Artist's Statement

Sam Zalutsky

The Meat Rack is an infrared color film series explores the deep sense of wonder and desire found in the Meat Rack, a small forest between two Fire Island gay communities, where men have sought connection through public sex since the mid-20th century. Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines have served as a bucolic summer escapes and outposts of freedom for generations of urban gay New Yorkers. The Meat Rack is filled with scraggly trees and shrubs and intersected by narrow pathways, some which lead to the next community while others dead end in the woods. Despite various threats, including sting operations by forest marshals, the pink scares of the 1950s, the AIDS epidemic, and smartphone hook up apps, the Meat Rack continues to be a place where sexual freedom and desire are played out in real time and in a public space, where layers of history can be found in condom wrappers, beer bottles, and tissues buried in the sand along the dead end trails. The work juxtaposes the forest’s natural beauty with a heightened sense of sexuality, connection, and possibility between men; where the person you “spy” down the path or through the trees, figures hidden in some of the images, could engender a passionate sexual encounter. I use infrared color film, a format originally designed by the US military during World War II for aerial surveillance, to foreground the act of searching in a possibly hostile environment; it also “perverts” the purpose of this film stock used by the military (until only recently a hostile environment for queer people) and turns it into a conscious, affirming act of queer sexuality. This series defamiliarizes the bucolic imagery of the forest, heightens the act of looking, and reflects on the hidden codes of gay male culture and public cruising, where subtle signs are still used to both reveal and hide ones' identity, signal to like-minded individuals, and survive in potentially hostile environments.