8 April 2020
Betsky, Aaron. Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire. New York: Morrow, 1997.
In this book, Aaron Betsky introduces and develops the idea of architectural “queer space.” This is a space that is both literal and theoretical, built on three core concepts which he finds relevant to gay culture and identity: the closet, the mirror and orgasm. Much of the book is dedicated to architectural examples and cultural theory, ranging from buildings by Louis Sullvan to paintings by Paul Cadmus to AIDS. Importantly, Betsky delves into the scenography of queer space, first through a first-person description of Studio 54, the disco-era nightclub, and later by suggesting a philosophical link to the famous “satyric scene,” third in the series of Vitruvian/Serlian scene types following the tragic and comic scenes. Betsky writes:
The third scene is more difficult to describe. It is the scene of myth, or stories of which you do not know whether they are true or not, where the everyday and the miraculous mix. It takes place in a mixture of the man-made and the natural, the real and the imagined. Ruins and trees create a framework that shows us our own society in a mirror that reveals both its temporality and its order, its natural beauty and its artifice, all wrapped around nymphs, satyrs, and other hybrid creatures.
I will propose a queer space as a kind of third scene, a third place for the third sex, that functions as a counterarchitecture, appropriating, subverting, mirroring, and choreographing the orders of everyday life in new and liberaring ways.
Betsky suggests that he arrived at this understanding of the satyric scene via the writing of architectural historian Anthony Vidler who, in his essay “Scenes of the Street,” mined the three Vitruvian scene types for architectural resonance as streetscapes. Betsky, it seems, is responding directly to the famous woodcut illustrations of Serlio’s text, not the text itself which doesn’t correspond accurately to his observations.
Relevant topics: heterosexual sex, gay sex, inner/outer, public/private, urban/rural, spectacle, Inigo Jones, the Renaissance stage, one-point perspective.
How does this relate to scenography?
Betsky’s writing is particularly relevant to lighting design with its interest in spectacle, mirrors and shifting sensory experience divorced from physical matter or reality.