Arts & Entertainment
9 min

Alexander Wood exposed

The Encampment examines infamous scandals

"I'm looking to queer the notion of a public monument," says David Bateman. Credit: Xtra files

Though David Bateman has had his share of sexual scandals, he’s always managed to avoid the clutches of the law.

“I must have been out of town during the bathhouse raids,” the Toronto-based writer and performer laughs. “Given the time I came out, I’m lucky I never had any of those experiences.”

While his own illicit encounters have often been the subject of his art, Bateman’s installation for Thom Sokoloski and Jenny-Anne McCowan’s The Encampment takes on the infamous scandal of Alexander Wood. Made up of 200 identical white tents, each with an interior designed by a different artist, the work addresses historical figures connected with the War of 1812.

“Public monuments are typically permanent and unquestioning in their approach to the subject or event depicted,” Bateman says. “I’m looking to queer the notion of a public monument, both by building it to a questionable character and making it from things salvaged from the garbage and past performances. I’m still figuring out the specifics, but my big fear is that it will look like my bedroom when I was a teenager.”

Despite the two Toronto streets that are named after him and an eight-foot-tall statue to boot, the true story of Alexander Wood is somewhat of a mystery. Born in 1772 in Scotland, he made his way to the city of York in 1791 to establish himself as a merchant.

Successful in business, he eventually became a magistrate, but things began to unravel in 1810. He interviewed a group of young men, telling them that a Miss Bailey had accused them of rape and claimed to have scratched her assailant’s genitals. To prove his innocence, each was required to expose his privates for Wood’s inspection.

The rapist was never located and rumours Wood had fabricated the case as an excuse to see a bunch of young men’s dicks began to circulate. He eventually fled to Scotland after public perception of his presumed homo leanings had decimated his business.

“He’s been hailed as a queer hero because he was persecuted for being perceived as queer, but we don’t know anything more about his sexuality than that,” Bateman says. “There were some questions around the choice to erect a statue in his honour because of his history. But we glorify all kinds of war heroes for dubious reasons. I like the fact the Toronto queer community has this symbol that’s a bit shady.”

Though the installation of Wood’s permanent monument at the corner of Church and Alexander streets in Toronto passed with little local controversy, Bateman points out there were problems with it in other parts of the country. At the time it was installed he was working in Kamloops, BC, and the local paper was up in arms about Toronto’s memorial to a perceived pervert.

“Monuments say a lot about the culture that produces them, and if we end up with a very rightwing government, they may want to get rid of it,” Bateman says.

He pauses and laughs.

“Of course, if they wanted to replace it with a statue of Cher, I’d probably say yes.”

The Deets:
The Encampment 
A Thomas+Guinevere creation
Part of the Luminato festival
Fri, June 8–Sun, June 24, 7:30–11pm
Fort York National Historic Site
250 Fort York Blvd, Toronto
thomasandguinevere.com
luminato.com

Check out Xtra‘s Luminato highlights in the video below