Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Performance with Golden Egg by Kate Barry

Q: Is the golden egg worth it?
A: That is always the question...

This is part of a conversation I overheard between an audience member and curator Adriana Disman while I was performing Performance with Golden Egg outside the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Saturday June 27. The performance involved pushing a raw egg for three and a half hours in the courtyard of the museum. I pushed the egg with my nose, while crawling on my hands and knees. 

This performance was part of LINK & PINS' series on Labour. LINK & PIN is a performance art series curated by Adriana Disman and currently housed out of Montreal's RATS 9 gallery. Last weekend seven artists performed six works that related to the theme of labour. The artists included myself, Johannes Zits, Kale Roberts, Nabeela Vega, Danny Gaudreault, LIDS (The Ladies' Invitational Deadbeat Society), Golboo Amani and Maggie Flynn. You can read more about these artists and their projects on the website: LINK & PIN

Needless to say, the idea of labour is a challenging and paradoxical issue for most artists. In Performance with Golden Egg, I want to speak to manual labour (pushing the golden egg) and its relationship to the economy (the golden egg). The piece attempts to emphasizes the dirty, sweaty and thankless position many working poor and working class people find themselves in with manual labour jobs. It also highlights a position many artists face as we try to survive Harper's cruel and brutal austerity measures that have diminished much of our cultural sector in Canada, leaving many of us jobless and poor. 

Performance with Golden Egg is not an easy performance to watch, nor is it easily understood. This type of artwork could only be a labour of love, or what Peggy Phelan might refer to as a labour of political resistance. What brought me to the LINK & PIN festival is the desire to support, and to be supported by a community of creative people that are willing to create political work and willing to have difficult and messy conversations. Festivals such as LINK & PIN are vital for people like myself who enjoy freedom of artistic expression and who can see the benefit(s) locating oneself on the outside. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Suzanne Carte featuring Heather Cassils, Francisco-Fernando Granados and Rashaad Newsome

By Kate Barry

In 1999, I curated an exhibition at Emily Carr University in the Concourse gallery titled, Illicit 
Delights to investigate the question, why queer art? I am still contemplating this question in 2014 since the queer art movement has proven its ability for expression outside of rigid gender and identity norms of contemporary society, or outside of what Michael Warner has coined as hetronormativity. This month Performance Art13 further discusses the idea of queer art, affect and socially engaged art practices from the perspective of Toronto based curator Suzanne Carte. Carte joined me in conversation last month to discuss artists Heather Cassils as the resident of Creative Campaigning: Performance as Resistance Series, Francisco-Fernando Granados at World Pride, and Rashaad Newsome’s upcoming spring exhibition at the Art Gallery of York University. 

Francisco-Fernando Granados, Study for true colours, 2014

KB: I am wondering if you could touch upon what curating queer culture might mean in terms of your interests in affect and socially engaged art practice?

SC: Queerness is around me. I participate in it, contribute to it, and am drawn to it. I am dedicated to creating a platform for discursive, experimental, and performative education for and with artists. That usually means reimagining and reinterpreting what models are already out there and manipulating them - essentially queering them.

Not all of the queer artists that I work with are solely dedicated to LGBTTIQQ2S equity issues, but do participate in social justice activism. In working on campus with AGYU, I strive to give opportunities to students to learn from and alongside artists on how to effectively mobilize and harness anti-oppressive actions and language through art. By making art and activism synonymous perhaps it can assist to build future leaders who think creatively and respond innovatively to adversity and conflict.

Art has long been a form of resistance against oppressive forces. Within moments of great political upheaval and social change there is a place for artistic intervention to uncover injustices and discover shared aims. Learning from LGBTTIQQ2A artists’ movements, youth activists can understand how addressing power through cultural production is a viable means in pursuing a political or social end. I hope that through collaborative projects students can question and examine what it means to be an activist and how to communicate to an audience and/or opposition with new strategies, queer strategies.

Heather Cassils Fast Twitch// Slow Twitch, video still, Heather Cassils, 2011

KB: There are many facets of art and queer culture for us to discuss here, where to begin... As the Assistant Curator at AGYU your focus on the role of activism is especially engaging in light of York University's rule forbidding mass gatherings on campus (i.e. protesting).  Can you tell me about your choice of artist Heather Cassils for Creative Campaigning: Performance as Resistance Series and their relationship to politics and socially engaged art?

