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 when 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 with did manage to discuss the artwork with some coherence. Someone asked a critical question, "does this 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 via the fear of death, the devil, and the punishments associated with the Judeo-Christian act of sin. These so-called sins include: 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, genders and abilities, Mitchell successfully  creates 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. If you haven't experienced the installation, or bothered to research Allyson Mitchell extensive body of contemporary artwork you maybe missing her educated discourse around ending misogyny. With that said, what is more difficult to do and what Mitchell does in this artwork is, she thinks creatively, and subversively about 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 some 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 identity crisis many Canadian queers experienced when gay marriage was legalized. When this happens things 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 misrepresentations 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 ever! Despite my gender and class angstI'm 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 fuelled by a cultural assimilation or appropriation. I'm 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, 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:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

E C O S E X Y: Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens

By Kate Barry

As a performance artist I once married the planet earth. This is NOT the weirdest thing I have done but it was one of the most memorable. Last summer while visiting the Canadian Rockies, I fell in love all over again and I was reminded of my wedding vows, to love and cherish the earth forever. Or as artist Elizabeth Stephens says, to love and cherish the earth until death brings us closer together. 

Way back in March 2011, I met Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens when I married the earth and water, alongside three hundred other people. I performed in their seventh wedding White Wedding to the Snow. The performance took place in Ottawa, Canada in a desancified Roman Catholic Church now called Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. 

This last summer I was informed that Stephens and Sprinkle were also having a love affair with the mountains, the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. To honour their love Stephens and Sprinkle created a film: Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story. This documentary is heartrending and thought provoking. It is a film that walks us through the big business of mountaintop removal (MTR) mining practices with humor, ecosex performance art and truckloads of scientific data.  In the film Stephens sums up her attitude by stating: “Gays and Lesbians can live without getting married, but they won’t survive unless they have drinking water and clean air to breath.”

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story offers the audience a commitment to compassion and respect for the earth as a feasible alternative to environmental destruction. The film questions business practices that exploit the earth’s resources causing direct harm to us and our communities. The film also offers the audience playful insight into Stephens and Sprinkle's personal lives as performance artists and social activists. 

Mountain Top Removal Site. Photo by Paul Corbit Brown

For Sprinkle and Stephens things really started to heat-up back to 2005 when they performed their first marriage ceremony, Wedding One. This first ceremony was foundation for their future creative life together. Harkening back to 2005, I remember it was still considered radical for a same-sex couples to marry in the U.S.A. and Canada. The politics of Stephens and Sprinkle's “domestic partnership” motivated them to publicly proclaim their love as an alternative to the culture of war and environmental devastation, in which they lived. 

Since that first wedding they have produced fifteen or sixteen performance art weddings as well as a host of other visual art, performance art, video, research and writing projects including The Love Art Laboratory and Sexecological Walking Tours and the film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story. 

At this point, I will discuss in greater detail their weddings in order to focus on their history as performance artists within their art & social activism oeuvre. 

In the wedding I participated in, White Wedding to the Snow, I was one of over fifty artists who performed and took part in a ceremony. In the performance we vowed to help protect the earth and its resources. I performed a piece called Snow Painting where I created painting ‘portraits’ as gifts for the other artists and the wedding guests, I used snow on white paper to make the paintings. Prior to performing, I had a conversation with Stephens and Sprinkle about our mutual respect for the FLUXUS art movement. So I wanted to create a performance with a FLUXUS sensibility, I thought a 'snow painting' had this quality since they are paintings that disappeared leaving only a trace or wrinkle on the page. Also, they respond to the over commercialization of art since they are ephemeral.

For those of you who might not be familiar with FLUXUS, they were that notorious group of Manhattan (NYC ) art radicals from the 1960s whose performance art was often politically motivated. Yoko Ono’ Cut Piece, first performed at Carnegie Hall, in 1965 is possibly the most famous example of a feminist performance art piece created during the heyday of FLUXUS.

Like all of Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens' projects things at their White Wedding to the Snow were hot and steamy. Thing began with a phantasmagoric wedding procession that led us to the main stage. Next there were a series of live performances including the ecosexy wedding vows. During the vow ceremony, as described above, audience members were asked to love and protect the earth and its water. This ritual consisted of Stephens, Sprinkle and over three hundred guests vowing in unison to love and cherish the earth, snow and water forever. For those of you who are not from Ottawa, Canada, getting us to marry the snow is quiet the accomplishment after a long, cold and difficult winter. In fact, I never wanted to see snow again. Regardless almost everyone participated and the vow ceremony. This participation granted the audience members an opportunity to become performers themselves. 

