Nonbinary Difference: Dionysus, Arianna, and the Fictive Arts of Museum Photography

Asa Johannesson, Clair Le Couteur

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This collaborative essay explores a pair of museum photographs depicting the same marble sculpture: a Roman copy of a Greek fourth-century BCE bust of Dionysus, housed at the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The first photograph is an anonymous twentieth-century reproduction – with Arianna printed underneath, crossed out with ballpoint – found by Åsa Johannesson in the Eugenie Strong Collection at the British School at Rome archive. The second is a photograph of the bust made by Johannesson in 2017, taken in response to the archival image. As nonbinary trans people doing artistic research through practice, we explore the assemblage of associations and resonances generated by these images to articulate relations among photography, labeling, gender, museums, and archives. We aim to display complexity and connectivity, rather than to draw firm conclusions. Following Karen Barad, we refer to our approach as a material-discursive method. The interconnections in museum collections – links formed between things by classification and labeling, by grouping and arrangement, by histories and myths – are simultaneously semiotic and material.

Mislabeling has material consequences and leaves traces; myths, too, may have tangible effects. These links cannot be reduced to the zero-sum fields of true/false or object/label; instead, they suggest a fictive, contingent mode. With this essay, we are not aiming to discover forgotten truths, nor to place or displace entities within established or novel forms of categorization. Instead, we sketch one method of exploring networks of association in museums to demonstrate the complex and paradoxical operations of what we label nonbinary difference: a generative potential that foregrounds instabilities, rather than a given identity to be represented.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMuseums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism
EditorsJoshua Adair , Amy Levin
ISBN (Electronic) 9780429202889
ISBN (Print)9780367195090, 9780367195106
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameMuseum Meanings


  • non-binary
  • nonbinary
  • dionysus
  • museum object
  • photography
  • materiality
  • new materialism
  • material-discursivity
  • gender
  • queer


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