SC: When I get excited about an artist the first thing I think is, “more people need to see this!” That’s what I felt when I saw Cassils’ Fast Twitch/Slow Twitch in LA during the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions and immediately knew that I wanted to bring their work to the students at York. Excited by the strength and physical presence of Cassils, I was curious to see how a performance could take shape by connecting the direct engagement of social action with that of corporeal action. Cassils has since challenged me to think of exertion as both the effort of the body and energy of an idea.

We are in the construction stage of the piece now building partnerships with the Department of Fine Arts, Kinesiology, Dance and Social Work, as well as student organizations under the umbrella of the York Federation of Students (YFS). The students will be able to draw on Cassils physically demanding performance methodologies to infiltrate the public spaces of the Keele campus, thereby creating a place to vocalize concerns and activate movement.

Visiting Artist Heather Cassils, Info Sharing Session with student leaders, Feb 7, 2014 

The performance will concentrate on the areas of the York campus that are still available for mass gathering. We are still in negotiation as to what the performance can be and how to work in collaboartion and consultation with the students, but Cassil has expressed interest in divising an action where participants will run the periphery of the sanctioned space highlighting its silencing force. Ability to voice concerns through traditional means of public protest has been removed by the university’s administration over the past five years. The University’s student paper Excalibur recently published an article lamenting the decline of student activism and suggested that it was in direct correlation to the corporatization of York. It stated that, York University was once an open institution that was used as a safe space to express different views, but unfortunately, the university's administration has made clear their views on protests and the consequences the students will face if participating in such activities. While activism may be dormant on our campus, it isn't dead. Frustrated youth activists will be able to change the administered zone into a positive space through physically moving around it.

The project is still a work in progress but already has proven to challenge both of us, which is always the most exciting part. 

KB: Heather Cassils’ AGYU residency that supports new modes of student mobilization in light of the Draconian laws at York University is very exciting.  Next, can you tell me what is AGYU doing for World Pride this year?

SC: The project that AGYU is embarking on for WorldPride this year is with Francisco-Fernando Granados. The commissioned piece is asking individuals coming together to support Pride, “What are your true colours?” Granados invites us to re-imagine the palette of the queer flags by filling in the stripes with colour combinations of our choice. The accumulation of the flags will be the basis of a community banner to be seen by millions on the parade route. Both as a work of abstraction and relational process the project, true colours, aims to create an open-ended visual experience that evokes the incalculable multiplicity of queerness.  The project was born out of the students’ theme United We Are Different for the York@WorldPride festivities where is directed Granados to redirect focus back to the roots of Pride activism. I invited Granados because he has a history of producing politically aggressive work and understood that as a professor and community mentor he would be able to work collectively with multiple student groups. I knew that he would be able to see beyond the glitter and feather boas (as the usual tropes of Pride) and push to get at the heart of queer courage and celebration.  The student activists have responded to his grassroots working methodologies. The LGBTQ+ undergrads on campus and student leaders are extremely sophisticated in the way in which they present ideas and form alliances. I have learned a lot from them through the collaboration and working process. What they need are accomplices, not apathetic allies.  With projects such as Creative Campaigning and true colours I hope to prove that we can be just that.

Rashaad Newsome, still image from Shade Compositions, performance, SFMoMA, 2012.

KB: It will be refreshing to see Fernando Granados’ activist flags at Pride this year.  
Lastly, I would like to touch upon the work of New York City based artist Rashaad Newsome. I definitely had that ‘more people must see this!’ feeling when I saw his video Shade Compositions. I feel in love with Newsome's work right away, it’s sensuous, playful and cutting at the same time.  Can you tell me what excites you the most about Newsome’s upcoming spring exhibition at AGYU?

SC: The endless possibilities are the most exciting right now. Newsome has so much performance documentation to review and edit from recent projects at The Drawing Centre (New York) and Headlands Center for the Arts (California) an upcoming one at steirischer herbst (Graz), a multidisciplinary festival.  For him the video is a work in itself not secondary to the performance or acting solely as a document. The dancers perform for the camera and the audience simultaneously.

Shade Compositions is a perfect example of that duality. Featuring a choir of women and queer men of colour throwing shade, the performance is choral experience for the live audience and translates (through high production quality of the documentation) into a cinematic experience for the future audience. The work exemplifies the distinctive celebratory tone of Newsome’s practice. Whether it is rejoicing in the Black vernacular or observing queer African American culture it is done with pride from an insiders prospective.

