Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Contact’s queer best in 2016

Top picks for Toronto’s annual photography festival

One of the images from the Hotel Gondolín, which has been a home for trans sex workers from across the country for nearly three decades. Credit: Submitted

Every May, sharpshooters take over Toronto as the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival fills nearly every corner of the city. With more than 200 shows, it’s impossible to catch everything so we’ve assembled a list of can’t-miss queer picks.

Casa Susanna
Until May 31, 2016
St Patrick Subway Station

The photos from the Casa Susanna were never really meant for public consumption. Discovered at a flea market by artist/curator couple Robert Swope and Michel Hurst, the sprawling collection of snapshots documents the scores of trans women who lived their everyday lives as men, but spent weekends at an upstate New York bungalow where they were free to be themselves. Along with parties and fashion shows they frequently staged, the shots capture the ladies in more laid back moments; cooking, playing Scrabble and sweeping the front porch. An offshoot of the AGO’s current Outsiders exhibition, the show captures a critical moment in trans history that might have been all but lost were it not for a gay couple’s love of weekend antiquing.

Hotel Gondolín
Estefania d’Esperies
May 5–31, 2016
Huntclub Gallery

With high profile ladies like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, trans women are more visible today than ever before. Yet the image parade in which they usually appear often offers a highly aestheticized version of their lives. Situated in the heart of Buenos Aires, the Hotel Gondolín has been a home for trans sex workers from across the country for nearly three decades. Though it was already the subject of a 2004 eponymous documentary, Estefania d’Esperies’ series gives a fresh look inside the realities of the hundreds of women who’ve passed through the hotel’s doors. Shot over an eight-month period, her photos capture the hotel’s residents outside their working hours. Gritty and heart warming at the same time, Hotel Gondolín delves behind the porn stills and magazine covers, offering a more complex vision of this community than we’re used to seeing.

Isla Santa Maria 3D
Oliver Husain
Until June 4, 2016
Gallery TPW

If you locked a group of sci-fi nerds in a room with a gaggle of club kids and asked them to create a 3D film, you might end up with something like Isla Santa Maria 3D. Set in the year 2294, Oliver Husain’s kooky contribution begins with representatives from around the galaxy gathering to determine where humanity went so terribly wrong. The queer Toronto artist found part of his inspiration in 1999’s The Magic Box (the Siegfried and Roy biopic that uses animated cut-outs to tell part of the gay, though mostly closeted, magician couple’s story) and Jack Halberstam’s 2011 book The Queer Art of Failure (which argues for using defeat as a path to queer utopia). Shot with 3D technology but offered up without the requisite viewing devices, the work will likely leave audiences a little cross-eyed, which is exactly what Husain intends.

New Century
May 19–24, 2016
Northern Contemporary

Queers have been redefining gender and sexuality through their entire existence. And if this show by members of OCADU’s graduating class is any indication, the next generation is looking to push these boundaries even further, while at the same time taking a somewhat more nonchalant approach to the subject. Featuring still images, video and sculptural elements, New Century  aims to question conventional representations of gender, sexuality and beauty by offering a playful middle finger to societal norms.

Toronto Diversions
Ravinder Rai, Sebastián Benítez
Project Gallery Toronto
Until May 15 , 2016

At first glance, Ravinder Rai and Sebastián Benítez’ respective catalogues don’t have much in common. While Rai’s still life scenes explore his struggles with coming out, Benítez aims to navigate the myriad of commodities marketed to gay men. But the decision to collaborate on their first Contact show had less to do with a common set of themes than a simple desire to work together sparked by the time they shared in art school. Despite their very different set of interests, their works are a natural match, linked by a bright colour palette and a quirky sense of humour. Offering two very different takes on what it means to be gay, Toronto Diversions proves there are no easy answers whether you’ve already come out of the closet or are still fumbling around inside.