Friday, July 11, 2008


AIDS/ART/WORK - review by Ted Kerr

Art is a response, a life jacket, a distraction, a beginning, a middle, an end, an income generator, a money sucker, a strategy, an attempt. In the face of AIDS art is many things but is it a cure? What do we as artists, victims, survivors, activists, witnesses and academics do with Art and the experience of AIDS?

Coming from Edmonton Alberta, a northern city with under a million people where I work as an artist with HIV Edmonton, one of Canada’s first ASOs I wonder about the role of art within the AIDS movement. I remember a few years ago when I was first getting into the legend of ACT UP a new world opened up where AIDS and art came together and the centre of that world was New York. So you can imagine my giddiness, when I signed myself up for the ART/AIDS/WORK conference that happened a few weeks ago in New York City.

Put together by Dr. Paul Sendziuk, Visual AIDS and CLAGS the event was focused around the central question CAN ART SAVE LIVES? At first the question seemed to me overly simplistic, laced with what appeared to be a hidden agenda of optimism. I was waiting for the gathered AIDS Intelligentsia, many of whom I assume had seen the early days of AIDS up-close and had the fortune/misfortune to remember it all to rip the question apart and use it as sweetener in their coffee.

Up first was Robert Atkins, critic, writer and one of the founders of Visual AIDS as part of a panel with Alexander Juhasz and David Roman. As an intense looking man with eyes that even from the audience gleamed acceptingly kind yet unforgiving in a flash I looked to him to set the tone of the fierce verbal gymnastics I thought were to come. But instead of piss and vinegar spewing forward Atkins dug deeper and unearthed what would be the unintended yet telling theme of the conference- the collective reflex of looking back as a way of speaking and seeing in the present.

Early in his presentation he said that in preparation to speak he had looked over articles he had written decades ago. By sharing his recorded past and taking the audience back to the days of Gran Fury and a socially conscious world without the markers of ribbons and rubber bracelets he reminded us that in the beginning art was not a prevention strategy or a fundraising endeavor- it was a knee-jerk, gut response that one could argue, at least back then, did indeed save lives.

Like Atkins, Juhasz as well conjured up the ‘ghosts’ of her younger self through papers she had written in the past. In her work from long ago but maybe not that far away she quoted the words of David Wojnarowicz.

Reading from his Untitled (one day this kid…) piece she added weight to his warning that “one day this kid will talk” by creating a frame in which to see many of the youthful artists, activists and academics that would be presenting at the conference as Wojnarowicz’s this kid. Now ‘larger’ with ‘experience’ and ‘loss’ under their belts, this kid in all his forms and power was being unleashed:

From the curious, confronting installations of Ivan Monforte to the expressive and touching images of Derek Jackson, from the elegantly intellectual moving research of Julia Bryan-Wilson to the grassroots curation of Edwin Ramoran, from the humorous and poignant photography of Richard Sawdon-Smith to the impressive far reaching work of Patrick ‘Pato’ Hebert these kids talked and shared and were heard. In their work a line is drawn a continuum is created.

Viewed as Wajnarowicz’s this kid while hearing them speak and seeing them as accomplished and rigorous creators in their own right their work becomes as much about them and the present as it is about a collective experience and the AIDS work that has been done before them. In them and their work, I and hopefully other people at the conference were reminded that time is not a line, progress is not a guarantee and the work done in the past does not always mean results in the present and the future. The work goes on.

A few years ago in Edmonton during the question period that followed a speech by activist Angela Davis a young woman in the crowd asked her the standard What’s next? What can I do? questions. Davis looked down, appearing exhausted for a moment and then said, “You tell me.” Gaining steam from her own response she then went on to school the assembled wide eyes that she was ready to hear what they are doing and that next time she comes to town she wants to be the one in the audience being inspired by their lives.

At the ART /AIDS/ WORK conference I think we saw the type of dialogue that Davis outlined starting to happen.

Individuals like Atkins, Juhasz, Roman as well as Jean Carlomusto and Jim Hubbard who also presented at the conference, all of whom have been responding to AIDS from the beginning where able to share their own work but also hear about, respond to and hopefully be inspired by new ART/AIDS/WORK being created from people like Jackson, Herbert and Bryn-Wilson.

With David Gere who shared work he is doing in LA and India, Sendziuk providing his history of AIDS /ART/ WORK from Australia and Marilyn Martin, illuminating the trail blazing work that she and her colleges are doing in South Africa the conference also provided some global insight as well.

And so out the largeness of the question CAN ART SAVE LIVES? emerges many hands outstretched together sharing the same response;
Can art save lives?
No, but community can.

More about the ART / AIDS / WORK conference: The AIDS/ART/WORK conference presented by Visual AIDS, CLAGS and Dr Paul Sendziuk, was held at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, on 30 May 2008. An enthralled audience of approximately one hundred people heard fourteen presentations that explored the past, present and future of AIDS art, activism and prevention, and the connections between them. The conference promised to examine the sometimes uneasy but often productive relationship between art inspired by AIDS and HIV/AIDS prevention, and it delivered.