Not afraid to take on new challenges, Newsome operates seamlessly from the subculture of gay voguing to the hyper heterosexual world of hip-hop.  The Conductor mixes clips of gesticulating hands and beats from rap videos with the music of Carl Orff’s epic cantata Carmina Burana.  Newsome culled a roster of Hip Hop heavyweights, featuring Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, Rick Ross, and the Notorious B.I.G., from the top played hits on New York radio stations. It becomes a contemporary history document providing a snapshot of a distinct moment in the ever-fluid and fickle music scene.

The first two parts played in MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” exhibition in 2010 and he is currently editing another two that utilize the same crowd-sourcing methodology to identify the artists that are producing popular hip hop today. We are discussing the full installation potentially for the AGYU exhibition.  It will definitely create a fierce sonic explosion in the gallery.  

Also exciting - It will be the first time that his work will be shown in Canada too but really the most thrilling part of any exhibition is getting a chance to meet and learn from another artist.  Rashaad Newsome has already educated me on the art of the “death drop” as he catalogued moves from dancers in the New York ballroom scene in Untitled and Untitled (New Way) (2010) and on the techniques of hair performance with FIVE (2011) so I am really looking forward to discovering new things with him in Spring 2015!


Suzanne Carte is a curator and art critic. Her exhibitions have appeared across Canada and Australia, and her critical writing has been published in Magenta Magazine, Art Writ, and Huffington Post. After working for the Blackwood Gallery and the Art Gallery of Mississauga, she joined the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) in 2008 as Assistant Curator. Within Suzanne’s independent practice, she has curated exhibitions in public spaces, artist-run centres, commercial and public art galleries including All Systems Go!, Under New Management, MOTEL and Man’s Ruin. Suzanne sits on the Board of Directors for Images Festival,  the largest festival in North America for experimental and independent moving image culture. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art History from Sotheby’s Art Institute in New York and a BFA from the University of Windsor.


Heather Cassils

Francisco-Fernando Granados

Rashaad Newsome

Art Gallery of York University

Saturday, March 15, 2014

11:45PM: FADO Performance Art Centre's Emerging Artist Series.

By Kate Barry

Our culture is not very good at being with time. There is a tendency to ‘kill’ time, or not to be aware of time —a sense that it’s oppressive. We are also fearful of time passing, of the aging process. Of import is attending to what we’re going through rather than hiding from it, escaping from it or seeking diversion from it.

—Alastair Maclennan-

How do artists use time as a medium to create live performance? How does long-duration performance affect and change the role of the spectator? Typically an audience will come and go during a long-duration performance, and in spite of the fact that most audience members won’t experience the entirety of the performance, the question for both artist and audience remains the same: what happens when time becomes palatable and visceral?

For the 2014 installment of FADO’s Emerging Artists Series we have created a framework for the direct exploration of the medium of time by challenging artists to create a durational performance of a minimum of 6-hours and up to 4-days long. The call for submissions brought us the work of five female artists from Toronto, Montréal, and Ottawa: Arkadi Lavoie Lachapelle, Emma-Kate Guimond, Jessica Karuhanga, Anthea Fitz-James and Rah. Their individual practices were loosely knitted together by themes of ritual, repetition, and language.

As a curator, I am absorbed by the socio-political content of the works of these artists in relation to the female body. In her book, Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America (2006), Jayne Wark referred to a category of literature on performance art that takes the body as its focus. She discusses how issues of subjectivity, identity, gender, and race are explored by female performers as a form of artistic language to express ideas through an in depth communication with their audience. I am concerned with how the female body is negotiated by artists in pop culture, art history, and through performance and live art. I wonder, how is meaning produced through social relations that are marked, or performed, on the body? I am fascinated by how the five artists in 11:45PM use their bodies as metaphors for psychic, cultural, and institutional codes and signifiers ranging from race to gender to sexuality, to class and ability.

