Documents Installation and Collaborative Performance Work, National Queer Arts Festival, San Francisco

Frank Pietronigro’s Documents is a time-based interactive work that was first experienced by an audience at the Diego Rivera Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1996. The work is interactive insofar as the audience is encouraged to walk on the salted words as an act of recuperation.

The work begins with Pietronigro kneeling on the floor, a gesture that is both erotic and humble. He then salts the floor with continuous lines of text comprised of homophobic words. These words are tenuously structured into a “painting support,” in this case the floor. They are also structured into our language, thus reinforcing the homophobia that permeates much of our culture.

Pietronigro’s intention is for the audience to confront the dilemma of breaking a taboo by “walking on the art.” By doing so, their footprints will become devices of recuperation as their steps on the salt deconstruct these negative signifiers. Each step democratically contributes to the ongoing development of the composition. The use value of the work is a ritual of affirmation in places of communal transition.

As a painter, Pietronigro prepares a canvas, so to speak, as salted text on the floor. However, it is the path of the viewer, whether conscious or unconscious, that serves as the paintbrush.

The words that Pietronigro used in Documents were sourced from the Oxford English Dictionary and the Dictionary of Slang. The litany of words in English is provided below. João Pedro Vale is now expanding Documents to include words in Portuguese.


homo, nance, lily, boy snatch, capon, flamer, drag queen, main queen, nelly, nellie, pansy, priss, gay, sod, queer, jasper, poofter, moffie, arse-king, arse, arsebandit, bud sallogh, shitten prick, booty bandit, backdoor man, gentleman of the backdoor, back-gammoner, inspector of manholes, dirt track rider, turd packer, dung pusher, poo jabber, hock, gash, pussy, gentleman pussy, sea pussy, boy pussy, boy snatch, boy cunt, bum boy, boy cunt, poonce, brownie queen, queeny, browning sister, queen, mustard pot, jere, molly, jarjery, mary ann, charlotte ann, miss nancy, nance, pansy, mary, betty, dinah, ethyl, nola, gussie, broken wrist, limp wrist, flit, mince, mason, male oriented, faggot, fagot, faget, fagatt, faggat, faglad, faggoteer,  angel, baby, salesman, cake eater, sister, three letter man, four letter man, poof, pouf, poofter, horse’s hoof, horses, cow’s hoof, iron hoof, iron, puff, collar and cuff, cuff, nigh enough, enuff, queer, queir, queyr, quere, brighton pier, ginger beer, ginger, king lear, gear, pork and beans, submarine, cock sucker, head worker, blow boy, flute, fluter, freak, frit, cannibal, gobbler, girl, jocker, piccolo player, pix, peter puffer, larro, mouser, muzzler, dick sucker, dickie licker, skin diver, nibbler, lapper, lick box, homosexual, chicken, chicken delight, chicken hawk, bronco, left handed mintie, mola, out, mandrake, paleface, pogey, bird taker, man’s man, third sexer, eye doctor, punk, jocky, trapeze artist, tusk, wolf, ring tail, rocks, sissy, mason, male oriented, identified, mason, male oriented, Philly Lou Bird

Documents is a powerful and thought-provoking work that challenges the audience to confront their own homophobia. It is a reminder that language has the power to both harm and heal. By walking on the salted words, the audience is invited to participate in a ritual of affirmation and reclamation.

I continue to perform this action in various public spaces engaging the audience in dialogue about the work during its development.  Documents has been used in schools to draw the attention to the negative impacts of name calling and bullying.  We see below students from the Park Day School in Berkeley, California using Documents as a tool to look at name calling and its impact by using salt to document the negative words these students have been called themselves. The students brought from their classrooms lists of recuperative and positive words to replace the negative signifiers.

Documents first installed by Frank Pietronigro, Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, 1996