[The Anarchronist Archive]

The Metamorphoses of Peter K—

The Anarchronist Archive — a photography-based ahistorical research performance — has been supported by The Satellite Fund, administered by SPACES and funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Regional Regranting Program.

About the Project

The Anarchronist Archive — a photography-based ahistorical research performance — has been supported by The Satellite Fund, administered by SPACES and funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Regional Regranting Program.

Additional support for our work has been received from arts organizations, including the following:

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The Metamorphoses of Peter K—

We propose two overlapping realities. In one, we (Mandem) are exhibiting our own newly-created work. Our Anarchronist Archive addresses historical trauma, queer/disabled identity, photosensitivity, and the transformative power of mythmaking. We work with antiquated texts and techniques to create a “stitch in time” — a portal that reaches back to those who walked (or crawled or danced) down the stairs before us.

In the second reality, we are merely curators, presenting our discovery of the lost “outsider artist” Peter K. After finding a stash of prints, negatives, and papers in a Cleveland attic, we endeavored to track down their history and work. The “artifacts” on display are the result of that research.

Peter, whose recovered works date 1900–1907, was a queer/trans photographer diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis and neuroasthenia. (In a time that had lost its language for nonbinary identities, Peter self-described as an “invert” and “andogyne.”) Their work frequently relied on salvaged materials (e.g., old books, leftover blueprint chemicals, or furniture paint). Among things repurposed were half-plate photographs (circa 1880) of a youthful figure in the European Pictorialism style; further research revealed the child model to be Peter themself. In letters, they described their obsessive reworking of these old images as a spell of metamorphosis, invoking their embodied past as a gateway to the future.

As for the artist’s intent, let Peter speak. The following text is from a 1912 postcard (sent five years after Peter’s last verifiable appearance in historical records). We have found no later trace.

 

Beloved, thank you for keeping my book [for me] safe.  I [do not] no longer now expect to return for it, or [you/us] anything.  If you can [keep it] remember me, do.  If not, I forgive you always.  Do not look behind!  There will be no bones left of me to find.  I promised to show you [magic / a miracle and] — something I cannot — but must become instead.  Where once my [body] house stood soon grape vines will cover the rooves and railway tracks and spring will come again.  Tubers sprouting petals convert my breath to final prayers. ne flectat retro tua lumina.  Love remains in moments shared, but you must not.

That is what I wrote to say:  [I must]  [no]  you can choose your own metamorphoses. (I am past choosing).  Now I know: We [are] were never [working] fighting for our lives but living them already.

(re: Candidæ) Be your own Garden.  Even if it kills us, we will die in blossoms and seed the future with invasive vines, fungal [war]wayfaring, spherical-soul-spores of self.  They would make my lot (in life+land) a factory – a poorhouse – a prison or asylum – What walls surround my streets!  But [you] I know that in this inhuman [city] state to bloom at all is a victory. aetatis breve, carpere flores.  I would end w/ "vale" but have no strength to give.  Instead, ferto + farewell.  —PK—