Arkadi Lavoie Lachapelle
In her performance 6hours 6minutes and 6seconds Arkadi Lavoie Lachapelle explores the idea of superstition in relation to her body and everyday domestic objects that had been deemed “evil.” During the performance, Lachapelle manipulates the so-called evil objects in a kind of cultural alchemy, transforming each object symbolically through a series of interactive gestures such as balancing them on her body. In doing so, the objects morph from being perceived as inherently evil, to becoming objects with “the right to exist”, as Lachapelle states. She draws from the approach of artists such as Esther Ferrer and Boris Nieslony, whose practices share the desire to mediate between the body, materiality, and the otherworldly. The objects in Lachapelle’s performance have been either anonymously donated by people in Toronto, or have been collected from Montréal addresses with 666 in the street number. Each object is wrapped up and waiting in the gallery space. Not knowing what the objects are prior to the performance infuses each object/body relationship with suspense and curiosity. What is intriguing about Lachapelle’s performance is that her body is implicated in these questions of good and evil. In some religious lore, the human body itself can possess the ‘mark of the devil’. In the height of the Inquisition marks such as moles, scars, birthmarks, skin tags, supernumerary nipples, and blemishes indicated that the individual was a witch. Even today, the derogatory slang for menses is “the curse.” In 6 hours 6 minutes 6 seconds, Lachapelle uses a precise measure of time to search for equilibrium between her body and the object, while creating an elaborate ritual of good and evil.

Emma-Kate Guimond
In digestion/liquidation, Guimond formulates task-based actions utilizing the substance of milk to explore the sensations of attraction and repulsion in relation to her body. Audio recordings made during the performance of a single phrase repeated for 60 minutes, create a circular narrative in which meaning is questioned, and then obliterated through repetition. Performing in a dress soaked in milk, Guimond’s investigation brings forth the idea of the abject, specifically with regards to the classic essay, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection by Julia Kristiva (1980). The abject in Kristiva’s writing refers to the fear patriarchal societies construct in relation to the female body and sexuality. In her essay Kristiva talks about those messy and unpredictable aspects of the female body, its (un)pleasant fluids and substances. Guimond’s washing and wearing of her milk-dress makes reference to the female body’s connection to the abject through its bodily fluids such as breast milk, blood, sweat, and spit. In Guimond’s piece she performs an astute tableau of female subjectivity and bodily being through language, audio-recordings, and repetition.

Jessica Karuhanga
Over 4-days and with the help of members of the public, Jessica Karuhanga braids herself long hair. Radically long hair. Woven together with her natural hair, the growing trail and physical weight of this new hair will eventually effect and impair Karuhanga’s mobility. She explains, “This gesture will highlight the ritualistic and repetitive aura of braiding hair particularly for women of African descent who have a penchant for actively and passively participating in these transformations.” In The trip, and the fall, and the lost heap of longing hair is a powerful and forceful metaphor signifying the artist’s experience with the rituals of beauty and consumption. During the performance a video plays from a laptop, a home video of Karuhanga’s childhood, showing her mother braiding her sister’s hair. Personal grooming, and hair weaving and braiding, act as a site for female bonding between mother and daughter, and between women. Karuhanga uses hair as a signifier for the socio-political and racial hierarchies formed in personal relationships between family members, friends, as well as the racial hierarchies found in pop culture and in the canon of art history. Karuhanga creates a performance where her own hair is racialized and eroticized in order to call forth the politics and economies of the beauty industry, while she directly confronts issues of body image, gender, sexuality and race.

Image credit Henry Chan.

Anthea Fitz-James
Unraveling the Daughter’s Disease: Secrets, Knitting and the Body tells the story of Fitz-James’ Great-Aunt Pearl’s incarceration through textile and sound. Throughout the 2-days of her performance, Fitz-James unravels the sweater she is wearing while simultaneously re-knitting the yarn into a new clothing object. This ‘embodied-knitting’, as Fitz-James describes it, is traditionally a domestic act, but in her performance it becomes a radical gesture of resilience and strength. During the performance, audio-recordings played on a loop from speakers scattered throughout the space tell the story from the perspective of different family members. The stories weave together the voices of her mother, her aunt, and her sister as they tell the story of one woman’s incarceration, which still affects the family today. Unraveling the Daughter’s Disease: Secrets, Knitting and the Body attempts to offer insight into how anxiety and trauma is passed on through generations and performed on the body.