Friday, July 4, 2008

What I did on my Summer Vacation!

This summer for the month of June I had the opportunity to intern with the mother of all art centric ASOs, Visual AIDS which can count among their many contributions to the AIDS movement the creation of the Red Ribbon. Currently guided by the wise, witty and pretty Amy Sadao and Nelson Santos the office is a welcoming home for creative and hardworking types committed to art as an opportunity for change. While there I had the opportunity to meet a plethora of artists, curators and handsome men all coming in to exercise their passion for art, HIV/AIDS, Nelson or all three!

Also home of the Frank Moore Archive Project Visual AIDS is the keeper of the world’s largest archive of artwork created by HIV+ artists from around the globe- (including a few but not enough Canadians). Work from the archive can be seen through monthly web gallery installments that are available to view at Curated by notable minds from the HIV / AIDS community the work puts into visuals historical, artistic and cultural conversations about HIV / AIDS and the world it exists in.

Employing art to keep the conversations going Visual AIDS is also the starting point of some of the most innovative and evocative uses of art in response to HIV/AIDS. Through their ongoing Broadsides project, a term taken from across the pond to mean ‘strongly worded or spoken public announcement meant for public consumption’ they provide at no charge artist created AIDS Awareness and HIV Prevention messages. Often in postcard or poster form the broadsides are now beginning to be created in other mediums. The current cycle of broadsides include a balloon designed by Michael Mitchell that has on it an illustrated erect penis wearing a condom with the caption ‘Rubbers are Fun’.

It is this mix of humor, creativity, frankness and dedication that makes Visual AIDS such an important organization in the collective response to HIV. As many people will know art has always played an important role in HIV prevention and AIDS Awareness. From the early work of Gran Fury and Canada’s own General Idea to the empowering Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to the contribution of mainstream artists like Madonna, Jonathan Demmee, and Bono art keeps awareness alive and prevention information circulating.

While I was in New York I had the chance to be apart of the tradition. In my role as Intern, aside from ordering the wrong air conditioner thus making the small warm office smaller and so warmer I also had an opportunity to distribute some of the new broadsides including the ‘Rubbers” balloon and ‘Safe Sex Rules’ pins created by Noah Lyon. My journey took me to many places in New York including the offices of Fierce- an awesome grassroots organization that works to ‘build the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color’, and the CallenLorde Health Clinic that is New York City’s only health care centre for the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS ‘regardless of any patient’s ability to pay’. Being even in small contact with these groups while representing the obviously loved Visual AIDS was a grounding experience that reminded me that even in a big city with more resources along with a greater amount of queer and HIV + political capital there are still monumental struggles combined with small mercies being performed that add up to miracles when looked at from a distance.

On my last day of active duty at Visual AIDS I along with 2 other interns took to the streets of Chelsea with balloons, pins and condoms in hand and distributed them to the local porn shops, bars, stores and random, willing excited people on the street. Along the way we learned a few thing- gay porn shops seemed to be owned by straight immigrant men, young men regardless of sexual orientation will never refuse free condoms and the axis of art, activism and AIDS is alive and well!

Please visit the Visual AIDS website to view the web galleries, see the broadsides and learn more about Visual AIDS,

If you are in New York please visit Visual AIDS current exhibit Side X Side curated by Dean Daderko at La MaMa La Galleria.

Thank-You Amy and Nelson for welcoming me into the Visual AIDS existence. Has Michael Stipe called back yet?

Websites to visit:

Friday, June 27, 2008

These are photos I took of Visual AIDS volunteers Deanna and Aldrin last week while we handed out new broadsides to bars, businesses and curious people on 8th ave in Chelsea.

It was fun to see people’s playful and excited reaction to Michael Mitchell’s “Rubbers are Fun” balloons and Noah Lyon’s “Safe Sex Rules” buttons. People giggling as the penis on the balloon got bigger as they blew it up, others pinning the buttons on as they put the condoms and lube that comes with some of the broadsides in a safe place for later!

Walking in the sunshine, laughing with new friends and talking about sex- it’s a rough job but someone’s got do it!

It was my last afternoon interning at Visual AIDS and it was a powerful lasting impression on the easy, fun and ultimately powerful role art can play in HIV-prevention and AIDS awareness.


The erotic experience of viewing famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe stunning, homoerotic and widely unseen Polaroids currently on display at the Whitney Museum in New York turns flaccid as the gallery room fills with the nasally obnoxious sounds of a middle-aged woman from upstate New York attempting to remind her deaf mother that she had been a classmate of Mapplethorpe, “Remember I told you about him” she yells. “He was the HO-MO-SEXUAL in my class when I was at Pratt.”

