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Rolando y Gary are two characters from comics of the 70s; Rolando, for humoristic purposes, is a caricature of a camp, closet gay. Gary is proud to be gay and empowered by the –recent– conquest of LGTB rights.
Let’s contextualise briefly the production of these two characters: the seventies, an Italian editor– Renzo Barbieri – and some anonymous authors. It was shortly after the Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous and violent demonstrations protesting against a police raid in the small hours of 28 June 1969. These disturbances are frequently cited as the first occasion, in the history of the United States, when the LGBT community fought in an organised manner against a system that persecuted and hounded them with the consent of the government. The riots are generally recognised as being a catalyst for the LGBT movement in the United States and the world as a whole.
So we have comics about queers, produced in the majority by heterosexuals, for an apparently heterosexual public that employing stereotypes defines –and displaces – masculine homosexual desire. In the case of Gary, the sublimation and baroque use of symbols to represent desire reaches delirious extremes. Explicit talk of gay pornography is avoided through drawings (think for example of the flashes and skulls used in some comics to refer to insults) of sausages, putti showing their bottoms, cages and other bizarrities.
To be hetero at that time and buy these comics must have been something like the vibrators that are sold under the label of “shoulder massagers”. How great the power of negation and self-delusion! Second readings are needed, from other positions, in order to understand the subtle nods or bring up to date certain codes. Such as when you discover representations of San Sebastian, during the Baroque, were acquired to amuse the eye with abominable sin.
Rolando e Gary are recuperated and reinterpreted by the artist Francesc Ruiz in their original format: the drawing and the comic. But with the addition of this second reading that links them to queer, to other openly gay authors and comics such as Ralf König or Tom Finland and crosses them with contexts of contemporary art. This project by Francesc Ruiz, that alongside Pepo Salazar and Cabello Carceller will form part of the Dalinian sujetos that will represent Spain in the Venice Biennale this year, couldn’t begin from a better place: el Palomar.
This year (if I remember rightly at the end of October) one of the most emblematic bars of the LGTB scene in Barcelona closed its doors. La Bata de Boatiné or the “watering hole for queers” – as it was described in some of its precarious publicity – lowered its shutters forever. It had been there since the 90s, in the calle Robadors, one of the hot spots for the later refurbishment and deformation of the Raval, ex barrio chino and currently the district to Ravalear (sic) and stroll, surrounded by police, posters where one reads “we want a decent neighbourhood”, parks and cement squares, and increasingly modern bars. Chucking the sexual workers and suspicious characters out the zone passed for remodelling the streets and their establishments.
La Bata held up for as long as it could, as if it was the barco de Chanquete amidst the gentrification. Various circumstances lead to a premises closing, but it’s worth pointing out the kiss of death given by the BRIMO, when on the 28 June 2013 they decided (it was never quite clarified who gave the order from behind a desk) to do a re-enactment of Stonewall. That’s how we celebrated the day of LTGB pride in Barcelona, with a police raid, broken doors, identifications, searches, blows and intimidation. An effective way of reminding us of the reasons why we continue to celebrate gay pride.
La Bata was one of those bars for the LGTB community that wasn’t frequented by the Gaixample (we’ll save discussing the scarcity of lesbian bars in this zone for another day) and supposed an alternative to the leisure of the pink pound, supposedly canonical for the LGTB community. It is worth saying that apart from leisure, certain collectives crossed paths here and set in motion the production of other imaginaries and discourses: Post Op, the Quimera Rosa, the Pornoterrorista… That is to say, apart from being one of those so-called “safe” spaces for expression and social relations of a precarious but empowered LTGB community, it was a meeting point for the recreation of practices, desires and political alliances that today, still suppose a threat to the amiable and modern trademark that the city of Barcelona endeavours to display.
Gentrification and transparency; a barren, asphalted square, with the Filmoteca, a luxury hotel, the bar with a terrace café of the aforementioned Filmoteca and the bar that is now stands in front of where La Bata had been. All these buildings are curiously fucking transparent, made of glass; their whole interior visible from the outside.
La Bata was a dive that you gained access to by ringing a bell until someone on the inside opened the heavy steel and glass door that separated the calle Robadors from the bar’s interior, basically a dark tunnel with a small space at the end.
The new leisure bars (that one has to say are openly gay friendly) respond to the homologated model of a much more flexible and heterodox collective than the one which normalisation aims for. This amiable and banal transparency doesn’t permit any type of second reading or re-appropriation; what you see from the outside is what you get on the inside.
Barcelona 2015, Rolando – this time consciously camp, empowered and queer – opens a chat in Grindr and contacts a certain Gary, who waits for him sitting on a bench in the Rambla del Raval. They meet and comment on how much the barrio has changed; there is no longer any trace of those dark alleys and doorways that Jean Genet or much later, Ocaña and friends traipsed their way through on so many nights. Rolando and Gary decide to pack their bags and meet again in Venice.
Bye Bye Barcelona, the Ciutat Morta.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)