BY Sean Burns in Profiles | 17 OCT 22
Featured in
Issue 230

Queercircle Establishes a Space for London’s LGBTQ+ Artists

Sean Burns visits a nascent gallery that is fast becoming a champion of intersectional voices from across the capital

BY Sean Burns in Profiles | 17 OCT 22

London's emerging artists and gallerists have long contended with rising rents and a diminishing number of spaces. In this dossier, frieze profiles four new galleries — HOME, Ginny on Frederick, Guts Gallery and Queercircle — that are cultivating communities and flourishing amidst the city's many challenges.

In London, as in most major cities, rapid gentrification and escalating real-estate prices in recent years have led to a dearth of affordable spaces for creative enterprises. Transpose this to a queer context and you encounter some terrifying metrics. As Ashley Joiner, founder of non-profit Queercircle, stated in an online interview with Design District Journal earlier this year, more than 50 percent of London’s LGBTQ+ spaces have closed in the past decade. With these ideas of scarcity and equity in mind, he established Queercircle as a charity in 2021, oriented at supporting and celebrating queer artists, curators, organizers and thinkers.  

Queercircle existed as a website and residency platform, somewhere between a magazine and billboard, for one year before the opportunity of converting the project into a physical space arose in 2021. The new permanent gallery and library reside in the Design District, a Thameside development of commercial, non-profit and residential lots in Greenwich. It’s fast becoming an exciting resource for the city’s LGBTQ+ creatives. 

Let Me Hold You (2022)
Michaela Yearwood-Dan, 'Let Me Hold You', 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Queercircle

 When I visited Queercircle in June, the library room – well-stocked with writers from Radclyffe Hall to Stuart Hall – displayed ‘The Queens’ Jubilee’, an exhibition of photographs from Come Together (1970–73), an early Gay Liberation Front (GLF) newspaper. It was the most serene I’ve felt in a long time, in a city where you so often have to pay to be somewhere. Co-curated by Joiner and GLF activist Stuart Feather, the images of 1970s GLF political actions proposed a pertinent connection between current and historical equality struggles. In the main gallery, a succinct wall text introduces Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s Let Me Hold You (2022), an exuberant wall painting containing swathes of greens, reds and yellows beside references to natural forms. Joiner’s selection of Yearwood-Dan to inaugurate Queercircle demonstrates a nous for the city and the scene. It’s a fitting explosion of spirit.  

Group image of Queercircle
Portrait of the Queercircle team. Photo: Guy Bolongaro

The prospect of a gallery infused with queerness is not without precedent: New York has Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art; Berlin has Schwules Museum. Queercircle also joins Queer Britain, a dedicated museum of LGBTQ+ history, which opened earlier this year in Granary Square, north London, next door to Central Saint Martins. Founding a space around the rubric of queerness is undoubtedly tricky because the terminology, by nature, ought to remain elusive and porous. How that translates into an organization with a fixed director and board of illustrious trustees – including artist Isaac Julien and actor Russell Tovey – will always be a negotiation of interests. Joiner will have to stay reactive and open to change to keep up with the shifting needs of Queercircle’s namesake communities.  

The Queens' Jubilee at Queercircle
Installation view of 'The Queens’ Jubilee', 2022. Courtesy: Queercircle; photo: Deniz Guzel

With queer identities increasingly co-opted for consumerist ends, queer folk must have access to resources outside the spectre of profit. As the US senate begins to repeal hard-fought rights – including Roe vs Wade, which protected universal abortion access – it’s more urgent than ever that we bolster the generations of work that enabled such freedoms to exist and continue to support those they protect, including the LGBTQ+ community. Queercircle’s inaugural programme explores ideas of ecology and its political intersections with queerness, including the forthcoming solo show by bones tan jones. An array of conversations, walking tours, workshops and meet-ups run concurrently, addressing topics as wide-ranging as sci-fi queer ecologies with artist Adham Faramawy and the art of suminagashi (Japanese paper marbling) with the founder of Bōk Bindery, Sam Petherbridge. 

Well-meaning grassroots organizations and charities must work in diverse ways – through loop-holes and in collaboration with planners, funders and developers – to make art happen in a metropolis obsessed with real estate, where every square centimetre has a price. That said, we need doers, community leaders and proactive curators, such as Joiner, to cater to the burgeoning needs of complex communities. The idea of occupying space will always be a negotiation; it’s what you do with it that counts. 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 230 under the dossier headline ‘New Kids on the Block’.

Main image and thumbnail photo: Guy Bolongaro

Sean Burns is an artist, writer and assistant editor of frieze based in London, UK. His book Death (2023) is out now from Tate Publishing.