In the audience of her one sided conversation, the evocative images of men in various states of undress mixed with measured shots of objects like matchbooks and curtains, all captured as high art by an artist early his career, become pedestrian, boring. The woman’s voice breaks the bond between viewer and the work, making everything in the room too accessible, public, obvious and mundane. Suddenly it is her and not the pictures on the wall that becomes the art—a performance piece/reality show about a failed artist living with her mother attempting to justify her art school tuition all these years later based on her momentary proximity to greatness.

Later, upstairs in the galleries housing the Whitney’s permanent collection, I sit on a bench to write my thoughts and people watch. A handsome youngish man comes rushing towards the bench and sits down looking slightly bewildered and emotionally distressed. Within a second another man around the same age is standing nearly on top of him. Maybe it’s the gaypri pants or the talking with hands but without even hearing them I can tell that they are gay Europeans in the middle of an argument. After a few furious minutes of frenetic whispering the second one to arrive sits down and they are lulled into a state of silent brinkmanship.

With so much colour and shape in the room no one but me seems to notice the two moody men on the bench and the security guard who is so entranced he looks like he is watching a soap opera.

While in New York City it has been the security guards that have often provided the highlight of museum and art gallery experiences. Their unimpressed attitude towards the art is a refreshing change from the at-times pretentious conversations and faces I encounter. I always wonder if the guards, in between slyly picking their nose, telling people not to take photos and directing people to the washroom, learn more about art or gain an increased appreciation for it. I look forward to the day when I open up the paper to read that the world’s most successful art dealer, gallery curator or art critic started as a security guard.

The first boyfriend gets up off the bench and begins to pace. Both the security guard and I look at him to see what is going on. He catches us and for the first time remembers that they are not alone. He says something to his boyfriend and now as if reunited against the nosy security guard and me they walk together towards the doorway. They get about three feet before they start disagreeing again. The first boyfriend wants to keep looking at the permanent collection whereas the other boyfriend wants to go downstairs to look at the Mapplethorpe Polaroids. They end up going downstairs. I smile and look over to the security guard hoping that we will share the moment; instead I am met with a blank stare and him with his finger up his nose.

I stay on the bench to keep writing. I enjoyed watching the two men have a disagreement. It seemed so healthy and normal and foreign. I feel that in Edmonton it is rare to see two guys obviously on a date together, let alone comfortable enough to have a lovers quarrel in public.

Later on at the Whitney I end up in the same elevator as the boyfriends and a redheaded family. The first boyfriend is still kind of sulking. The second boyfriend has obviously tired of it all and stares off at the ceiling during the elevator ride. The doors open at the second floor. The first boyfriend is quick to almost get out. His boyfriend catches him in before he leaves and points at the lit-up number two above the door. This act of assertion changes something between the two boyfriends The sulking boyfriend moves closer to his boyfriend and begins talking close in his ear as he gestures with wincing movements to his back. The second boyfriend’s face goes from impatience to concern.

As the doors open for the ground floor we all leave the elevator. I trail behind to see the second boyfriend rub the small of his boyfriend’s back. The family that was in the elevator doesn’t blink an eye nor does anyone else in the busy lobby as they make their way to the door. Their unselfconscious display of affection is moving and of course erotic in its own way. In that moment I realize that in some places homosexuality is pedestrian and boring. It is a freeing yet slightly anti-climactic feeling.
With his eye on his boyfriend the second boyfriend goes out into the street and hails a cab. After they have both gotten in but before I loose sight of them into the sea of yellow cabs that makes up Madison Avenue I see the first boyfriend take his boyfriend’s hand and kiss it. It makes me wish I had my camera.


Living in Hell’s Kitchen, New York’s newest gay village, for a month, I find myself never more than a few feet away from an attractive gay man and never more than a few beats away from thinking about sex. That, combined with the heat wave that is currently gripping the city, made me decide that a great and safe way to spend a Saturday afternoon would be at the movies.

I naïvely thought that when I purchased my ticket for Sex Positive, a film being screened as part of New York’s newest LGBT film festival, I would be treated to two air-conditioned hours learning about the joys of safe sex and the history behind it. Instead I was met with a 96-minute warm slap in the face about the early, heady days of AIDS in New York and the origins of safe sex.

Directed by Daryl Wein, the film profiles Richard Berkowitz, a writer, activist and one time S/M hustler who should be known for his primary role in the creation of safe sex, an idea we now take for granted, but is instead a footnote in history due to his wrong and sadly misguided view back in the ‘80s that AIDS is not caused by a single virus like HIV but caused by multifactorial causes.

In 1982, he co-authored an article called “We Know Who We Are” with singer and celebrated AIDS activist Michael Callen, which bore the additional tag line from their editor, “Two Gay Men Declare War on Promiscuity”: the article not only shared the unpopular multifactorial view but also called for gay men to consider their sexual habits and how it might be endangering them. Hugely unpopular, the article caused an uproar, as it was seen as an inside attack on the gay lifestyle.

