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CAMPerVAN, all images by Theo McInnes

Work / Art

Samuel Douek on his pop-up queer art space CAMPerVAN at Tate Modern

Samuel Douek is a 26-year-old filmmaker from London. “I’m a trained architect but after seven years of sacrificing my sanity I managed to escape the shackles of construction and forge a career out of dodgy documentaries about queer pubs closing down,” he explains. These days, Sam’s never-stop work ethic takes him everywhere from Tel Aviv to L.A., producing, designing, directing and editing “fashion films and slightly better queer docs” and working on his first narrative feature. 

The former architect turned filmmaker is also the man behind CAMPerVAN, a queer event space on wheels which will be parked at the Tate Modern tonight. Samuel conceived CAMPerVAN as part of his master’s at the RCA. Since then, the caravan has travelled around London and further afield, to Essex seaside town Jaywick, and Sam plans to drive the caravan across Europe later this summer.

As Samuel prepares for the CAMPerVAN’s debut at Tate Modern, where, as part of this month’s Tate Lates, the caravan will play host to talks and performances from spoken word to drag (watch out for an appearance by Sam’s audacious alter-ego Chutzpah), we caught up with the multi-talented creative to find out more.

Where did the idea for CAMPerVAN come from? Where has the van travelled to date?

The queer CAMPerVAN was inspired by the widespread closure epidemic of nightlife venues around the British capital after 2008, many of which were queer. 

Such places of socialisation are intrinsic to a marginalised social group like the LGBTQ community. The feeling of loss among my peers was palpable – the venues where I had grown to become who I am today were vanishing. 

I didn’t set out to resolve the disappearance of queer spaces. Rather, I used my thesis as an exercise in trying to determine what makes a space queer and whether I could recreate these characteristics. Basically I wanted to see if it was just the people who make a queer space, or if specific architectural characteristics could make my Wendy house a bendy one. 

Since its creation the CAMPerVAN has popped up regularly at events like Peckham festival hosting a plethora of free performances, workshops and discussion groups featuring everything from the London ballroom scene vogueing battle to a panel with UCL urban lab and countless drag queens. 

How do people react to the CAMPerVAN outside the M25?

To date, the CAMPerVAN has only travelled outside of London once: to Jaywick near Clacton-by-Sea. Jaywick has consistently been voted the most deprived area of the UK and was the subject of much scrutiny following sensationalist and problematic Channel 5 programme Benefits by the Sea

After its inception, I wanted to bring the excitement of queer performance and cinema that inspired me to build the van to areas that don’t typically have access to queer arts. 

After initial suspicion from the local residents, we were very quickly welcomed by the tight-knit community who engaged with the drag king Frankie Sinatra (the main act that evening) so much more than I had anticipated. 

In fact that experience has inspired me to consider a strategic tour to other similar areas around the country at a time when xenophobia and far right ideologies seem to have a grip on large swathes of Britain. 

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CAMPerVAN

Why, in 2017, is there a continued need for queer performance spaces?

Queer performance spaces are the environments within which I learnt to be proud of who I was and what I was capable of. For the majority of my life since coming out at 15, I continued to deny myself certain behavioural traits or friendships that would banish me from heteronormative acceptability. 

It was the spaces where I saw stubbly 6’4’’ drag queens lip synch Maya Angelou that helped me to come to terms who I was and be proud of that. 

Now if I see a sissy fag sashaying down the street I snap my fingers and applaud their attitude. Before I found myself immersed in queer performance spaces I would have said, “God why does he feel the need to make such a point of it?” 

These prejudices still exist. If we aren’t exposed to alternative modes of being then it becomes very difficult to celebrate and experiment with expressions of identity. 

CAMPerVAN is parking up at the Tate Modern tonight. Give us a glimpse into what you’ve got planned.

Tonight the CAMPerVAN will be featured at Uniqlo Tate Late’s July edition focussing on queer art. We will have three performance sessions and three discussion sessions. Performances range from spoken word to contemporary dance, drag to heavy metal rock thrashing. The whole point of programming these events was to provide diversity of content to appeal to an umbrella of different audiences – and always always be free. 

These will be interspersed with a discussion on mental health chaired by Amelia Abraham, a Q&A with myself and UCL Urban Lab, and finally an analysis of queer art around the world led by my long term CAMPerVAN right-hand man Fiontan Moran.

Describe your own performance persona…

I have experimented a lot with different performance personas. Most recently, Chutzpah the runaway Jewish bride with good hair and a bad attitude has been dominating the stage with narrative sagas of heartbreak and drug addiction driven by the beat of various Ariana Grande lip synchs. 

However, as my filmmaking develops, incorporating elements of performance through other actors, I have begun paring back my own performance art – moving away from drag as female impersonation and more towards abstract, minimal responses to contemporary politics… something I’ll be sampling at Tate Late. 

Where next for CAMPerVAN?

Very excitingly, the CAMPerVAN has been invited to feature in Switzerland’s first ever queer festival this September. As such we decided to make a trip of it so will be touring around Europe for 13 days visiting Brussels, Rotterdam, Berlin, Prague, Paris and Zurich. The ambition is to make an epic documentary about queer performance art and events across the continent, inviting local artists to collaborate, providing access to a queer space which can be deployed anywhere and repurpose poses for any type of event. I can’t wait to spend two weeks in a busted CAMPerVAN with two queens arguing about who gets to wear which wig. 

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CAMPerVAN