Rah’s performance seeks to demonstrate her confidence in, and personal struggle with her identity as an Iranian-Candian woman. In Ululation, she responds to the recent political debate and discussion surrounding the province of Québec’s latest encroachment on individual rights to religious expression through its attempt to ban religious symbols in the workplace. During her performance, Rah wraps herself in a black Chador, a garment worn by woman from Islamic countries to show religious affiliation. She unravels the Chador as she rolls across the gallery floor in a gesture of physical endurance and political resistance. As she unravels herself from the garment’s cocoon-like enclosure, she reveals herself to be wearing a traditional dress worn by woman in Shomal in the northern regions of Iran. Leaving a trail of clothes throughout the gallery as she dresses and undresses, the artist continuously ululates — a sound created by moving the tongue rapidly back and forth repetitively to make a sharp noise. Ululation represents a celebration, but it can also be expressed during times of mourning and sadness. In Ululation Rah’s gestures of concealment and removal, silence and noise, action and stillness, act as a metaphors for personal agency that respond directly to institutional codes that discriminate against people based on their religion, race and class.

The performance projects in 11:45PM explore ritual and temporality, and themes ranging from the supernatural to the transformative. The title of this series refers to a suspended moment in time as a way to highlight the importance of being in the moment and allowing oneself to fully experience a work of art. Or from the perspective of the artist, when creating a performance it refers to the exacting and concentrated focus that is needed to carry out a series of ritualized actions over a long-duration, both suspending and performing the everyday. 11:45PM also draws ones attention to that magical hour of midnight where anything can happen. 

11:45PM: FADO's Performance Art Centre Emerging Artist Series. 
Curated by Kate Barry

MARCH 8 TO 29, 2014 Xpace Cultural Centre, 2-303 Lansdowne Avenue

Unraveling the Daughter’s Disease: Secrets, Knitting and the Body by Anthea Fitz-James, Saturday March 8, 12—6 PM, Sunday March 9 and 1—5 PM, Sunday March 9. 

digestion/liquidation by Emma-Kate Guimond, Sunday March 16, 12—8 PM 

The trip, and the fall, and the lost heap of longing by Jessica Karuhanga, Wednesday March 19 to Saturday March 22, 1—5 PM DAILY 

666 by Arkadi Lavoie LachapelleFriday March 28, 6 PM—12 AM 

Ululation, by Rah, Saturday March 29,  12—6 PM


Thursday March 13, 7 PM FREE,  In Time with a Body: Duration as a Performance Practice Artist talk by Paul Couillard

PANEL DISCUSSION: Saturday March 29,   6:30 PM FREE,  What Happens After Midnight: Artists Panel Moderated by Tanya Mars!

For more on the Emerging Artist Series and to read the artists Bios, please visit FADO's website: http://www.performanceart.ca/index.php?m=program&id=272 

All images and photographs are copyright, 2014. 

For more information on FADO Performance Art Centre, please visit the website: 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

DROPPING WINEGLASS FALLING DOWN: A tribute to our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts.

By Kate Barry  

Berenicci Hershorn is a Toronto gem. Her recent work DROPPING WINEGLASS FALLING DOWN demonstrated the richness of an artist who has been performing throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and into the twenty-first century. DROPPING WINEGLASS FALLING DOWN was performed, in November 2013, as part of the Babble (Babel) Public Performance Event, Hart House, University of Toronto. Babble (Babel) was a series organized by WIA (Woman in Action) Projects, curated by Pam Patterson and Leena Raudvee. As Hershorn explained, "this series was formulated to examine the nature of language and communication within a feminist framing to reference the immigrant experience of our female ancestors."

In a recent interview with me, I asked Hershorn to describe her performance in the once MEN-ONLY Hart House, University of Toronto:

“You climb the stone stairwell to the second floor and find your way down the hall to a small room. You enter by a door in the centre of the room; there are two large banks of gothic windows on the opposite wall. The room is dark, there are no lights on, and it’s an overcast day. I stand at a lectern in the centre of the room, two long tables stretch towards the doorway on either side of me. There are chairs placed in clusters against the walls for the audience to sit on. On one of the windowsills there is a large silver 'boom-box' with the aerial up and pointed out. The audience might wonder, is it broadcasting? Or is it receiving? The music that accompanies the performance is the sounds of a distant thunderstorm overlaid with the sounds a child intermittently practicing piano scales.

On the tables are several place settings, each contains a large empty bowl, a small bowl of salt, a candle, an onion, some matches and an egg. At another station, at the end of the table and apart from the place settings, there is a silver bucket full of water, a large knife, a stack of towels and a pile of soaps of various kinds in white and pink and red. The scent of these soaps overpowers the room."