Using vintage porn and photos from Berkowitz’s own private collection, the filmmaker illustrates that at the heart of the outrage was the war that was being waged within the gay community. For many, engaging in uninhibited sex was at the core of gay liberation, and they weren’t going to stop because authorities were telling them to. Others felt that promiscuity was killing homosexuals. Stemming from the article and through work with his mentor Dr Sonnabend, Berkowitz worked towards a third way of seeing things, which we now know of as safe sex.

Based on his experience as an S/M top and ideas around disease interruption, safe sex was conceived as interventions during sex to prevent bodily fluids from entering the body. Wein, with his purposely unsteady camera work and moody lighting, lets the telling of the historic moments unfold not in a documentary style but more in the same way a new friend would tell the stories of their life.

As Berkowitz tells it, with the urging of Sonnabend, in 1982/83 he wrote “How To Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach,” a booklet that used a risk-reduction approach when discussing sex. Its aim was to remind people that “Sex doesn’t make you sick—diseases do.” Among the suggestions in the booklet is the then-revolutionary idea of gay men using a condom for anal sex. You can see he is proud of the accomplishment and speaks of it like a victory which was too quickly over.

Watching the film, I wondered why I have never heard of this guy, a scene echoed when people being interviewed in the film are asked if they have ever heard of Richard Berkowitz, only to apologize and admit that they hadn’t.

Because of his once-held beliefs and, as we find out later in the film, his battle with drugs, Berkowitz is an almost forgotten piece of gay men’s response to the HIV legacy. Before the screening, director Daryl Wein came out into the audience to remind us that this was just his film telling the story of one man. He is right that it’s not a comprehensive study of the history of safe sex. As someone who didn’t set out to make an AIDS film, Wien has created a small yet layered document that reminds people that we are still living with HIV/AIDS that also serves as an unwavering portrait of a man whose complex and unforgiving life can serve as a reminder and metaphor for HIV/AIDS.

At the end of the screening I left the theatre. On my way out I saw the real Berkowitz in the lobby. (This is something that makes New York amazing—access.) He looks as he did in the movie—handsome, antsy and frustrated. I didn’t stop to talk to him. I was two steps away from the theatre when I turned around and go back. By this time Berkowitz was in the theatre with Wein and the festival director taking part in a Q&A.
A young man in the audience disclosed his HIV+ status and asked Berkowitz where he could go for help, an elderly lady shared her story of being a retired dominatrix who, having never contracted HIV herself (unlike most of her friends), is now part of a small group of friends who call themselves survivors. Another man asked the festival director if more people were at the first screening of the film; the answer was no. The man who asked the question was angered by this and verbalized how insulted he is that in the city of New York people can’t fill a movie theatre for this important movie when films of far less calibre and social relevance are well attended. The festival director agreed, and Berkowitz lost the crowd as he began to talk about conspiracy theories about him and why people won’t see the film.
Walking back along the streets of Manhattan, I thought about Berkowitz and his endurance. He deserves better than to be forgotten. Because of him I—and all the gay men I crush on while walking—am able to be a part of the same club as the elderly dominatrix: we are all survivors.

Ted Kerr writes a vivid, thoughtful account (June 12, 2008, Issue #660) of the June 7 Manhattan film festival screening of SEX POSITIVE, Daryl Wein's new documentary about my role in the invention of safe sex. Amazingly, not a single review appeared anywhere in the New York press--gay, straight or alternative--so I'm thrilled that a Canadian reporter found it a worthy topic. The absence of any coverage of SEX POSITIVE in New York may also help explain why, as Kerr noted, the audience was small. But there's another reason that may have eluded Kerr: some in the gay community are deeply uncomfortable with a public figure like me who has refused to be closeted about my past history with sex work, S/M and addiction. I wish it were a "conspiracy" rather than a fact, but there are a few activists who'd rather hide me than accept that my hyper-sexual history actually makes me an effective spokesperson to promote safe sex to those who need it most.

In a city like New York where syphilis and HIV infection rates are rising, worst of all among 13 to 19 year olds, it's sad that a film that can offer solutions to safe sex gets overlooked because concerns about the gay image supersede the promotion of life-saving information.

As Kerr reported, SEX POSITIVE offers a wonderful surprise from what some assume it will be. New York City has lots to offer, but when it comes to what's new in safe sex, Edmonton readers have us beat and Kerr is the man to thank.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

QUEERMONTON Week of May 29, 2008, Issue #658

Ted Kerr /

It may not have appeared that way to others, but my friend Angie and I were self-defined exiles in high school. It was how we felt and so how we interacted with the world. We joined the speech and debate club as a way to be heard and express ourselves. We competed in the duo acting category and we were surprisingly good at it considering we only practiced when we should have been in math class.

The height of our success came at the regional championships, where we blew the competition away, qualifying that day for another round where we would have to write a speech and present in front of all the judges, competitors and parents.

