Four words protrude, stigmata-like, from a patch of white wall above the gallery’s double doors: “Sign reads: euphoria only.” That they appear next to a glowing emergency-exit sign seems apposite. Lou Lou Sainsbury, in her debut London solo, “Earth Is a Deadname,” unravels the means by which vocabularies created without our consent structure how we relate to our environments. The “interplanetary poetics” devised by Sainsbury and her collaborators articulate strategies of imagining that can surmount the claustrophobic logic of quotidian language, fixating on how narratives of trans being and becoming are constrained by the dominant lexicons of trans-medicalization.
Sainsbury has identified as a “time-traveler,” and a restless play with temporal registers unites the works the show presents. A standing stained-glass installation, Do you think the dead come back and watch the living? (all works 2022), drips honey littered with cigarette butts and dried flowers onto the gallery floor; its effect is both gothic and futurist. A similar sticky discharge recurs onscreen in descending notes, a sensual performance film made in collaboration with Ada M. Patterson and Raffia Li. The soft-colored close-ups and whispered voice-overs unfurl a narrative of undercover alien beings as they play at domestic world-building. A poem co-written by Kari Rosenfeld and performed by Jo Mariner as a sound piece, “The Law of Desire Is Fascist” makes frequent allusions to Saint Augustine, lending a spiritual gravitas to Sainsbury’s visions of extracontemporary trans-femme camaraderie.
This cheekily ecstatic assemblage of works seems to attest that time spent satisfying an unforgiving world’s demands is time wasted; the poem’s declaration that “empowerment is a deadname now” suggests a desire or need to enact ways of being that refuse a given moment’s liberal orthodoxies. Finding solace and security—even, perhaps, euphoria—beyond the colorless strictures of the everyday requires fostering intimate solidarities capable of transcending nothing less than time itself.