The climax of the ceremony was an intimate personal exchange between Stephens and Sprinkle. Their performance turned things up full volume as Stephens and Sprinkle consummate their love with an ice dildo (brrr). During their lovemaking I heard a collective shutter from the audience as Elizabeth Stephens glided the frozen water into an ecstatic Annie Sprinkle. I think many women in the room vicariously shivered during this holy union. I know I did.

White Wedding to the Snow, 2011

Both their Ecosex Wedding Performances and their new documentary, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story marry art and activism in a fun, sexy and diverse way. 

As their manifesto explains:  WE ARE THE ECOSEXUALS. The Earth is our lover. We are madly, passionately, and fiercely in love, and we are grateful for this relationship each and every day. In order to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with the Earth, we collaborate with nature. We treat the Earth with kindness, respect and affection.

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, 2013

For more information on bookings for Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, contact Elizabeth Stephens,


Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story:


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

( )ound, Performance by Coman Poon

Interview and introduction by Kate Barry

On June 29, I had the pleasure of performing alongside Toronto artist Coman Poon during the Proud Voices festival, Glad Day Bookshop and Toronto PRIDE 2013. In Poon’s 45-minute performance art piece, titled ( )ound, he dressed in white underwear and carried around his neck a white cloth bag full of white power. 

During the performance he slowly walked toward and around his lover, Brian Smith, who was located underneath a metal bed. While he walked Poon covered his feet and the feet of audience members in the white powder. When he reached the bed, he laid down on the bare metal frame while Smith lay beneath him. For the duration of the performance, the audience heard faint noises in the background that sounded like various conversations and some low-fi music. The noise came from a soundscape that accompanied the performance and installation. 

This haunting performance piece evoked, for me, deep feelings of entrapment as well as profound feelings of compassion. Poon’s performance brings to mind what Chicano performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña describes as "boundary crossing" or "border crossing". Poon’s performance crossed a range of locals and identities including the personal space of the artist's bedroom and the private space of a  prison. It trespasses sexuality as well as race. 

In the following interview with Poon he states “Like many queer folk of colour, whether I am conscious of it or not, I am and have been imprisoned even though I have not been in a physical jail per se.” He speaks to the fact that people are jailed, raped or beaten for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. As the below interview illustrates, Poon’s research extended to include the United States of America’s Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), a system of incarceration and punishment that exploits prisoners. 

Similar to the work of Gómez-Peña, Poon’s work is critical of systems of power as well it is critical of mainstream society’s compliancy toward these abuses of power. Poon’s performance ( )ound  successfully addresses these human rights issues that go beyond the four white walls of the performance space.

Interview with Coman Poon by Kate Barry

July 2013

KB: What does the title of your performance ( )ound refer to?

CP: Discovering/being locked up in the space of the ‘in-between.’ Bound. Found. Ground. Sound. Wound. These were just a few obvious English words that could emerge from this alphabetical glyph but ( )ound also has a conceptual intent.

I titled the performance/installation ( )ound in the hope that it opens up in the audience the permission “to not know” as well as an invitation to insert or allow their own subjectivity to direct their experience...whether through the visual, embodied, sonic, tactile and/or an olfactory experience.

( )ound, performance by Coman Poon. Photo credit Henry Chan

KB: In your performance I related with feelings of restriction. I felt a great concern for the other performer (Brian Smith) who was taped to the floor. As an audience member I became invested in the performance because I was concerned for Brian’s safety. This experience reinforced for me the larger idea that as citizens we have a responsibility toward prison’s rights and the abuses that occur in the so-called “justice system.” As a queer woman I am able to relate to, or develop compassion toward, people who experience human rights abuse because women and lesbians have not always been considered real citizens. For example, our foremother's had to fight for the right to vote, and more recently we fought for the human right to marriage. 

On a technical note, can you tell me about the soundscape used during your performance?

CP: The ambient soundtrack is found sound from a tour through Seductions (a four-story mega sex store directly across from Glad Day’s event space). During my opening stance I inserted myself in one window of the performance space, beside me was a second window that looks onto an advertisement for Seductions. At the beginning of the performance I mimic the Seductions’ mannequins that sell sexy underwear and the male models on posters. The 30-minute soundtrack includes traces of a conversation with a saleswoman about the various sexy men's underwear that I tried on. The final 5 minutes of the recording is of the nighttime streetscape of Yonge Street, between Seductions and the Glad Day Bookshop. It is part of my strategy to bring inside the outside world as a subtle, everyday sonic anchor and a disruptor of the liminal, or in-between space, of the performance and the city street.

