Swagger, style, compassion, intelligence… nobody dresses up ideas and politics as attractively as queer artists in Canada. Their joy in the world and the sustenance they draw from their craft is matched in equal measures by steely-eyed critiques of personal failure and social injustice. That tension between celebration and cynicism erupts in exciting strategies of seduction. In a word, Canadian queer art is irresistible (as evidenced by the two straight artists who make the list this year — imitation is the best flattery).
As we remember the passing last year of two titans, actor William Hutt and author Jane Rule, we can draw comfort in the resilience and vibrancy of the cultural scene they helped foster.
So here’s the country’s top 10 of 2007 — the best of invert art in reverse order — perfect antidotes to our topsy-turvy world.
10) We Know You Know
“The album by Montreal’s Lesbians on Ecstasy (Alien 8 Records) is filled to the brim with delicious dance beats and fireside harmonies that recall lesbian women music pioneers Berkeley Women’s Music Collective, Lavender Jane and The Chicago Liberation Rock Band,” writes music critic John Webster. “It’s Sapphic feminist camp; fresh and vital.
“Taking the ultra-serious lesbian folk genre and dressing it up in sequin ponchos, ironic Gloria Steinem sunglasses and taking it on an acid trip to an optimistic disco future is a solidly brilliant idea.”
“Drag kings, baby dykes, trannies, sex parties… Goodhandy’s is the queerest bar in town,” writes scene queen Anna Pournikova. “There are some misses but certain nights take off. It’s the only bar in town that made me blush this year; porn on a Jumbotron is a little over the top, even for me. The orgies are another story. With 120 languages in Toronto it’s about time that we got a goddamned tranny bar. Coowners Todd Klinck and Mandy Goodhandy are really doing their best to think outside the box. Girl, it’s working.”
8) Breakfast with Scot
With a winning performance by youngster Noah Bernett, this charming comedy from director Laurie Lynd and writer Sean Reycraft is a delicately political film that pinpoints where we are right now in Canada vis à vis queerness, parenthood and young male sexuality. “It’s high time for queer family movies,” writes film reviewer Mike Vokins. “The film works because it’s not only a story about an older gay man still coming to terms with his gayness but it’s about parents whose kids force them to face their own demons.
“It’s wonderful to see a movie that warmly and humourously entreats us to embrace our sissiness — a life lesson from which both straight kids and gay adults could all learn a lot.”
7) Sasquatch Squat
Allyson Mitchell created an eye-popping installation at Thrush Holmes Empire of female fun-fur creatures that ranged from small squirrelly squirrels to a 12-foot-high Sasquatch. “Underneath the fun fur and the kitschy shag,” writes art reviewer Sholem Krishtalka, “is a deeply personal, deeply informed, scathing critique of the relationship between queer politics and the media.”
Mitchell was ably assisted by her wingman Daryl Vocat and his concurrent show of prints The Translator’s Conundrum.
6) Bang Crunch
This debut collection by Montreal writer and translator Neil Smith is a clever, touching and eminently readable collection of nine short stories (published by Knopf) showcasing Smith’s deft ability at characterization. Each story in Bang Crunch assays love’s mysteries in imaginative, compassionate prose. The opening story, “Isolettes,” is devastating.
5) Age of Arousal
This serio-comic portrait of various late 19th- and early 20th-century feminists is by Toronto playwright Linda Griffiths, a self-proclaimed reformed heterosexual (“I am a heterosexual, but no longer an idiot”). After premiering at Alberta Theatre Project Nightwood Theatre’s production played the Factory Theatre. “The text opens with a lesbian encounter and proceeds to challenge every sex/gender equation over the course of two hilarious and ingenious acts,” writes theatre critic David Bateman. “It focuses on the ways in which love, sex and gender weave themselves into tight social knots that trouble political action, forcing women to make hard and fast decisions about their bodies and their lives.
“The fine layering of serious political content and biting, often satiric ‘thoughtspeak’ is served well by [the Toronto] cast and production crew who appear to fully understand that every age is marked by complex and titillating notions of lust, sex and arousal.”
4) Comfort Food for Breakups
“This memoir by Toronto author Marusya Bociurkiw (from Arsenal Pulp Press) is all the things a good meal should be,” writes book reviewer Sandra Alland. “It has a vibrant style and presentation, it goes down easy and, though it satisfies, keeps you hungry for more.
“Bociurkiw captures life’s odd transitions between grief and joy with an admirable precision.” With recipes!
3) Daniel MacIvor
“We all knew that Daniel MacIvor is versatile but the range of stage work he’s showcased in 2007 is positively acrobatic,” writes Globe and Mail theatre critic Kamal Al-Solaylee. “Theatre audiences got to sample the many sides of his creativity with the remounts of his performance pieces Monster and House as part of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s salute to his now-disbanded company da da kamera and the Toronto premieres of two traditional family dramas Marion Bridge produced by Company Theatre and How It Works over at the Tarragon. I also caught his Tennessee Williams-inspired His Greatness in Vancouver and can’t wait to see which Toronto theatre is smart enough to snap it up for next season.”
2) My Winnipeg
Bent heterosexual Guy Maddin’s historical fantasia My Winnipeg, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a shimmering amalgam of archival material, home movies, mini-melodramas, back projections, historical recreations, shadow puppetry, even dance, and narrated by Maddin himself. It’s hilarious: equal parts history, biography, poetry and downright fabrication.
Maddin employs camp as a crucial way, if not the only way, to experience reality. Life is a palimpsest, his film asserts, and surface layers and outward reality deserve to be mocked. Truth lies somewhere beneath, with subterranean desires and misunderstood needs, with shame and regret.
This might be Maddin’s best film yet.
1) Kent Monkman
“His touring and evolving show The Triumph of Miss Chief (beginning at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, then the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art) was, well, triumphal,” writes Krishtalka. “It was a stellar showcase of all the various permutations of Monkman’s Miss Chief project: the paintings, which were just as sublime as the 19th-century landscapes they referenced; the pitch-perfect films housed in lavish teepees (one made of sumptuous brocade, the other a champagne cascade of opalescent beads); and the unexpectedly hilarious “tribal” disco-house music accompanying a Miss Chief mannequin decked out in a fabulous pink-feather number.”
That pink number was from Monkman’s outrageous performance at the Royal Ontario Museum featuring sexational hip-hop dancers celebrating the berdache; he also had a painting and his beaded pumps (!) exhibited in the new Chin Crystal. To top the year off, the National Gallery of Canada just purchased the title painting, The Triumph of Miss Chief. Talk about turning history upside down.