Blog / 2022 / Film Star for a Week

April 22, 2022

Lambertville artist Gwenn Seemel with Crime Against Nature and Joan Roughgarden’s book, Evolution’s Rainbow
photo by David Vanadia

It started with a chance encounter. I was wandering the library one day in 2006, looking for a title I can’t even remember, and instead I ended up rewriting my life by picking up Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow. This book would first completely blow my mind and then, six years later, inspire me to write and paint my own book. Ten years after that, Crime Against Nature is why I had a film crew following me around for a few days.

Belgian filmmaker Aline Magrez and Lambertville artist Gwenn Seemel in her studio
photo by Pierre-Nicolas Blandin

Belgian filmmaker Aline Magrez is documenting the impact of Dr. Roughgarden’s work, in part by talking with artists like me, who took the scientific proof that queerness is perfectly natural in the animal world and made something beautiful and approachable with the information.

Belgian director of photography Adrien Heylen and New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel in her home
photo by Pierre-Nicolas Blandin

We spent a few days shooting in Lambertville, where I now live and work. Sharing my new studio space and home with Aline and her crew was especially satisfying because I love all the new tweaks and touches I’ve added to my work setup in the new apartment. Here, Adrien Heylen, the director of photography (and philosophy), is filming me reading from Evolution’s Rainbow.

New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel with film crew at the beach
photo by David Vanadia

But the shoot wasn’t all rainbows and queer animal magic. We also went to Long Beach Island, a beautiful spot on the Jersey shore that’s toxically conservative and that’s also where I lived for six years.

conservative rainbow flag
photo by David Vanadia

The motivation for the return to LBI was to juxtapose the pride flags and “hate has no home here” lawn signs of Lambertville with the increasingly alarming array of right-wing paraphernalia on display at the shore. I mean, what even is this? A Blue Lives Matter flag that has metastasized and morphed into a kind of conservative rainbow?

film crew in a car
photo by Gwenn Seemel

That’s Pierre-Nicolas Blandin, sound engineer extraordinaire (AKA seeker of silence), with a thumbs-up in the middle, and my partner David is driving. We all enjoyed our day at the beach, even though, unlike in Lambertville where the camera and mics provoked only friendly curiosity, LBI residents opted for a more Neighborhood-Watch-esque tone when they asked us what we were doing.

Crime Against Nature, the book
Crime Against Nature, the book

Aline’s visit was full of joy, but also a lot of self-reflection. It brought one major worry into focus for me. Namely that I thought I’d resisted the conservativism of the Jersey shore more successfully, but, from the perspective of the expansive rainbow-colored present in Lambertville, I see how small I was making myself in order to fit into a community I had no business living in.

It’s the right-wing way to demand conformity and drain rainbows of their vibrance. We’re seeing it now in the self-censorship happening in American schools, as teachers and librarians opt to remove reading materials that refer to queerness or feature a nonwhite character before a conservative parent can make a fuss. With enough social pressure, freedom of speech doesn’t even need to be made illegal for speech to be effectively censored.

But, in hopes that homophobic nationalists never manage to fully take over, here’s a book that will remain freely available as long as I have a website. You can download a copy here!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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