KB: In a subtle way the sound added a lot to the performance. I had no idea what I was listening to, however I found myself trying to figure out what the sounds were as they seemed vaguely familiar.

For your next question I am wondering, where does your interest in queer politics and its relationship with prisoner rights stem from?

CP: Like many queer folk of colour, whether I am conscious of it or not, I am and have been imprisoned even though I have not been in a physical jail per se. I have a natural empathy for those who have been incarcerated and feel strongly that the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) should be dismantled.

While living in Chicago in 2008, I became aware of the existence of Tamms, which housed a Supermax 'correctional' facility where prisoners had been held in solitary confinement for up to a decade. This prison had no yard and no cafeteria much less classrooms or a chapel. This prison did not allow phone calls, any communal activity or visitors and was designed with the tactic of sensory and social deprivation. So called ‘disruptive prisoners’ were sent there to 'break them'. Many were subsequently left at Tamms for years and years, without an appeal.

In the shadow of global controversy over solitary confinement and torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, Tamms Ten Year campaign was launched to raise awareness about this blatant violation of human rights in southern Illinois. At the time, I was part of TRADESHOW, a month-long art-activist initiative in Chicago's East Pilsen neighbourhood that featured devised performances, multidisciplinary installation, talks and community-engaged 'anti-sweatshops' to raise awareness around the intersection between history, labour and social and political injustice.

In the United States and increasingly in Canada, the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems is referred to as the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). As artist-activists, it became an ambition of the TRADESHOW participants that the dots connect between labour rights and prisoners' rights.

Lately, I have been interested in the Roman notion of homo sacer, which is a banned person living outside of Roman law, that is deprived of all rights. He or she is vulnerable to being killed (without the killer being classified as a murderer). This is considered sacred; by this pre-Christian idea of 'sacred', I mean 'set apart' which can also include being sacred or accursed. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben talks about this in terms of someone being reduced to "bare life". Look at what is happening in Russian to queers today and what oppressed (and continues to oppress) African-Americans/African-Canadians, Mexican and Indigenous peoples in North America. You see that these groups share in common the experience of being defined outside the boundaries of humanity.

My initial impulse was to explore the connection and tension between the prison and the metaphor of the 'closet'. To do this, I combined images and rituals to engage the audience on a symbolic level. The installation component of ( )ound consisted of a seating arrangement that faced the installation and centered around the lone figure of a male (Brian Smith) who laid bound to the ground by duct tape echoing the rainbow flag. Smith is situated beneath a raised white metal bunk bed evocative of the ones associated with prison beds. There is no mattress above but rather a set of stark lights that draw a grid pattern of shadows over him. This installation set the foundation for the ritual / performance experience.
( )ound, performance by Coman Poon. Photo credit Henry Chan

KB:You mentioned the role of TRADESHOW in the development of 
( )ound, but I also see a clear connection with artist and political activist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Can you describe, if any, the influence he has had?

CP: As a writer and a performance artist, Guillermo is a trailblazing artist-activist I hold in high admiration. After many years of crossing paths in Chicago and Toronto specifically, I was at last able to work with him during the Winter Intensive hosted by La Pocha Nostra in Tucson this past February (2013). During this two-week period, a group of international artists, academics and activists gathered to participate as well as to witness the US military’s Operation Streamline firsthand.

For those who are not aware of what the USA military’s Operation Streamline is, a fact sheet put out by will be illuminating. I offer the following excerpt from this website because it touches the heart of what radicalized my training and artistic-activist experience with Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra.

"By leveling criminal charges for violations of civil immigration law, Operation Streamline has funneled hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants directly from Border Patrol custody into the federal prison system. After sentencing, Operation Streamline defendants are placed in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which increasingly holds immigrant prisoners in for-profit prisons and detention centers run by prison firms like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Consequently, Operation Streamline has played a key role in the expansion of private prisons, including injecting more than $1.2 billion into the largely for-profit detention system in Texas. Thus, Operation Streamline has not only forced immigrants into dangerous and utterly unaccountable private prisons, but has helped reinforce an industry with a direct financial stake in driving the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants."

