Presented during The Manufacturing Of Rights (Ashkal Alwan, 2015), Toxic addresses how to develop a queer approach to toxicity, a transversal theme of The Against Nature Journal.

The film Toxic shows two protagonists in an undated time, a punk figure in glitter (Ginger Brooks Takahashi) and a drag queen (Werner Hirsch), both of unclear gender and origin. They linger in an environment of glossy remains, of toxic plants and transformed ethnographic and police photography. While the punk gives a speech on toxicity and a performance referencing early feminist art works, the drag queen reenacts an interview of Jean Genet from the ‘80s and blames the filmmakers for exposing her to the police-like scenario of being filmed. The camera turns and depicts the space-off, the space outside the frame.

There is a toxic threshold, a toxic load and toxic waste, there are toxic agents, toxic doses, toxic effects, toxic strangers, toxic queers, toxic people with AIDS. Exposure to toxic substances is associated with the inability to work, with no kids, no future, with cognitive delay, enhanced aggression, with allergies and cancer. Lead has recently become racialized as Chinese, radioactivity and its endurance as Japanese. A toxin could also be a medicine, a so-called hard or soft drug or toxic waste. Might the discourse on toxicity, which installs violent hierarchies, also be able to introduce new subjectivities and new queer bonds (between people and people but also between people and objects, people and masks)? And what happens if another technology and its history–film and photography instead of chemical substances–is focused from a perspective of toxicity?

The film apparatus also uses chemicals and though it is mostly digital today it is even more dependent on toxic substances and toxic working conditions in the production of the chips, of cameras and computers. Its images have been used by anthropology as well as by the police to poison with serious social effects. But the effects of the very doses are not always predictable. When the mug-shot was invented around 1880–a way to photograph a human from two cropped and paired views, one frontal, the other from profile–it was used by diverse state and scientific institutions to identify, which meant, to install social hierarchies: between the photographers and the viewers as "normal" and privileged on the one side and the photographed on the other side: criminals, sexworkers, homosexuals, black people and people from the colonies.

Toxic, installation with Super 16mm film/HD video, 2012, 13'


  • Pauline Boudry
  • Renate Lorenz


  • Ginger Brooks Takahashi
  • Werner Hirsch

director of photography

  • Bernadette Paassen


  • Ouidade Soussi-Chiadmi


  • Johanna Herr
  • Karin Michalski

set photography

  • Ouidade Soussi-Chiadmi

sound design

  • Rashad Becker