Stories Questioning Queerness: An Interview with Nomy Lamm
Queer identity and subjectivity are key focal points of several exhibitions at the Warhol Museum, including the current Theater of the Self exhibit by Yasumasa Morimura, the recent showcase of Caldwell Linker’s photographs in All Through the Night, and the work of Andy Warhol himself. Behind these artworks and performances are incredibly diverse, passionate people with much to share about creating spaces for art, activism, and community in a constantly changing world.
When I initially reached out to Caldwell Linker about the “Questioning Queerness” interview series, one of the first people they recommended that I contact was Nomy Lamm. Nomy is a San Francisco-based musician, performance artist, author, and activist whose work has inspired many who identify as queer and/or are frustrated with popular conceptions of body image. She has been a friend and collaborator of Caldwell’s for 10 years, and she created the soundtrack to Caldwell’s exhibition slideshow that was presented at the Trans-Q Live! event at the Warhol Museum. I hope you will enjoy this interview with Nomy, which reveals a lot about her fascinating work, relationship with Caldwell, and thoughts on the Pittsburgh queer community!
How do you know Caldwell?
I met Caldwell at a Halloween party in 2002. Caldwell was dressed like a Catholic schoolgirl and I was dressed like a lamb. We dated for a year, and we worked on a lot of cool things. We started what I can best describe as storytelling through photos. For one project, we placed all of these little trinkets out in the alley behind my house, and we followed them as they encountered different things in the alley. We put these photos together into a slideshow with some music. This is how we often collaborate now – I make soundtracks to go with Caldwell’s photos.
What do you find is the most striking aspect of Caldwell’s photos?
Caldwell captures pictures of friends in a way that they are not posed, but they are beautiful. People look beautiful even if they are making a weird face or crying. It doesn’t feel strange when Caldwell is in the room taking photos because of how Caldwell is so present with people. When Caldwell is around, it feels possible to live your life with the camera there.
What are your impressions of the Pittsburgh queer community?
I played a show in Pittsburgh two summers ago. It was for a touring project called Nomy Lamm & the Whole Wide World, which I worked on with performers DavEnd and Erin Daly. I liked the Pittsburgh community; the people were really sweet! When you’re on stage and look out at people, you can tell if they are there to consume something or just there to be a part of it. [At the Pittsburgh show], people were making eye contact and listening really closely during our performance. There are specific people in the audience I can still remember because of the energy and connection.
Can you tell us more about the soundtrack you created for Caldwell’s exhibition slideshow?
I worked on editing a soundscape. It had a bunch of different live recordings. The main component is a cover that I did of Cyndi Lauper’s song, “All Through the Night.” I am doing vocals and playing accordion.
How has “All Through the Night” been an inspiration to both you and Caldwell?
I love Cyndi Lauper, and her music has always been really special to me. Growing up, it was so important to me to know that she existed – that there are girls in the world who are tough, doing what they want to do, and not trying to play a role to make others happy. “All Through the Night” is a beautiful, romantic song. I love taking it, slowing it down, and simplifying it to focus on the dynamic vocal tensions.
It’s one of Caldwell’s favorite songs that I do. We played it a lot, starting when Caldwell and I were living in Chicago ten years ago. Now that Caldwell is documenting the queer community, the song has meant a lot to them.
Beyond the current soundtrack you are working on, how do you plan to continue collaborating with Caldwell?
Even though we don’t live in the same place, I still ask always ask Caldwell to take publicity photos for different projects. I have a partner that I’m collaborating with in various ways, and we always say we need Caldwell! I think it’s because I know Caldwell so well, and what I get from Caldwell is what I want. And I love getting to make music for Caldwell’s slideshows!
What are some other upcoming projects of yours that we can look forward to?
I’m involved with Sins Invalid, which is a project for queers and people of color who have disabilities. So, it draws attention to sexuality and social justice. I directed an artist-in-residence project with them, and I have a film with them coming out.
I also wrote a book called 515 Clues. It includes a handful of characters in all different kinds of places, such as a trans person in 1880s Poland and a 13-year-old Midwestern girl living in the present day, whose story is based on my experience spending time in a Shriner Hospital as a kid. My work as an adult has been about untangling these memories of hospitals, abandonment, and separation from family. The book focuses on moments of trauma and transformation and how they are mirrored in each other’s lives. I find that the places where we experience the most isolation are also where we are most connected to other people – we all have that experience of aloneness. But what if we could directly contact people from that place? I’m interested in exploring a dream world connection through nonlinear ways.
For more information about Nomy Lamm’s work, please visit her website, nomylamm.com. Also, follow updates involving Sins Invalid at sinsinvalid.com.