I was aware that Operation Streamline is the end result of the border policing and public arrests made under Arizona SB 1070, but witnessing these 'coached' admissions of guilt had the duo impact of implicating us as helpless while tearing us apart emotionally. We were being held in complete silence by the strict rules of conduct in the court of law. In the context of my performance and installation, I was interested in attempting to translate this experience for the audience.

The humiliation of Mexician and Indigenous detainees was a judicial 'show', with men shackled at their wrists and ankles and chained. In place where their families (often living on both sides of the United States-Mexico borders) would have sat were a scattering of public defenders and on this occasion I refer to, 25 artists-activists-witnesses from around the world. Convicted of federal crimes in order to leverage the waiving of heavy state fines, these economic migrants of the globalized world were humiliated and exiled. I did not know it at the time but these men, along with prisoners at Guantanamo, were the USA equivalent of the Roman notion of homo sacer: outside of being human.  

( )ound, performance by Coman Poon. Photo credit Henry Chan

Friday, June 7, 2013

Imponderabilia: Re-enacting Abramovic

By Kate Barry

Imponderabilia was first performed in 1977 by Marina Abramovic and Ulay at Galleria Comunale D’Arte Moderna, in Bologna, Italy, for the duration of ninety minutes before the police shut it down. It was first created and performed during the height of second-wave feminism of 1970s, a time that brought about changes in mainstream society’s understanding of sexuality. It was a time dubbed the sexual revolution.

In North America this era brought feminist consciousness, public nudity, birth control, gay and lesbian rights, as well as ideas of “free love” (sex outside the institution of marriage), into a wider consciousness. I am reminded that many iconic performance pieces from this era employ nudity as a transgressive strategy, most notably Vito Acconci’s Trademarks (1970), Hannah Wilke’s S.O.S. — Starification Object Series (1974) and Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975). 

In this essay, Imponderabilia: Re-enacting Abramovic, I share my experience reenacting the performance through a feminist lens that considers the significance of this ground-breaking work.

Abramovic’s performance Imponderabilia is ephemeral — it is about being in the moment and experiencing live art. 

In my personal experience, Imponderabilia is physical and sexy. It’s a performance where two artists stand naked in the main entrance of the museum, gallery or art-spece facing each other and creating a passageway of uncertainty between the audience and artists. 

If the audience wants to enter the gallery space their only option is to pass sideways through a small space between two naked performance artists.

In 2010, I reenacted Imponderabilia during Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, at Hart House, University of Toronto. The performance was organized by the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and presented in conjunction with the exhibition Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980, curated by Barbara Fischer. I performed Imponderabilia for a total of five hours!

A diverse group of six artists of different genders, ages, shapes, sizes and racial backgrounds reenacted the piece. During Nuit Blanche we performed for one-and-a-half-hour segments, from 7 pm until 5 am. I performed Imponderabilia standing across from Gail Zamozniaka, a Toronto-based artist and yoga instructor. I also performed for three-and-a-half hours across from Francisco-Fernando Granados, a Guatemalan-born, Toronto artist and performance artist extraordinaire.

According to Abramovic, “the process is much more important than the result in performance art, everything is about process.” In this spirit, prior to the event, we went through an intensive two-day training process designed by Abramovic and led by two performers, who reenacted the piece during the 2010 Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Artist is Present

The training process was designed to slow us down and bring us fully into our bodies. In one exercise, we wrote our names for one hour without removing the pencil from the paper. In another, we sat blindfolded in a park for one hour. During the preparation we were also asked to fast during the day. In the evening we were fed light, wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, rice, water and herbal teas in order to purify our bodies. According to the Abromavic, the preparation for Imponderabilia trains the artist to be fully present in his or her body in order to gain a greater sense of interconnectedness with their performance partner(s), and the audience. [1]

What I learned from performing the piece is, Imponderabilia’s ability to utilize the artist’s physicality as a medium that allows for a questioning of patriarchal norms about sexuality. This experience confirmed that nudity is still a subversive and transgressive act! Since radical resistance to norms of Patriarchy depend upon destabilizing the status quo nudity can still be considered a tool of resistance and a revolutionary strategy that broadens one's awareness of sexuality, specifically its relationship to gender.

I think members of the public — like those at the University of Toronto campus — were more comfortable with the idea or the fantasy of nudity in relation to the female body. Since we are socialized to see naked female bodies in art and culture daily. One direct example of this was when I performed Imponderabilia with a male partner, nine out of ten passers-by would not face him, but instead faced me while making the passageway between us. I think this is because they are accustomed to the female nude in art & culture. 