I can’t remember what Angie spoke about, but I remember delivering a speech about lessons in hard work that my first boss, Stan, had taught me. It was met with rousing heart-felt applause. Even as the moderator was announcing that we would be taking a short break to tally up the scores people were beginning to gather around to congratulate me. It was ridiculous, but I felt on top of the world.

One woman, a parent, watched me intently my whole speech. I remember her face because it was so fixated on mine. As she pushed through the crowd, I could see her mouth begin to form with a question. I begin to feign humbleness in anticipated response.

“Are you boy or are you girl?” she asked, a relieved smile filling her face like she had just gotten something off her chest or had the best poop of her life.

“What?” I choked out, the assembled crowd ready for the punch line.

“The whole time you were speaking I was trying to figure it out, are you a boy or a girl?”

People silently and quickly began to leave the scene. My face went from the rose of victory to the scarlet of shame and confusion as I began to consider the possibility that she wasn’t the only one with the same question. “Boy,” I mumbled, my voice cracking as I said it.

“Oh,” she said, not fully convinced or satisfied.

Soon I was standing there with only Angie at my side feeling my heart racing. It wasn’t being mistaken for a girl that was the issue, it was not being seen for who I truly was that was bothering me.

That day was the first time I had ever had to come out about my gender, but it would not be the last. It reached its peak in the years after high school while I was working retail. The cashier would ask a customer, “Was there a salesperson helping you?” to which the response was often, “Yes, that nice girl over there,” while pointing at me.

At first I was confused, I don’t look like a girl and even through I have feminine mannerisms, so does Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy, but no one confuses him with Hannah Montana. It is only in the last few years that I have realized it is not how I look but other people’s definition of gender that makes me appear womanly in their eyes. It is my softness, the fact I wear scarves and my urge to partake in seemingly girly activities that cues people to label me female.

I was reminded of the speech and debate incident last week while in Toronto for Inside Out, a Lesbian and Gay film festival where I had the privilege of attending the Queer Here/Queer Now symposium. The two-day event presented by V-Tape and Inside Out was an opportunity to focus on “current social-political themes in queer media art production, presentation and dissemination” with contributions from writers, thinkers and artists like Thomas Waugh, Allyson Mitchell, Tom Kalin, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan.

One of the most heated moments was a discussion around gender representation on film and the use of labels and pronouns. Two main camps were represented in the discussion; The “call it as I see it“ group, which felt they will call people by the pronoun they feel fits, and the ”I will call you what you want” group. Throughout the discussion, which for one small moment became verbally violent, there were peacekeepers in the room who attempted to conjure up the positive momentum of late ‘90s queer post-identity politics. In the glow of the New Queer Wave in Cinema and gigantic strides forward in the AIDS movement there was optimism that suggested that despite our differences all homosexuals could move forward under the happy umbrella of queer. Groups like Queer Nation emerged as heir apparent to the perceivably now unneeded anger of ACT-UP.

The peacekeepers brought up post-identity politics as a way of suggesting that a framework in which we could move beyond labels already existed, that we needn’t discuss how to talk about each other but instead conceive of a way to talk about people without labels.

While I was initially on board with the peacekeepers, one person said what was for me a productive statement: “post-identity politics might be a solution for those who have already had their identities recognized but for those who haven’t, post isn’t an option.”

As our rights and acceptance has increased, so too has our shared queer complexity. No longer divided by just a binary gender divide, we now also negotiate social, political, multiple gender, racial, spiritual and economic considerations as well.

As was felt at the symposium, we as sexual and gender minorities are entering exciting times where once again the euphoria of gained ground and the reality of those not yet heard are coming to a head. As Shawna Dempsey suggested on the first day of the symposium, we as a community are at our best when we are fighting.

QUEERMONTON Week of May 15, 2008, Issue #656


A few weeks ago I found myself alone in my boyfriend’s bed. Usually I wake up before he does or we wake up around the same time, so to find him not laying beside me was strange. I looked over at the time and it was only 5:34 am. It’s not like him to get up that early.

I got up to look for him. We usually sleep at my place so I carefully went about his house scared I would bump into something or wake up his brother. He wasn’t taking a shower, he wasn’t in the living room reading, and he wasn’t in the kitchen making breakfast. Finally I found him asleep on the small couch in his spare room. He was scrunched up and looked uncomfortable. I started to think I must have done something to make him leave the comfort of his own bed. Had I been snoring louder than usual? Talking in my sleep? Hogging the covers? Kicking? Dry humping? Farting? Suddenly I became really embarrassed by my own humanness and the fact that that I could have done something that caused him to get up and leave. I watched his chest rise and fall and felt very insecure about myself in the face of what I saw as all his perfectness.

As I walked back to bed I began thinking about how truly intimate sleeping with someone is, even more so than sex. With sex most of the time both people are under the umbrella of the moment and, be it lust or love, a lot of blind eyes are cast. But by sleeping with someone you are putting yourself in a situation where you are unconsciously being yourself. No postures to hide behind. You are vulnerable.

