An interview with Susan Thomson
In advance of ‘Research Network: Ghost Empire’ at the Stuart Hall Library, we caught up with participating artist Susan Thomson.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and areas of interest.
I’m a writer and filmmaker, originally from Scotland, and based in Dublin. I’ve been working on the ‘Ghost Empire’ trilogy of films, funded by the Arts Council of Ireland (about the North of Cyprus, Singapore and Belize) for the last six years. The films look at the intersection of post-colonialism and LGBTI rights, specifically charting the legacy of British colonial laws which continue to criminalise LGBTI people in 36 countries. I’ve had the pleasure of showing the films at film festivals in New York, Mumbai, Mexico City, London and Glasgow over the last few years, as well as showing work at universities and galleries.
What are you working on or researching at the moment?
I am currently completing post-production on Ghost Empire & Belize with the editor, Fernando de Juan, and this film will be finished by early 2018. Since signing with literary agent Simon Trewin at WME in June this year, I’m also spending a lot of time writing a historical novel/artist’s book about Roger Casement’s trial in 1916. Casement’s homosexuality played a part in his execution, and the book will be a collage of forms including narratives, photographs, letters and other abstract elements.
Why did you apply for the Research Network? Why were you interested in the theme of Virtualities?
I enjoyed going into the Stuart Hall Library to do research when I was living in Brighton a year or two ago, and also coming across conferences quite spontaneously such as the one on black queer filmmaking. The ‘Virtualities’ theme seemed appropriate for my work which deals with questions of historical legacy, with the past refusing to disappear from the present, in the form of colonial laws which form a kind of ‘ghost empire’. I tend to associate the idea of dematerialisation with LGBTI representation – non- representation or coded depictions, queer angels, shamans, the internet which facilitates LGBTI communities, AIDS representations etc. Then there is also obviously the virtual realm of the form of video, film and new media. In addition to this, the ‘virtual’ relates to the anonymity of the person taking the case against the law in the Ghost Empire § Cyprus film, which we’ll be screening at the event, and also relates to the status of the Northern part of the island, which is internationally unrecognized as a separate state, other than by Turkey.
What are you hoping this experience will bring to your practice?
I am hoping to have a good and incisive discussion similar to those I have had this year doing talks on the films at universities. It’s great that there will be an audio recording too so there’s the potential to reach a wider audience.
What would you like the audience to take away from this?
It is not only the colonial laws but the legacy of colonialism in general, in the form of nationalism for example, which can be oppressive towards women and LGBTI people in particular. From a political standpoint the UK needs to do more, because 36 of the 52 countries in the Commonwealth still use these British colonial laws to criminalise LGBTI people. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April in London in 2018 is an appropriate moment for agitation, action and dialogue. The more pressure to keep this on the agenda – rather than simply using the conference to extend UK trade links – the better.
Susan Thomson is a writer and filmmaker based in Dublin. Her artist book The Swimming Diaries is available from Artbook @ MoMA PS1, New York, the ibookstore and is held in the collection of the Live Art Development Agency, and she has written for many publications including Circa, the Times, Women’s News, GCN and JSTOR. She is currently directing a trilogy of documentary films on British postcolonial LGBT issues, Ghost Empire, funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. The trilogy has most recently been screened at Queer Asia Film Festival, SOAS, in 2017, and at Anthology Film Archives, New York City as an Altfest Special Program in 2016. She is currently working on a forthcoming novel which looks at the historical context of queer and postcolonial issues, exploring the trial for treason of Roger Casement.