Moreover the female body has a tradition of being mediated through social hierarchies. In the canon of art history for example, the female body is framed as an object to be looked at and consumed. Yet, when a real naked female body is positioned in a performance space it disrupts expectations and norms around beauty, age, race, ability and the objectification of female bodies. That is, a real body makes folks very uncomfortable.

While performing Imponderabilia problems arose because the female nude is no longer mediated through pop culture or art history. Instead the female nude is confronted face-to-face. The presence of the nude body in the Hart House performance space transformed the viewing experience from audience members looking at the body as object, to audience members encountering it as a real imperfect subject.

While hundreds of audience members passed through us many audience members could not bring themselves to pass through at all! Still others passed through with much hostility! (A woman around my age actually took a photo of my vulvic area! without consent!) This unknown territory of actual bodies unnerves and disturbs people.

Thirty-three years after Imponderabilia was first performed it continues to bring the politics of the body to the forefront by illustrating how audience’s relationship to nudity destabilizes the dynamic between artist and audience. That is, nudity in Imponderabilia is used as a strategy to disrupt patriarchal norms in mainstream popular culture demonstrating that it could still be used as a  feminist and revolutionary act of resistance.

[1] Durng the training sessions we also created code-words for our safety, so that a volunteer, coordinator, security guard, or another performance artist who heard the code-word could intervene. And yes, I was paid and treated well. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013


By Kate Barry

Skillfully chosen as the site for QUEER NOISE SOLIDARITY, Christie Pits Park has a long history of resistance after the legendary race riots that took place there in 1933. More recently this beautiful green-space and recreational park has been the location of a number of assaults on women. QUEER NOISE SOLIDARITY descended on Christie Pits on Friday evening as a way to respond to this violence, while linking feminism and the LGBTQI2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgenered, Queer, Intersex and Two-Spirited) communities with live art.  

The performance itself consisted of drumming in the park – not your stereotypical feminist, bongo-style, peace-loving drum circle, but rather it was a loud, experimental, triangulated fury of noise. During the performance, Calgary artist Wednesday Lupypciw acted as the conductor as she stood in the middle of a triangle (vulvic) shape of twelve all-female drummers: Celina Carroll, Tyla Crowhurst-Smith, Shavonne Tovah Somvong, Eleanor King, Conny Nowe, Karen Frostitution, Samara Liu, Laura Hartley, Rita Mckeough, Heidi Chan, Simone Baril, Alaska B. This large, loud, all-female ensemble puts the traditionally male-dominated world of rock n’ roll to shame. 

Karen Frostitution (left) and Heidi Chan (right), 2013.   

Born from a small scale, feminist drum circle (with actual drum kits) that Lupypciw originally created for the visual arts component of Calgary’s Sled Island festival, she worked together with FADO performance art centre and the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) to bring things to the next level. Lupypciw created QUEER NOISE SOLIDARITY specifically for Toronto audiences.

By occupying Christie Pits Park QUEER NOISE SOLIDARITY adeptly positions itself as a unifying tour de force.  To paraphrase artist Allyison Mitchell, if anyone thinks feminism is dead in Toronto, they couldn’t be more wrong! 

Above drum triangle photo credit Coman Poon.
All the other photos were taken on my iphone. 

Wednesday Lupypciw (in red) standing in the middle of the drumming triangle.


FADO Performance Art Centre


Sunday, May 19, 2013


Performance Ar13 features

This Blog is performative as it steams from life and work. It asks, “what is it like to be a queer-femme artist in the 21-century?. It features artworks that engages in queer and feminist radical dialogue about performance art.

Today for example May 16, 2013 I am inspired my some female performance artists in China.

Three lesbian couples protested against discrimination with performance art staged at Houhai in Beijing on May 16, 2013, in conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia, which falls on May 17 every year.
Click here for the link

These performers and activists are demanding basic human rights illustrating how performative protest can speak volumes and how news & images can travel so readily over the Internet. 

This International Day Against Homophobia protest is especially relevant in light of renowed Chinese artist Ai Weiei, and the incredible documentary, "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" 2012, a film directed by American filmmaker Alison Klayman. With a special appearance by one of my favorite chinese performance artists Tehching Hsieh. If you haven't seen it, you should watch it now, click here: Never Sorry