted as part of the Brooklyn artist’s residency at Wayfarers Gallery in New York in 2015, it featured neon signs in the storefront window reading “Dyke” and “Bar.” Inside was a pool table and bar backed by a row of bottles that looked kind of like they were sculpted from kids’ clay (actually they’re mainly cardboard and joint compound, plus some wood). On the faux wood panel walls, she displayed farewell letters from lesbian bars that had closed over the years.
A new version of “Eulogy for the Dyke Bar”—on view at AREA Gallery in Woodbury Campus Center of the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus through Dec. 7—rejiggers it a bit, offering the neon signs and the faux wood paneling with a smaller bar, a jukebox, archival images of dyke bars around the country, and video from “Queering the Past: Maine LGBTQ Oral History Project.”
The installation, Reed writes on her website, asks: “Why are these spaces closing? How do cultural and socio-economic factors, such as assimilation or gentrification, contribute to this phenomenon? Are the same factors impacting spaces for gay men? What role have physical spaces such as dyke bars played in the past and how has that changed over time? How do we learn from these spaces and move forward in creating new ones that are safe and affirming for all female and feminine- spectrum communities while embracing expansive notions of gender and sexuality across generations?”
Reed attributes the disappearance of dyke bars to the tighter economics for women in a society that routinely pays them less than men, the assimilation of queer culture into mainstream society, people connecting more via internet, gentrification, and rising rents forcing proprietors out.
Seeing “Eulogy for the Dyke Bar” as an art exhibition, it appears as a sort of memorial. But in New York and during a Nov. 15 reception in Portland, the bar came alive for drinks and mingling. And folks got up to share their experiences in and around queer bars.
“What really stood out to me through the experience,” Reed told Alexandria Deters for the website Gallery Gurls earlier this year, “was the opportunity to bring queers/dykes of different generations together because there is a lot of tension, misunderstanding, and dismissal between generations around shifting understandings of lived gender experience and opportunities, of each groups’ historical and contemporary contexts, of what it has meant to be a woman and/or queer in the world.”
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