This thought frightened me as I began to doze back off to sleep. Was there something about me that my boyfriend discovered while I was sleeping that made him reconsider our relationship? It brought up the fear I have of being seen as a fraud—like at any moment someone is going to discover that I am not the very thing they liked about me. This very easily led me to consider any and all of my failings and wonder how I got a boyfriend in the first place, as well as to question why he stays with me. I fell asleep very sure that this was the beginning of the end of our relationship. It took everything inside of me to stay in the bed and not sneak out. I was overreacting, but I was tired and it was bringing up bigger issues.

The next thing I remember was my boyfriend crawling back into bed. Although I was awake I didn’t let him know right away. I was nervous about what he might say. Was he going to tell me how gross I was or how bad I smelled? Was he going to say maybe we shouldn’t sleep together anymore or create some “ground rules” that we would now have to follow? Was he going to suggest we take a “break?” Nope—instead the first words out of his mouth were, “I missed you.”

What? I was relieved and confused. “Why did you get up?” I asked.

“I was coughing so much I thought I might wake you up” he said.

I smiled, “I missed you too.”

I had made a mountain out of a molehill. I told him everything that ran through my head and we talked about it. I wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t perfect and there we were going through it together.

I share this story because in a way I think it illustrates how important it is for one to be comfortable in their own skin not only in terms of maintaining a relationship but also in how they are as citizens. How we interact with each other is not that different with how we interact with a city, it is all relationships.

I have been thinking a lot lately about why I stay in Edmonton. Just last week I was in Montréal and I was moved by seeing homos of different ages, sizes, colours and combinations living as gay as they want to be—and yet there was nothing inside of me that wanted to pack my bags and move away from Edmonton.

For all its farting, snoring and hogging I love Edmonton. It is my home and while it is not perfect I know that as a citizen I have an opportunity to contribute and make it better. As much as people are products of a city, a city is a product of its people. Just like a relationship with a person, making a better city takes work. It takes declaring your needs and working with others to get those needs met. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and you have to break up or move away but always if you have tried and put yourself on the line you learn something about yourself along the way.
This summer I will be travelling to Toronto, New York and Mexico City for various gay jobs, and for the first time in my adult life I won’t be going with one foot ready to leave Edmonton forever but instead with a mind open to see what qualities those cities have that I can bring to Edmonton.

QUEERMONTON Week of May 1, 2008, Issue #654


The snow is melting, bodies are emerging from under layers of wool and gortex, the possibilities of summer are springing to mind—sex is the air. If you have even one iota of desire to, you should have sex. You should stretch, take a shower, brush your teeth, smile at yourself in the mirror, put on your favourite shirt and leave the house right now to go have sex.

Walk to where you know queer people who have sex congregate—the bar, a grocery store, a coffee shop, a bathhouse, a house party ... whatever. Smile at someone you want to see naked. Flirt and let yourself be flirted with. Talk to someone you find sexy; make jokes, laugh—if they don’t laugh then walk away and try again with someone else, because sex should be fun.

Ask questions; get a feel for them before you cop of feel of them. Do they have a sense of humour, a sense of self, clean teeth, good breath? These things are important. Look at their hands, when you imagine those hands on your body does it excite you? Is that what you want?
Have they asked you questions? If yes, stay put, keep the conversation going. Have they answered your questions? If yes, stay put and keep the conversation going.

Now steer the conversation to sex. Start by talking about your body. Say how nice it is to feel the warm weather on your skin or talk about aches you might need massaging—this is testing the waters. How do you feel as you are talking to them?

From the moment you leave your house do periodic check-ins with your body. Note when you get goosebumps, shivers or feel the urge to dry heave or dry hump. Keep tabs on your private parts. Are they up? Down? Engaged? Engorged? Excited? Lethargic? Be aware of when you are grinning, biting your lip, moving your hand over your body. If you find yourself covering your mouth with your hand more than once, know that you are feeling repressed. Sex is the opposite of repression, it is about release, exploration and expression.

While you are talking about flesh and the body watch for their physical and verbal reactions. Are they participating? Learn more about their body: ask questions, steal glances at areas that turn you on, allow visible parts of your body to brush against public parts of their body—did you like it? How did they respond?

Think about what you want to do with your body and what you need to do it: another person, privacy, an audience, condoms, lube, love, safe words, a chair, trust, a flat surface? Have deal breakers, negotiate, know what you will do and not do and be balanced. Be flexible without being fatalistic. Take a chance in the moment but not with your life or the health of your genitalia.

If things are going well and you find yourself grinning, wanting to use your private parts and are communicating then know that you are already engaged in the act of sex. Keep going if you want, walk away if you want. Are you smiling? Then you have made the right choice.

When you are using your body, go some place where you feel safe, where you can be free and loud. Watch how they take off their clothes—this should be part of the fun. Oh yeah, if you take off your underwear remember where you throw them just in case you have to make a quick exit.

Smell their body. Do you like it? Do you want it in your mouth? Against your skin? Is the person you were taking to the same person you are touching? Are you having a laugh?