Photography credit: Amy Wilson

Photography credit: Amy Wilson

Photography credit: Amy Wilson

In this two-hour performance art piece, Hershorn took her rightful place as a woman and an artist in the Hart House study and lecture room. She created a ritualistic atmosphere in order to remember and pay homage to her ancestors. She called up memories from her childhood and memories of her mother, her aunts and her grandmothers. Through an exploration of memory and its links to body and the sensorial, Hershorn elevated everyday kitchen items such as bowls, knives and dish towels. She enticed the audience’s senses with the potent mixture of soap and onions and she used the everyday actions of chopping vegetables and cleaning to create an artistic tableau.

DROPPING WINEGLASS FALLING DOWN attempted to examine how memory functions, how it is formed and most importantly, how family lore is often based on memory. In the performance, the artist spent hours cutting spiral ribbons from a thesaurus. This action of cutting paper was inspired by Hershorn's childhood memory of cutting spirals for the first time from a flat piece of ordinary paper. This was her first memory of being an artist. It was the first time she felt that sensation of creating a 3D object, opening up for her young self a new sense of space and time.

Photography credit: Miklos LeGrady

For this performance Hershorn goes back to that liminal moment of childhood fascination. This time, however, she is investigating memory. Specifically, she examined memory in relationship to information that has been lost, she is curious about the memories that are unspoken and missing from her family history. Hershorn describes her process in detail.

"At the lectern, I am slowly and painstakingly cutting long spirals out of pages ripped from a densely worded thesaurus. I am in deep in concentration and I take what seems like a long time cutting each spiral, opening up the flat pages into long fragile ribbons and tossing them over the edge of the lectern. Once I have several paper spirals cut and tossed, I move around to the other side of the lectern and I stretch out each paper spiral ribbon and I place them along each of the tables.

I then pick up the knife and walk to one of the bowls, I pour the salt into the bowl, and I chop the onion in two, I set the candle in the salt and I light the candle. I walk with the knife to the water bucket and I wash it with one of the scented soaps, the scent overwhelms my face. Then, I dry my hands carefully and I return to the lectern to resume my paper spiral cutting from the book.

These actions are repeated over the two hours of performance until all the soaps have been used, all the candles lit, all the onions cut. The smells of the fire, the sulphur, the perfume and the disinfectant creates a physical presence in the room.”

In her performance, the actions of cutting spirals out of the thesaurus, pouring the salt, lighting the candle, cutting the onions and washing the knife, symbolized her search for her lost history. Each spiral she created represented a memory, and it also symbolized the told and untold stories of her family's experience of immigration. The cutting, chopping and ceremonious placement of items on the tables also represented the spoken and unspoken memories in her family's matrilineage.

I am motivated to write about DROPPING WINEGLASS FALLING DOWN because I think it is important to create a form for performance art that shifts away from commodity fetishism and the cult of the celebrity artist. I am responding here to a trend in the art world regarding super rich & famous people taking up precious real estate in museums and galleries as performance artists, curators, or by posing as experts in the field of visual culture. The beauty and authenticity of Berenicci Hershorn's performance, DROPPING WINEGLASS FALLING DOWN simply moved and inspired me to celebrate an artwork about real imagination, genuine creativity and artistic talent.

WIA is a feminist platform run as part of the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) at the at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto. http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/cwse/Women_in_Action_Group_(WIA)/index.html

Berenicci Hershorn upcoming performances includes a Performance Installation at Hamilton Artists Inc. The performance is Friday, July 11, 2013, 7-11pm. The installation remains on view until July 31, 2014.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Haunted Lesbians: Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue’s Kill Joy’s Kastle.

By Kate Barry

Having just completed the Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House tour, it was difficult for me to form a clear sentence as I was escorted into a small room and seated on a faux-fur stool. I was to be a part of a “processing session” with a Real-Life Feminist Killjoy, the fabulous writer Sarah Schulman. The group I was touring the haunted house with managed to discuss the artwork with some coherence and someone asked a critical question, does ths project suggest that lesbian feminism is dead? The thing that struck me about this question, in the context of the haunted house, is that it illustrates the ghosts of lesbian feminist’s past are still keeping the theory, the activism and the art alive. Being someone who is obsessed with death, I know things never fully die instead they take on new forms.

On opening night, when I first entered Allyson Mitchell’s Kill Joy’s Kastle there were posters of warning and encouragement from lesbian political organizations and magazines from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. There was a graveyard installation dedicated to these organizations that have now deceased:  Queer Nation, The Lesbian Avengers, D.A.R.E.(Dykes Against Racism), Lesbians Against the Right, L.I.A.R (Ladies into Anarchist Readings, On Our Backs,  among many others.

