Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Remembering Fruit Machine

Ottawa Nuit Blanche installation channels infamous government 'special project' to root out gay people

Denis Mateo’s Skotoma.

Canada’s infamous Fruit Machine inspired a local artist’s installation for Supernova: Nuit Blanche Ottawa & Gatineau.

Denis Mateo’s Skotoma, an interactive art installation, will be set up on William Street between Rideau and George streets in the Byward Market as part of this year’s Nuit Blanche, which takes place from Saturday, Sept 21 at 6:21pm until Sunday, Sept. 22 at 4:22am.

According to Patrizia Gentile and Gary Kinsman’s book The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation, the Fruit Machine was a federal government “special project” designed to determine who was gay. On the grounds that homosexuality was a threat to national security, being either an out gay person or a person officials had determined was gay could mean being demoted in the military or civil service, losing your government job and being under surveillance.

Although The Canadian War on Queers focuses on the actions of government agencies from the 1950s to the late 1990s, Mateo’s installation invites people to question how much has changed today, particularly for people working in the civil service.

“I’m reproducing a cubicle with elements that belong to the 1950s, which would mean the beginning of the Fruit Machine,” Mateo says. “People would have to sit at the table where the ‘civil servant’ will take their personal information and stick it on their bag so they can experience what it’s like to be a public object of people’s scrutiny.”

Mateo will take turns with other actors to play the role of the civil servant in the cubicle. By drawing in visitors to answer questions and have their answers taped on their bags, he hopes the intrusiveness of the experience will inspire people to learn more about history and to examine the current state of LGBT rights.

If homophobic discrimination has disappeared from government agencies and the civil service, Mateo questions why many civil servants and government officials remain closeted or wait until they’ve attained a high level of career success before coming out.

Although that is also common in other fields, Mateo wants his art to inspire discussion and to inform young LGBT people of their history — which is often hidden.

“It is important to name the truth first, then change the truth in our community,” he says. “I believe my art is there to reopen the discussion and have people come together and have exchanges about what is going on.”

Also at Nuit Blanche — Shanghai Restaurant gets in on the action with an outdoor parking lot party.