High among the pantheon of Canada’s queer artists sit Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan. Based out of Winnipeg, the dyke pair have been queering the pitch with videos, performances and installations for years. I was first introduced to them via their seminal Lesbian National Parks and Services series of videos which remain a treasured item on my personal library shelf. The Lesbian Rangers remain the easiest entry into their art, as its easily the cheekiest thing they’ve done. With that project, they effectively lay the groundwork which they continue to mine; the initial charm of the whole thing rests on these cute little double-entendres (puns on “bush” abound) and faux-David Attenborough ruminations on the “lesbian in the wild.” But like the veteran outdoorswomen they are, their semiotic play goes much, much deeper, uncovering and exploring wilder, richer territories of gender construction and sexual mythos. Together with artists like Allyson Mitchell, they expound and explicate the culture of Deep Lez.
As a reaction to (among other things) the Harper government’s cuts to arts funding, the pair launched the Consideration Liberation Army project in 2007, a secretive, underground militia whose aim is to fight through the din of numbing political verbiage by saying, “Ahoy, Ideas! Aloha, Concepts! Hello Liberation!” Again the tapes seem light on the surface — SLA-style propaganda missives urging thoughtfulness and deliberation — but at their core they not only question the artist’s place in society, they try, through humour and satire, to find answers.
The pair have been imported to mount an installation for this year’s Nuit Blanche festival on Sat, Oct 3. They are shutting down Bay St and turning it into a fun fair: cotton candy will be plentiful and there will be two midway rides, staffed by recently downsized businesspeople. Participants are invited to “kinetically contemplate the ups and downs of the recent economic crisis.” Yet again, this project is far more dangerous than it lets on. Griping about ever-increasing corporate sponsorships has dogged Nuit Blanche since it actually turned out to be a success in its first year; since then (lest we forget) it’s been called Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. Millan and Dempsey are taking square aim at this corporate culture, and the ruinous effects it has had on they way we organize our lives. Granted, they’re aiming with a squirt gun rather than a rifle, but their aim is true and their point is no less devastating.
ALL NIGHT LONG
Looking to have a gay old time at Nuit Blanche on Sat, Oct 3? After all there are three zones spanning most of the city and hundreds of projects on throughout the night — seeing the gay stuff is just as good a filter as any other.
Zone A is, geographically anyway, the gayest zone, running from Dupont down to Queen, between Jarvis and Spadina, encompassing the Village and Cabbagetown. As part of his curated exhibition, A Circle with a Hole in the Middle, Gregory Elgstrand has invited a slew of artists to meditate and philosophize on the unknown. Reach a higher state of consciousness at the Holy Trinity Church with Geoffrey Farmer’s Blinking Eyes of Everything. He (allegedly) accompanies a Brion Gysin-inspired hallucination-arousing stroboscope projection with live organ music of Farmer’s own composition.
For those who want to ditch the walking but dig the dancing, there are two dance-inspired projects: Stand Up Dance and the York Dance Ensemble provide a mobile club throughout the night, and the Toronto Reference Library is hosting all-night dance lessons, promising a different decade of dance each hour.
Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher curate Zone B (Queen to Lakeshore, between Spadina and the Don Valley), which seems the most interesting to my mind. Absolutely do not miss the Fastwürms’ SkryPod where the ’Würms and friends create a little occult enclave in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. They’ll be doing Tarot readings from a custom-designed Ipod Touch Tarot-reading application. Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan’s carnival installation is in Zone B. Patrick DeCoste screens his meditation on Hogtown history, Toronto Harbour 1609, in the Distillery District.
Zone C (curated by Makiko Hara) encompasses Queen West and Liberty Village, from Dundas St down to the Lakeshore, between Spadina and Lansdowne/Jameson. Tom Dean creates a post-economic-collapse “hobo utopia” in a parking lot at Liberty St and Hanna Ave with Fire and Sausage; ignore the questionable politics of ironically fetishizing homelessness and hang out by the fire, feed the gullet (if not the soul) with hot chocolate and sausages courtesy of Jamie Kennedy and listen to the piano stylings of Hank Bull. If you’re getting a little cold, tour the Gladstone Hotel, where every corner of the place, from the Melody Bar to the second floor exhibition space plays host to Nuit Gladstone.