At the beginning of the tour, our guide from the Demented Women’s Studies Professors group, Dainty Box, greeted us. Our Professor sternly lectured us on the hellish antidotes of the uber privileged claiming to be feminist but who, in fact, work to propagate the status quo.

Gravestone for Lesbians Against The Right, Allyson Mitchell, installation, 2013.

Dainty Box,Demented Women's Studies Professor, performance, 2013.

According to Mitchell, the research for this project included investigating real-life Evangelical Christian hell houses. Apparently these hell houses are a tradition in the Evangelical religious sect dating back to the 1970s. In fact, in the Niagara Falls region there are FIVE of these haunted houses. The religious hell houses are created to put ‘the fear of God’ into you through the fear of death, the devil and also the punishments associated with the Judeo-Christian act of sin including, the sins of homosexuality, polygamy, abortion and so on. Unlike the tradition of Evangelical hell houses, Kill Joy’s Kastle was a unique feminist performance and installation art space filled with Mitchell's tongue-in-cheek textiles pieces, an assortment of rug-hooked, crocheted, papier mâché and painting constructions. This project was 5-years in the making, and this is clear in its execution. With a team of collaborating artists from various locales, socio-economic backgrounds, race, gender and abilities, Mitchell successfully attempted to create a non-oppressive and inclusive space.

Christina Zeidler as Felice Shays, performance, 2013.

 FASTWÜRMS’ as The Scary Shaft Inhabitors, performance, 2013.

What impressed me the most about Kill Joy’s Kastle was its use of parody. For me, it is easy to be angry and OUTRAGED as homophobia, transphobia and 'lezphobia' is still so prevalent worldwide. It is also easy to offer shortsighted and reactionary responses to this complicated art project, and complex dialogue around misogyny, if you haven't even experienced the installation, or bothered to research Allyson Mitchell extensive body of contemporary artwork. With that said, what is more difficult to do is to think creatively and subversively around ways to respond while having a good and therapeutic laugh.

The opening night of Kill Joy’s Kastle was a hilarious adventure to undertake. Sometimes its humor was sublime as with FASTWÜRMS’ performance as The Scary Shaft Inhabitors. The FASTWÜRMS’ piece involved a trio of three real-life witches who performed the act of drinking each other’s “sperm”. At other times the hilarity of Kill Joy is in your face such as The "Lesbian" Zombie Folk Singers or The Ball Busta.

The highlights of Kill Joy’s Kastle included the hellish folk singing and scary ball-busting. There is nothing like a zombie-lesbian-feminist singing Ani Difranco’s Both Hands or Christina Zeidler as Felice Shays singing Valerie Solanas' S.C.U.M ManifestoThe Ball Busta performance included two dykes at a tool bench smashing plaster castings of Truck-Nuts. Truck-Nuts are from car and truck culture and are decorative items some people use to embellish their automobiles; they are often hung under the license plate of a car or truck between the rear wheels to exhibit the “manliness” of the driver via their big balls. Changing the context of Truck-Nuts by casting them in white plaster is very comical -since they are the ultimate representation of white patriarchy.

Lorri Millan and MC MacPhee, The Ball Busta, performance, 2013

To backtrack, and in order to give you some context around Allyson Mitchell’s inspiration, I want to talk about the feminist reclamation of the term killjoy. Mitchell stated in a radio/podcast interview with Roy Mitchel on Roynation that the idea behind Kill Joy’s Kastle comes from Sara Ahmed’s book “The Promise of Happiness.” According to Mitchell, in Ahmed’s book she used the term killjoy to refer to the prevalent stereotype of feminists as being humorless. Killjoy is a stereotype that represents a societal preoccupation with the idea of an unhappy feminist/outsider. The concept is that “real happiness” is rewarded to woman who do everything correctly by societies definition of a proper woman, that is, she conforms to gender norms, she marries a man, bares children and lives an upper class or middle class lifestyle but (most importantly) she is anti-feminist.

Historically in Western’s dominant culture the ideal woman is defined as white, heterosexual, ablebodied and thin. Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House tells another story as it addresses the truths of real-life. It speaks to gender and queer identities and ways of being outside the norm. Kill Joy’s Kastle and Allyson Mitchell’s theory and artistic practice coined “Deep Lez” is also concerned with keeping radical art, activism and idea-making alive and relevant to the 21st century. Kill Joy is about the politics of anti-assimilation surrounding queer practices. In Mitchell’s interview on Roynation she asks, what happens when queer identity is appropriated into mainstream culture such as gay marriage?