Make eye contact, say words, make sounds, have fun, pitch the tip. Work hard, be an active participant—even if you are being submissive, passive and receptive.

Listen to the sounds they are making- guess and act on what you think they mean—ask with your hands, your body—they will answer with their body if you are right. Stop if they say so. Stop if you feel threatened. In all other cases, keep going. Enjoy every moment, even the possible self-conscious ones. It is part of the experience.

After it is all done, stretch, be good and clean up after yourself, throw condoms in the garbage not the toilet, look the person in the eyes. Do you feel great? Then say so. Promise yourself to masturbate about this at least once. If you do not feel great then leave and call a friend, write in your journal, take a shower or grab a coffee and do not have sex again until you understand what just happened.
This is spring fever sex. Have fun, don’t hurt anyone against their will, don’t hurt yourself, be selfish, be slutty, be smutty, be safe, be a tease, be sexy, be self aware, be satisfied. Tell me about it!

QUEERMONTON Week of April 17, 2008, Issue #652


In my last article I suggested that there have been three waves of queer activism: standing up/standing proud, gaining our rights and living our rights. I think we are currently at the beginning of the third wave, which I see categorized by the personal being recognized as political in regards to queer lives, animating the rights gained during the second wave through everyday living, and expression being used and recognized as a form of activism.

This week I want to discuss how Edmonton became an illustration, if not a thriving example, of the third wave in action.

Edmonton is the perfect storm; it is North America’s only Human Rights City and it has a creative, connected queer community working both independently and collectively on rigorously created work and events that are inspired or informed by an authority to rail against (the provincial government) and a supportive local community to work and live in (Edmonton).

The last few years Edmonton has been home to a silent queer renaissance that is beginning to be heard. It is no coincidence that it has happened when the city has a forward thinking, informed, if not strategic-minded, mayor.

Being a fan of Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, Mayor Mandel has embraced Florida’s hypothesis that a city flourishes when brimming with creativity and diversity. He has put Florida’s ideas into action by being a champion of the arts and the queer community. His endorsement of these not-mutually-exclusive communities has created stability and a sense of esteem that has allowed both to be bold, feel supported and think long term.

Edmonton is increasingly becoming home to artists who are queer that feel able to show their queer work, and institutions like Latitude 53 and Northern Lights Theatre that feel confident to program queer work.

Last year saw the arrival of Exposure: Edmonton’s Queer Arts and Culture Festival, which aims to bring queer artists to new audiences and new audiences to queer work. In the process they are raising the bar of queer art in Edmonton and casting Edmonton as a leader in queer expression on the Canadian art stage.

Edmonton is also home to Camp fYrefly—Canada’s largest LGBTTQA art-centric youth leadership camp founded by the University of Alberta’s Dr Andre Grace and PhD candidate Kris Wells. They are also behind the newly announced Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, which within two years will be offering North America’s only minor in sexual minority studies. All this just reinforces the national rumour that the U of A’s english and film studies department is the queerest in Canada.

Being an artist myself, I don’t subscribe to the notion that artists have to be tortured to create. But as Edmonton-based writers and actors Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, concede, “living in Alberta adds more fuel to the fire.” And that fire leads to award winning, politically and emotionally charged work.

Last month their hip-hop musical Bash’d received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding NY Theatre. Their show, which debuted at the Roost and will soon begin its commercial run in New York City, is set against the backdrop of the same-sex marriage debate in Canada, during which hate crimes against homos spiked in Alberta.

Compared to the liberal, open atmosphere the Edmonton municipal government provides, the Province of Alberta has been unsupportive and judged by the highest court in the land to be legally negligent of queer human rights.

The historic Vriend v Alberta case had its home in Edmonton when Delwin Vriend was fired from his job for being gay. Seven years of legal battles later, and a decade ago last week, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case that the province let down its population by not protecting Vriend from being fired, and decided that sexual orientation should be covered in human rights legislation across the country. Many provinces have already begun to rewrite legislation as a result of the ruling, but Alberta still has not.

By not changing the legislation, the government is allowing a culture of discrimination to fester and is communicating to the people of the province that the rights of the LGBTTQ community don’t matter—and so the rights of minorities in general don’t matter.

Lindsay Blackett, the new Conservative culture minister, would only comment that before action was taken he would need to review the entire act. While I do respect that he is a new minister who deserves the benefit of a doubt, this kind of “possibly” rhetoric is what queers have been hearing in this province for decades. The PC’s unwillingness to write protections for sexual orientation into legislation shows a lack of leadership on equality and has cultivated a culture where hatred is tolerated. It has also created tension, and thus fuel for artists to work both against and towards.

As the third wave develops, we see that having rights granted and rulings written in are only one part of activism. It is how queer people exist in culture and impact the world around them that has an affect on attitudes and actions towards queers.
“All this talk of rights won’t necessarily stop you from getting a punch in the head,“ says Edmonton writer and musician Marshall Watson, a member of the gaysian invasion band Spreepark. “Laws can only do so much, they don’t change social behaviour the way we can on a personal level.”

