In Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999), José Esteban Muñoz puts forward a theory of disidentification based on examples from the field of art and camp performative practices. For Muñoz, performances of disidentification are strategies whereby queer and racialised subjects negotiate their identity in a world not meant for them. The dominant ideology, which is the result of colonial processes, has long ensured that minorities are classified as non-normative by the forces of white, heterosexual supremacy. The systemic violence exerted upon them provokes acts of disidentification — as opposed to identification (assimilation) and counter-identification (rejection/opposition) —, by means of which queer subjects rearticulate the dominant cultural codes. Disidentifications are processes not only of creation but also of survival and liberation. In Disidentifications, Muñoz also defines, with regards to these attitudes, the concept of “counterpublics”, i.e. communities and relational chains of resistance that challenge the white, bourgeois, liberal and heteronormative public sphere: “Counterpublics are not magically and automatically realized through disidentifications, but they are suggested, rehearsed, and articulated. Disidentifications are strategies that are called on by minoritarian subjects throughout their everyday life.”
Muñoz devotes one chapter of his book to the art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but he overlooks the series of works in which Gonzalez-Torres uses images of crowds in puzzles, plates and wallpaper. With these works, Gonzalez-Torres joined the long tradition of artists who recognised, in images of crowds, a fundamental motif of 20th-century visual production. To further elaborate upon this concept of disidentification, I would like to start by considering the ambivalent nature of these crowd images. In fact, one of the fundamental problems of the crowd, for liberal schools of thought, is how the subject’s possible identification with a rational and fixed individual becomes diluted, and, therefore, their sovereign responsibility becomes diluted too. This circumstance reveals the extent to which the capitalist states, in the form of liberal democracies, need the subject to become adapted and fixed into one set identity so that the prevailing social order can be reproduced. In this sense, it is interesting to consider how Jodi Dean has inverted Althusser’s classic assertion that ideology interpellates individuals into subjects. For Dean, it happens the other way round: the subject is interpellated into an individual, and this is why crowds are so problematic for the thinkers/protectors of the order. There is a subject who goes beyond the individual form, constrained to a fixed identity. In Althusser, an individual is already a subject before they are even born, given the structure that awaits them and forces them into a particular sexual form, identity and place that conditions them to be produced as that ready-formed subject. This is why the idea of a unitary, autonomous and self-controlled subject has to be challenged by, among other things, processes of disidentification like the ones produced in the crowd experience. Gonzalez-Torres himself, as Muñoz notes, “actively rebelled against any reductive understanding of how his identity affects his cultural production (…) [and he] elaborated forms of representation premised on invisibility”.