Personally, I think that when queer culture is assimilated aspects of queer identity die, such as the so-called 'identity crisis' Canadian queers experienced when gay marriage was legalized. When this happens things also change, morph and take on new forms and new ideas. To be honest, I am happy when aspects of queer culture die, leaving us with the traces and ghosts of our past. Even at the cost of being appropriated by mainstream society and having to endure horrific missrepresentations of lesbian culture. Or having to watch as gays spend exorbitant amounts of money on marriage ceremonies. A culture that does not change would be the most frightening thing. Despite my gender and class angstI am pleased about gay marriage as a victory for human rights.

Allyson Mitchell’s Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House is more than an entertaining event, it is a performance and installation space that carries on feminist discourse from past generations and brings a much needed dialogue around queer feminist performance and installation art into the 21-century. By way of example, if in 1972 there was no feminist art installation and performance spaces such as the woman-only Womenhouse (organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro), would there be a trans positive and queer positive space such as Kill Joy’s Kastle in 2013? No, probably not. Kill Joy’s Kastle would not exist if it was not for the discourse and argumentation of past generations. There is even a direct reference to Womanhouse at the entrance of Kill Joy's Kastle in a sign that reads, "this ain't no woman haus!" Mitchell’s project makes a direct reference the death of old ways and the shifts in theory and practice in the last 41-years.  Her project furthers lesbian feminist discourse through the death and rebirth dynamic where the ghosts of our ancestors paradoxically inform and keep discourse, art and activism alive. 

Both queer culture and the art world are similar in that artists, writers, activists and so on, carry on debate from one generation to the next. I think culture needs things to continuously change and unfortunately that change is often fueled by a cultural assimilation or appropriation. I am not suggesting that the power issues involved in cultural appropriation or assimilation are always a good thing, or even an ethical one. What I am suggesting is that, artists require death in order to create.

Allyson Mitchell, 2013.

Kill Joy has spawned many questions and there is so much more  ghoulish detail to write about! However for the purposes of this blog posting I have offered you a sampling of subjective walk through from my opening night adventure. 

Kill Joy’s Kastle is open 17-30 October, 4-8 p.m. at 303 Lansdowne Avenue. Fear no art and check it out!

Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted Housean presented by Art Gallery of York University (AGYU).

Full list of artists/participants:

Felice Shays as 
Valerie Solanas

Andrew Harwood as Madame Zsa Zsa

Lee Airton 

The Jolly Goods

Christina Zeidler, and Gretchen Phillips as The "Lesbian" Zombie Folk Singers

Mo Angelos, Natalie Kouri-Towe, Dainty Smith, Shawna Dempsey, 
Moynan King and Ponni Arasu as The Demented Women's Studies Professors

Chelsey Lichtman as 
The Polyamorous Vampiric Granny

Eli Campanaro as The Carpet Muncha

Tracy Tidgwell and Jamie Zarowitz as 2 Adult Women in Love

LJ Roberts and Silky Shoemaker as 
The Dank Cave Dweller and
 Labrys Guillotine Operator

Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Dana Bishop-Root, Jess Dobkin, Trixie & Beever as The Paranormal Consciousness Raisers

Carolyn Taylor as The Straw Feminist

Lorri Millan and MC MacPhee as 
The Ball Busta

Golboo Amani, Steph Markowitz, Juli(a) Rivera, and Anni Spadafora as 
The Gender Studies Professors

Kalale Dalton, Coral Short, Petra Collins and Shary Boyle as The Riot Ghouls

 The Scary Shaft Inhabitors

Rachael Shannon, Jesi the Elder, and Flare Smyth as The Garbage Monsters

Amy Lockhart as 
The Bearded Clam Operator and Kitten Midwife

Aleesa Cohene as Ye Olde Lesbian Feminist Gift Shoppe Keep

Sarah Schulman, Ann Cvetkovich, Ann Pellegrini, and Kim Crosby as Themselves!
(The Real-Life Feminist Killjoys)

Deirdre Logue, Emelie Chhangur, Philip Monk,
Chris Mitchell, Brette Gabel, Johnson Ngo, Suzanne Carte


Allyson Mitchell website:

Roynation blog: