Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Montreal performance artist takes on homophobia through art

Val Desjardins' new show investigates hair, skating, vaginas and drinking

LEAVING LOTS TO THE IMAGINATION. "It is theatrical but it's not a scripted story," says Val Desjardins of her new show. "It's never straight forward." Credit: courtesy of the artist

Val Desjardins isn’t afraid to fondle xenophobia. Known for sexy, edgy, confrontational work, the Montreal-based visual artist will premiere Peur Laine at the Edgy Women festival on March 20. Her show investigates how hair, physical suffering, skating, vaginas and drinking have “enabled her to carve out a space for her queer identity.” Xtra.ca met up with Val in a laundrymat to get to the bottom of her new show.

Xtra.ca: What does “pure laine” mean?

VD: It’s a term used to say, “Both my parents come from the French settlers.”

If you are 100 percent from that line, you call yourself “pure laine” — pure wool &mdsah; which is essentially super racist. Because it implies, first of all, that a certain Quebecer is the real one, versus a society of plurality that we actually live in that we claim and brag about as Canadians and as Quebecers.

There’s also a denial of our family lines ever going through the Native communities. It’s like saying that we’ve been white from the beginning and no one ever slept with a Native. Bullshit. So there’s a lot of different problems in just the expression itself.

Xtra.ca: Why did you call your show Peur Laine?

VD: I had this idea about my heritage as a “pure laine” Quebecer that I’ve always just used that term and never challenged it, or questioned it. I started doing some research and realized what that implied, and also the fear of other, the xenophobia born out of that.

Xtra.ca: How does the idea of fear factor into your show?

VD: The fear of other: how have I lived that? Well, in terms of me being queer, being an artist, being different in general. I brought that back to my family, my heritage and the communities I grew up around, which is that there’s always been this struggle. Even with family that accepts you, you’re still an exception that they have to deal with.

Xtra.ca: Is the show in English or French?

VD: It was supposed to be bilingual and now it’s ending up all in French. I have no idea how that happened. I was just unconscious of language. It just naturally ended up French. I think because I’m going in to family, religion, my heritage, my culture.

There’s always that two languages question. At one point in my childhood, I was speaking gibberish, because we were moving back and forth from Toronto every year and a half or two, and we did it four times. So, one time, I arrived in Toronto and this woman came up to my mom and was like, “My kids really like your daughter but they don’t understand what she’s saying.”

Xtra.ca: What can people expect at this “multidisciplinary” performance?

VD: I wanted to keep it really tight and concise, and I’m alone. There will be video. I skate around in a dress. I’m trying to make images, physically. And then I incorporate text, so some will be pre-recorded text on a loop and then I intervene live with a microphone.

It is theatrical but it’s not a scripted story. It leaves more to the imagination. It’s never straight forward.

Xtra.ca: What was the most challenging thing about creating Peur Laine?

VD: To find a space between my personal story that I’m sharing and finding a place where everyone can identify. I’m not saying that my story is necessarily typical in that it represents a story for a Quebec child/family/whatever but I am trying to disconnect a little bit, to leave it open so that people insert themselves. Talking more about a universal experience of childhood, realizing where we’re from to know where we’re going.

Xtra.ca: What’s next for you?

VD: This is my biggest endeavour. I’m not seeing further than this right now. This is the beginning of something. I don’t know what, but it feels good.