'Time puts its stamp on everything': Eileen Myles on Moyra Davey & Peter Hujar

Peter Hujar, 'View from the World Trade Center', 1976

Steve died. He was huge. He was 50 and lived in the apartment downstairs right by the front door. His Yankees sticker is still there. He went into the hospital on March 2nd and died on March 22. Anna at the laundromat told me. Anna’s quite bent, deep into her 80s. I remember her in her 50s a mean and vivid woman. She got older the place is filthy many of the machines are broken but it’s on the corner and I’m weirdly loyal to it. Steve worked there usually standing outside and I think he delivered bags for Anna. He helped me lug things upstairs too. Years earlier he lived right next door to me with a crowd of people. I remember when he was a little boy and he was thrown butt naked into the hall as a joke. I was coming up the stairs and he was desperately pounding on the door. Your neighbor died Anna told me when I was getting my change. Steve I asked. He’d be standing outside my front door when I came home from wherever. Hey Steve. Was it covid I asked. We don’t know. His sister comes once a week to get the mail Anna said. She comes on Tuesday. They still send it. I told her the post office doesn’t take you off for a while. They’re worried the landlord won’t give back the security she intimated. What’s it like five hundred dollars. Two. Two hundred and something. Then I turned hoping his sister would come in. And now this place is familiar less. I mean everything perpetually feels more unconnected to a past when I was young and the Tin Palace on E 2nd street was a jazz/poetry bar and Stanley Crouch held court at the bar. He died last week. My friends who were bartenders lived in this building and I just went over here one day on my break and I could have it the super said and I moved in. This is like 1977. Time puts its stamp on everything.

Moyra Davey, 'Leg', 1984; 'Jane', 1984

This leg. I’m beginning to print the pictures out. 55 or 56 of them. It looks lousy but you get the graphic thing of it. I have four hanging over my bed. Moyra was interested in the quality of hair smooshed when wet. It’s about not shaving. Isn’t it funny or cool that hair does this. And those droplets below the ankle. One on the calf. It’s a specimen leg, not unloving or dead. Just deeply specific. To take my leg or that leg and say this. The black line at the bottom further holds back the organic nature. Like suturing it. So the show goes leg, nude, Kate (without scruple.) I’ll print out ‘nude’ now.

That’s Peter. Haptic. I’m thinking of smell too, a palpable kind of photography. It’s 1979. Not so much gym-bodied. A little pimply. But rounded in creamy way, the shadows merely enhancing the casual folds of skin around the waist. Not fat, but turning. Everything’s turning. Like flesh is the clothing of some- thing I think the spirit. And this is definitely the photograph of the person (taking it) who knew that he was attractive so though it doesn’t wind up being about him, it is an affirmation of a touchable world, a world close. The picture is chosen by Moyra Davey who among other things when she sees (whether she’s shooting or curating) is I think interested in the exquisite math of it. The body. The leg. The time of day (I’m thinking now of Jason in his studio) when your love is young and you already see him for years.

Peter Hujar, 'Nude Torso', n.d.; Moyra Davey, 'Kate (without scruple)', 1984

What’s Moyra’s birthday. August 13th. Leo. She doesn’t even know her chart. Of course. Peter’s a Libra. Seems right. The surgent woman and the sexy dead man. Here’s ‘Kate (without scruple)’ and ‘scruple’ is such a catholic word. Scruple is a unit of measurement. An apothecary word. Even Canadian. In 1981 Moyra Davey is 26 and Kate, delicate — is exposed here as muscle, frame and pose. She’s not uncomfortable. It’s a little regal, a little stiff. There’s a pathetic quality, like a ceremony is begun in these early shots — a female career — gendered by the impromptu (but private) studio of sisters, family and this elaborate challenge (‘Kate’) that makes me fool differently with the lens of my under- standing of what a body is. Who’s looking, who’s positioning who. It’s vernacular yet deliberate. It’s intense. It’s a subversion, I believe. The stiffness of these early photos are like waking in the prop room of Moyra Davey’s later films. What I experience here is without words, an ambient feeling, though Kate’s name is there on the wall and a declaration of freedom is within — ‘without scruple’ not cold but coolly pronounced on that teeny black border — and this composition (of everything) has begun.

Moyra Davey, 'Rosie (bedroom)', 2013

Excerpt from Eileen Myles’ text in The Shabbiness of Beauty by Moyra Davey & Peter Hujar, published April 2021.

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