'Queer Space' course examines 'bathhouses,' 'cruising grounds'

Tufts University is offering an experimental course this fall titled “Queer Space: Explorations in Art and Architecture” exploring how those concepts have shaped "queer understandings and experiences of space."

According to the syllabus, students will "navigate spaces of queer world-building," including "bathhouses," "nightclubs," and "cruising grounds.”

Tufts University is offering a course this fall examining “queer spatial aesthetics” and “queer world-making” in places like “bathhouses, nightclubs, [and] cruising grounds.”

According to the course syllabus, “Queer Space: Explorations in Art and Architecture” will address questions such as: “What is ‘queer space’? How have works of art and architecture shaped queer understandings and experiences of space?”

Conversely, students will also learn about “spaces of queer appropriation,” including “campuses,” “streets” and “cityscapes.”

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The course will be taught by Jackson Davidow, a PhD candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture department at MIT. Jackson is currently working on a dissertation titled Viral Visions: Art, Epidemiology, and Spatial Practices in the Global AIDS Pandemic, which he touts as “the first transnational history of artistic and activist responses to HIV/AIDS.”

Davidow explains in the course description that students “will examine how a range of artists, architects, curators, critics, and other cultural practitioners have developed aesthetic and political strategies to engage with their spatial and built environments.”

“Beyond ruminating on queer spatial aesthetics and form,” he adds, “we will navigate spaces of queer world-making (e.g. bathhouses, nightclubs, cruising grounds, alternative art venues, domestic settings, archives, memorials, the Internet), as well as spaces of queer appropriation (e.g. museums, campuses, streets, cityscapes, environments, borderlines).”

“We will also explore the queer dimensions of space in relation to spatialized concepts of diaspora, (de)-colonization, globalization, gentrification, and climate change,” the description concludes, noting that students will “have the opportunity to create an artwork or exhibition proposal” as part of their coursework.

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The course’s introductory unit will address framework topics such as defining the term “queer space” and how the disciplines of theory, art, and architecture have historically treated “questions of (non-normative) gender and sexuality.”

Students will then delve deeper into subjects such as “Cruising and the Spatialization of Sex” to discuss how architecture has “contributed to the development (and erasure) of certain sexual subjectivities and practices,” as well as the role architecture has played in “social control, in policing gender and sexuality.”

Also included on the syllabus are units focused on “Nightlife and Tourism”—which asks, “How were spaces of nightlife, sex, and tourism also sites of architectural production and aesthetic play?”—and “Diasporas, Borders, Globalization,” which has students consider the ways that art is “a privileged site for interrogating and undoing Westernist/universalist notions of queer gender and sexuality.”

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Students will also be required to attend a November MIT forum titled “Future Genders,” which Davidow describes as “rare exploration of past, present, and future gender identifications in relation to contemporary artistic practice.” A critical response paper about the event will be required. 

The course is part of the university’s Experimental College program, which “offers small, participation-based courses” taught by Visiting Lecturers and Teaching Fellows.  Founded in 1964, the “ExCollege” ensures that “students are exposed to subjects and teachers beyond traditional classrooms.”

The “Queer Space” course “counts toward the Architectural Studies major or minor as an elective in the Architectural and Art History category,” according to the description, but does not count as an upper-level course.

Campus Reform reached out to Davidow for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @celinedryan