Jess Dobkin is famous for putting things in her vagina. The performance maker’s unique brand of comedic body art has been enamouring Toronto audiences since she arrived here more than a decade ago by way of New York. While her pussy-oriented projects tend to get the most attention, it’s probably her work as a community organizer that’s had the greatest impact. An essential figure behind events like Stonewall TO, Take Back The Dyke and the Artists’ Soup Kitchen, Dobkin is endlessly dedicated to creating spaces for other cultural workers to present, exchange and commune.
But her latest endeavour, The Artist Newsstand, is definitely her most ambitious to date. Presented in the long-dormant Gateway newsstand at Toronto’s Chester subway station, the yearlong project will provide space for scores of creators to show and sell works to commuters passing through the stop. While new artists will be introduced throughout the process, the current roster includes: Reena Katz, Syrus Marcus Ware, Alvis Choi, Adrienne Crossman, Moe Angelos, Francisco-Fernando Granados, Keith Cole, and DJs John Caffery and Cosmic Cat to name a few.
We caught up with Dobkin to chat about her inspiration, her hopes for the project and whether her vag might make an appearance.
Daily Xtra: Where did the idea for The Artist Newsstand come from?
Jess Dobkin: Chester is my home station, so I walk by it all the time and the kiosk has been sitting vacant for more than six years. As an artist, I’m always seeking opportunities to create projects that involve community and engage audience in public space, and I’ve been wanting to do something very local that is connected to my neighbourhood, so the location was perfect. I’m also interested in the site-specificity and function of the newsstand as a place where people meet and connect.
What are you hoping the project will achieve?
The project re-imagines what a newsstand can be as well as drawing upon the age-old model of artists reusing forlorn spaces that have become unprofitable to traditional commerce. I’m hoping it will offer an opportunity for artists to experiment and present new work, and for audiences to encounter something wonderful and unexpected as they journey through the everyday of their commute.
Your own work is well-known for nudity. Can passersby at the newsstand expect any such spectacles?
It’s going to be an all-ages affair and we have a lot of kids involved, so that’s a consideration in what kinds of things we present. I’m particularly interested in how kids consider ideas about news and media since the way they get and process current events is totally different than when I was growing up. Overall, the work we’ll present will address themes that consider the kiosk, transit, media and the surrounding neighbourhood. In terms of my own work, I think I’m known for the nakedness, but I also do a lot of things where I’m covered up, which are still about uncovering or revealing something. Hopefully the newsstand can do the same thing for themes we’re looking at.