The particular strand of One Direction fanfiction known as "Larry Stylinson" casts band members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson as more than just boy band BFFs. The portmanteau of the two bandmates’ names positions them as secret lovers, a theory that quickly sprung to life in response to the closeness they share amongst members of the group, regardless of the high profile relationships each has had with women over the years.
What might seem like nothing more than an alternative, constructed boy band narrative has become the basis for Larry!Monument, a series by British artist Owen G. Parry, on display as a part of the group exhibition Common Property at London art space Jerwood Visual Arts.
A sexually charged performance between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson impersonators, a sculptural recreation of Styles’ abdominal region inflated to suggest pregnancy (based on a more specific and bizarre strand within this fanfic), and a banner of the two kissing underwater (a feverishly discussed image within the Larry Stylinson community in regards to its authenticity), are some of the more prominent and suggestive contributions by Parry to the exhibition.
We spoke with Parry to probe his mind regarding his decision to bring One Direction into the art world:
The Creators Project: What in particular drew you to this very specific instance of fan fiction as a basis for an entire body of work?
Owen G. Parry: I bumped into Larry quite by accident. I came across some illustrations by Larry artist Karukara on Tumblr about 2 years ago and loved them despite not being a 1D fan. But what fascinated me the most was that this homoerotic art was female authored and mostly enjoyed by women, making it really different to historical gay works produced and read through the gay male gaze.
There was something that simultaneously disturbed and fascinated me by what appeared at first to be a normalizing agenda… The idealized images of Louis and Harry redecorating their very white middle class home (Larry!Domestic) or posing for a family portrait with their children (Larry!family) become brilliantly weird, queer even, in their normalizing, when Louis becomes pregnant (Larry!Mpreg) or when characters body swap or narratives are re-configured in an alternate universe.
Part of your exhibition includes One Direction impersonators enacting a sexually charged performance. Fanfiction undoubtedly exists in the realm of fantasy, so what was your impetus behind literally fulfilling a strand of fan fiction?
I think that fanfiction can never really be fulfilled because it’s speculative and unfixed in nature—that's why it's so exciting to me. Mine is just one version out of a million Larry fanfics, I just happened to work with my own history, imagination, and skills in creating live performance. The thing that differs is the context; a public gallery as opposed to a 'private' space online or under a pseudonym. Awkward!
It's still fiction, performance fiction. It's still about what could happen or might be happening rather that what happened exactly like that. I see #Larryisreal as an affirmation, like a mystic calling forth of what could really become real and that could be applied to anything we want to make real. And in the end there seemed to be some real full-on chemistry between the Larry boys. After the performance we all went to the pub along with many audience members who continued to observe and speculate over whether they were really going to get it on. The fiction/reality blur became really exciting for all of us!
Have there been any strong reactions to your series by One Direction fans or even the band’s members?
Last week when I uploaded images from the performance at Jerwood Visual Arts to my Fan Riot Tumblr, they began trending on Tumblr. I was really excited to see my work reaching so many people through and beyond performance and art audiences, both online and with groups of fans turning up at the gallery to see Larry!Monument.
There has been a dialogue around the work in the fandom and a care for Louis and Harry that could inspire any critical art community. I still think artists and critics have a lot to learn from the ways fans work. My Fan Riot project has been completely inspired by the ways fans work collectively and respond to extant works, so the fact that they began responding to my work, discussing it, sharing it, re-configuring it, and that I would potentially continue responding, was very exciting. I particularly love responses where the fans discuss the 'weirded out' gallery audience. You start to get a critique on artdom from fandom too, or perhaps these distinctions are finally irrelevant.
The fact that the fans have responded to my work has made the work part of the Larry story. Not that I’ve created a monument or performance, but the fact that the fans are visiting, experiencing it and responding to it means, whether you agree or not, #Larryisreal.
Owen G. Parry's Larry!Monument and other works by Edwin Burdis, Hannah Knox, Rob Myers, Antonio Roberts, and Superflex were on view at Jerwood Visual Arts in London through February 21. Click through to Owen G. Parry’s website.