Celebrity and the entertainment industry feature heavily in the work of artist Payton Barronian, who sees the landscape of pop culture as a space where impossible fantasies become real.
The concept for their most recent work, PRESENTING, was born five years ago, Barronian explains, as a result of a random Google search. "I don't even know why or how I got to searching the internet for iconic film monologues," they say. "But when I did, I found many 'Top Ten' lists. Nearly all of them were written for and performed by straight white men playing straight white characters. Few others were written for and performed by straight men of color. There was not a single woman, femme, or queer represented."
As a queer artist seeking to expand their community's visibility and representation, Barronian felt uniquely poised to infiltrate this space. For PRESENTING he scouted five femme-identified New Yorkers to perform iconic monologues from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Network, Wall Street, Apocalypse Now, and A Few Good Men -- all originally delivered and made famous by cis straight white male characters.
"The monologue is a space with such intense power dynamics," Barronian says. "In film or theater, the person who gets the monologue is in a position of power because it means, for a certain amount of time, their singular voice goes uninterrupted. Their voice has the authority. They're essentially in control of the audience or viewer, forcing everyone else to hear them. It's also very unrealistic. It's a constructed space of extreme authority."
"Growing up, I never saw people like me performing monologues like that in blockbuster movies," they continue."A big part of this video is about asking what if this was the world? What if these queer bodies and voices were retroactively put into those iconic spaces of authority?"
Barronian's questions were answered on set. "Once we got in the studio, and we were all in a room together hearing these words come from the people I chose to perform them, it became much more evident how commanding and powerful the words are when they are taken out of their original context and put into a queer context," they say. "The piece suddenly revealed itself to be political. We don't often hear a queer voice in mainstream media speaking about how a war is going to end or greed in the stock market. Hearing these familiar words in the voices of my friends was so powerful. Hearing these voices inhabit spaces of hyperbolic authority was both refreshing and commanding."
In the singular moment a performer in PRESENTING swerves away from the script, Out associate managing editor Coco Romack adjusts Robert Duvall's monologue from Apocalypse Now to include the feminine. She says, "Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, girl. Nothing else in the world smells like that," wearing jewel-encrusted hoops the size of her head and batting two perfectly winged doe-eyes. Consider this moment in film history sufficiently queered.