The Foundation is a new film installation by Patrick Staff exploring queer intergenerational relationships negotiated through historical materials. The film combines footage shot at the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles — home to the archive of the erotic artist and gay icon and a community of people that care for it — with choreographic sequences shot within a specially constructed set.
The legacy of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), better known as Tom of Finland, spans multiple generations; his work made a considerable impact on masculine representation and imagery in post-war gay culture. The foundation was established in 1984 by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner to preserve his vast catalogue of homoerotic art, whilst endeavouring to — to quote the organisation’s website — ‘educate the public to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.’ Today, Durk runs the organisation and lives in the house, along with a handful of other employees and artists.
Rather than focusing on Tom of Finland’s work, Staff’s film evokes the foundation as a set of relations. He explores how a collection is formed and constituted; the communities that produce and are produced by a body of work; and ideas of intergenerational relationships and care. Through observational footage of the house, its collections and inhabitants, the foundation is revealed as a domestic environment, a libidinal space, archive, office and community centre; a private space which is also the home of a public-facing organisation and the source of a widely dispersed body of images.
Staff foregrounds his own identity and his personal dialogue with the different communities of the foundation to consider how ideas of intergenerational inheritance and exchange are complicated by gender identity and presentation; in this context, of a younger trans person in an environment dominated by the overtly masculine, male identity of an older generation. Documentary footage of the foundation is intercut with a series of staged scenes. The set incorporates aspects of the building’s architecture and purpose, operating within the register of experimental theatre. In these sequences, featuring his interactions with an older actor, Staff uses choreography and props to explore the body as a site for the construction and deconstruction of subjectivities. The language of the stage set is extended by Staff’s new sculptural works, commissioned for this exhibition, which make use of materials designed to construct the image of an exterior.
The Foundation is co-commissioned by Spike Island, Bristol; Chisenhale Gallery, London; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Co-produced by Spike Island, Bristol and Chisenhale Gallery, London.
With thanks to the Tom of Finland Foundation. The Foundation is supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, The Elephant Trust and the Genesis Prize.