Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Edmonton’s Exposure festival gets steamy

Bathhouse show mixes politics, art and sex

Credit: photo courtesy of Exposure

So maybe part of you has longed to experience what a bathhouse has to offer, and if you’ve been afraid, now is your chance to indulge. For the first time ever, Edmonton’s Steamworks will house the works of 21 artists for a one-night-only show as part of the second-annual Exposure Festival.

The bathhouse art installation is just one of the enticing events people can be exposed to next week in Edmonton. “Just to be there, as a woman, is transgressive,” says Heather Zwicker, board chair for the festival. “It symbolizes a lot of different things. A place for legitimate public sex, and a place of human rights for gay and lesbian activism.”
Zwicker is referring to the raid of a bathhouse in Edmonton in 1981, which was one of many at the time across Canada and the United States. “The venue is also an artistic experiment, a warren, with lots of little rooms. It’s a place to feel your way around.”

“This is more than an artistic endeavour. It’s political,” says festival producer Ted Kerr. “The bathhouse holds such a weird place in our culture, and art is a way to navigate that.”

“Personally I think there’s a lot of stigma and shame around bathhouses, so let’s throw the doors open and let people in. The bathhouse epitomizes gay sex,” says Kerr.

He wants people to experiment, have fun, and use this year’s festival as a way to increase self-awareness and knowledge of their personal and collective queer identity.

The board had more artistic interest than expected, with 21 artists participating. This has never been done before, and there was so much interest that, regrettably, the board had to turn artists away.

Other than Pride, Exposure is the biggest queer event so far in Edmonton. It was created by former city councillor Michael Phair, and has received great support from the city.

“It’s important to have Pride every year because it’s celebratory, and Exposure is an arts and culture exhibition where we can ask questions and provoke responses on issues that aren’t brought up at Pride,” says Zwicker.

The festival has a huge list of diverse artists who work in all possible media. This year there is more local talent compared to the last festival, which is something new and exciting for Edmonton.

“We’re not good at showing off,” says Kerr. “But there’s a lot of talent. Edmonton has the perfect storm to have a progressive festival like this.”

Edmonton’s most famous diva, Darren Haggin, will host the first two evenings of the 17th annual Loud & Queer Cabaret on Nov 14 and 15. “It’s the best in queer writing and performance from all around Edmonton,” says Kerr. It’s a partnership of Workshop West Theatre and Guys in Disguise.

AA Bronson, formerly of the artist collective General Idea, will be speaking on Nov 15, and Vancouver filmmaker Gwen Haworth will be attending the screening of her film, She’s a Boy I Knew, for a Q&A.

One overlying theme of the festival is human rights, and specifically trans rights. On Nov 20, Trans Day of Remembrance, Eli Clare and EVM will host a gathering in Enterprise Square.

James Loney is another key presenter on the festival roster. He is a Christian peace activist who was held prisoner for 100 days in Iraq. “The media kept his homosexuality a secret so he wouldn’t be killed,” says Kerr.

New since last year, the festival has collaborated with Pflag to create a family-friendly event. It’ll be sleigh rides at Fort Edmonton Park on Nov 19. The board wants to reach a wide range of the queer community and be inclusive.

Edmonton’s summer is packed with festivals of all kinds, from musical to food to heritage, so hosting Exposure in November is a way to brighten up an otherwise potentially bleak social calendar.

Last year’s force of 25 volunteers has doubled to 50, and that community support is overwhelming to Exposure’s organizers. “Every day I am thrilled by the volunteer response,” says Zwicker.