Our 2023 exhibition Reckless Rolodex honored the late Lawrence Steger’s lasting, though largely overlooked, influence in Chicago’s artist and queer communities. Steve Lafreniere reflects on his collaborative work with Steger in the following interview conducted by our former Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Award intern Tayvon Kelly:
Tayvon Kelly: How would you describe Lawrence’s impact on contemporary artists?
Steve Lafreniere: At the time, during the 90s, Larry became a known and respected quantity on the Chicago art scene. He influenced his peers in performance circles here with an idiosyncratic combination of costumed styling and succinct, darkly humorous writing which used both classical and pop motifs, sometimes at once. He took from a wide variety of influences and synthesized them into something new. In this way, he always reminded me of David Bowie, and like Bowie, he was always moving ahead.
TK: How did creating with Larry influence your artistic practice?
SF: I’m not an artist, so not sure how that would apply. But I was a writer at that time, in local mags and zines, so, I was able to interview Larry and promote what he did. I organized events, especially at Club Lower Links, and brought him onto the bill for those. I was a graphic designer as well; I made a few contributions that way. But Larry and I collaborated on a landmark event together. SPEW: The Homographic Convergence at Randolph Street Gallery in 1991. It was the first gathering of queer zine makers before that was even a term. You can read about it here.
TK: I read somewhere that you helped implant the idea of The Swans in Larry’s mind. Can you speak more about what drove you to share that idea with him?
SF: No, I had little to do with The Swans. I did design the “logo” for the posters and flyers, but the actual performance piece was independent of any suggestions of mine. Someone told me that somewhere on the script it reads “Dedicated to Steve Lafreniere,” but I’ve not seen that myself.
TK: On a more personal level, do you recall any changes in Lawrence’s work after his HIV diagnosis?
SF: Larry’s last performance was at Randolph Street Gallery in an evening with various other performers called The Faux Show. In it, he lip-synced Alice Cooper’s I Love the Dead on a hospital gurney, while two “attendants” attempted various methods of keeping him alive and, failing to do so, ended up forming a Broadway kick line with him instead. Very much Larry’s gallows humor, but with a dollop of true horror given his medical circumstances.