Archives aren’t supposed to be exciting.
But under a new mandate that takes cultural programming to the forefront, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives are becoming just that — an exciting archival facility, as oxymoronic as it may sound.
With this month’s textile exhibit by Matt Gould, called Words, Wit, Wisdom and Wool, the CLGA is set to maintain its new mission.
“It’s a continuation of our two years of exhibition programming that is not just didactic and historical,” says CLGA president Robert Windrum. The group’s recent cultural efforts emphasize contemporary art that looks at issues relating to gay identity, he says.
It’s not what is traditionally associated with an archival group, and it’s new even for the CLGA, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in the new year.
“We were primarily a collecting and research facility because that’s all we could really afford to do,” says Windrum, noting that now that the CLGA has a home on Isabella Street, it has more space and funds to reach out in refreshing ways.
The new exhibit is more connected to the history of the archives — and Xtra — than even the artist himself realized at first.
While writing about his exhibit, Gould looked back at his past involvement with Toronto’s Body Politic, the magazine that birthed Xtra publisher Pink Triangle Press and was the foundation for the CLGA, not to mention a generation of gay liberation.
When Gould lived in Toronto, The Body Politic had features about his artwork and even showed him as a young man in gay self-defence classes that took place in the 1980s, he says. He realized the link between The Body Politic and the archives in forming his generation’s queer identity.
“It reawakens my feelings of my own history — the most important formative years I had as a gay person,” he says. “And how the person I am now as a political person and as a gay person really was informed by all those early years when there was so much going on.”
Despite these connections to Toronto, Gould has stayed true to his roots. Born and raised in Edmonton, he now resides in Red Deer. For a gay artist, Alberta doesn’t always provide the most comfort in artistic expression, he concedes, though he was pleased to have the exhibit showcased at Exposed, Edmonton’s queer arts festival.
“I find myself censoring myself a little bit more than I might like to,” Gould says of working out west. “I want to begin to fight against that.”
But Toronto feels different, he says.
“I’m really excited, actually, that this is going to be in a gay venue and in a larger city,” he says. “It feels like it’s easier for me to be out in a sense.”
The exhibit, his first textile showcase in Toronto, features a series of artwork that pulls inspiration from the words of various gay writers, like Walt Whitman and Mark Doty, and less sophisticated sources, like the cruising site Squirt.
One of Gould’s most personal works is My Lady of Mayerthorpe, a portrait of his mother, now 91. It’s based on a short piece she wrote about what it is like to be a mother of a gay son.
Words, Wit, Wisdom and Wool is entirely available on Gould’s website, but he says it’s best to experience textiles in person.
“Nothing really beats seeing it and being in the room with it. Textiles are more subtle than paintings,” he says. “Everything that’s real art is going to have a presence.”