Finding Animal

Format: Research project
Dates: Nov 2023 — Jan 2024
Language: English
Publication: Online

Research, text, film, design: Chris Gylee

Artistic correspondence: Animal J. Smith

In summer 2022 I wrote a series of 40 poems about my Queer ancestors in response to fragments found in the Schwules Museum archive, Berlin. I found a clipping of the 1997 Bay Area Reporter of a performance artist Animal J. Smith and his work Burn the Quilt at the Grasshopper Palace. The short review included a black-and-white portrait of Animal in a leather jacket. I searched for more information online but it seemed Animal — like so many Queer artists in the crisis years of the AIDS epidemic — had simply disappeared. Then, in early 2023, someone called Joe Smith resposted my poem on Instagram with the same black-and-white portrait. Joe (that’s the J of Animal J. Smith) was alive and well aged 60 in San Francisco. He moved to NYC shortly after the performance, lost his personal archive in the aftermath of 9/11, then stopped making artwork altogether. The hiatus lasted 21 years. 
With strange synchronicity, he found my poem online at the time he wished to return to artmaking. I am intrigued by this connection and will use a research stipend to dive deeper into Joe’s story, texts and works, and to facilitate a considered artistic correspondence. I will create diaries and poetic texts and produce a series of visual assemblages layering image, text and experimental performance film to create an artistic archive of an artist and a time and place of Queer artmaking — and thereby contribute to keeping a part of Queer history alive.

Portrait of Chris with Aslan’s hand holding photograph of Animal from 1997, 31 October 2023, by Óscar Gonzalez.
Portrait of Animal, 30 July 2023, by Alan Smithee.

The lead and thumbnail image is a re-worked scan of the photograph of Animal J. Smith, originally appearing in the Bay Area Reporter, 14 August 1997 — photographer likely to be Rick Gehrharter. 

Finding Animal is a research project by Chris Gylee, supported by Fonds Darstellende Künste with funds from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Special thanks to: Animal J. Smith

Additional thanks to: Aslan; Óscar González; Drew Bourn; the archive of the Schwules Museum, Berlin; the group Stories of SF in the Gay 90’s.