Sunday, April 6, 2008

QUEERMONTON Week of April 3, 2008, Issue #650


Last week I sat down with Michael Phair to talk about queer activism both before and after the Vriend v Alberta case. Looking back I always find myself inspired that the case had its beginnings in Edmonton, that our queer community came together to raise money, awareness and that we had an impact on the eventual victory. When I look back I wonder where is the community now? Why aren’t we more active?

It was these questions that made me think that this week’s column, coinciding with the Vriend v Alberta Supreme Court verdict anniversary, was going to be a Larry Kramerish essay telling homos to get off their asses. I met with Phair hoping that he felt the same way and would provide me with a quote. He did not oblige, instead we had a conversation in which he said a simple and insightful thing: “Things have changed.”

These three words gave me permission to look back on our history with more clarity and kindness, with less judgment and impatience. It allowed me to see that the present is vibrant with action, and I just hadn’t recognized it.

Then I started thinking, what has changed, how has it changed and where are we now? Being something of a compartmentalizer I walked away from the conversation and began to organize what I know about queer history and activism. I came up with seeing our history in three waves.

Mattachine to the Bathhouses: Standing Up and Standing Proud

The first wave of queer activism was about gaining recognition of homosexuality in the mainstream culture through targeted efforts or responses to systemic violence. Groups like the Mattachine Society, founded in 1950, worked to “unify ... educate ... assist [homosexuals].” The group communicated and worked towards achieving their goals through meetings and publications like One and The Mattachine Review.

One of the most defining moments of the first wave is the Stonewall riot that took place on the night of Jun 29, 1969. It was one of the earliest and now one of the most often referred to moments of homosexuals fighting back, in this case against police, mafia intimidation and blackmail. Stonewall is also the reason we celebrate Pride in June.

Laying the foundation for the second wave were the bathhouse raids that were happening across North America, specifically in the early ‘80s, including the 1981 Pieces raid in Edmonton. Typically men were either charged or threatened with out-dated and rarely enforced “bawdy-house” laws. Most charges never made it to court but the experience changed the lives of those involved, most often leading them to come out about their homosexuality (either voluntary or otherwise) and/or become politically active.

The efforts of the Mattachine Society and the experiences of the Stonewall riots and the bathhouse raids created a sense of empowerment that informed homosexuals that they didn’t have to be ashamed of who they were and that they deserved fair treatment and equal rights.

AIDS to the Courthouse: Gaining our Rights

Empowered and angry by the experiences of the first wave, the second wave of queer activism is built upon the lessons learned from being on the defensive and applying them offensively in securing rights, privileges, freedoms and access for all sexual minorities.

The AIDS epidemic provided poignant reasons for homosexuals to get organized and political. As thousands needlessly died, both the media and governments remained silent about what was being called the gay plague. Queer-led groups like ACT UP created media spectacles that captured people’s attention and shamed businesses and politicians into lifesaving action including research and development. Out of the AIDS crisis many queer leaders and groups, like The Lesbian Avengers, emerged.

The cornerstone of the second wave is the legal victories. Vriend v Alberta as well as same-sex marriage debates that were happening around the world ensured that more than just being seen, queers were being protected under the law and recognized as full citizens for who they were.

Suburbs to Art and Culture: Living our Rights

For me the third wave of queer activism is the living out and animating of our hard-won visibility and rights. It is about applying the notion that the personal is political to queers and that everything we do no matter how abstractly, is a form of activism. We are our activism.

Of course Michael Phair has been providing Edmonton with an example of third wave activism for almost two decades. During his 15 years on city council he went from being the gay one to being a much-loved symbol of what makes our city great.

We see the third wave activism in the mainstream through Ellen, who early in her career wouldn’t even come out, but has now become a 21st-century icon. Seeing her every day on TV, knowing that she is a lesbian, has a transforming affect on the viewers. Gay goes from exotic to ordinary, which some queerists may argue is a step back for true queer activism and is part of the danger of having queer culture be lost to the mainstream.

More actively we see third wave activism being practiced through art and culture including sport. Groups like Team Edmonton and events like the Outgames counter popular misconceptions that gays can’t throw and lesbians can’t dance while creating a space outside of nightlife for queers to be social and feel good about themselves, while the Exposure Festival and the musical Bash’d, which recently won a GLAAD award, use art to showcase the queer contribution to the modern human experience, often enlightening a viewer to the realities of queerness.

In the end third wave queer activism is as simple as writing this column—or reading it for that matter. In my next column I will look more into the third wave by suggesting that Edmonton is an illustration, if not an epicenter of third wave activism

QUEERMONTON Week of March 20, 2008, Issue #648


Growing up gay you learn how to record your life in two ways: an edited version that you can share with everyone and a second one that is the truth, full of excitement and shame.

The first version is the one you share with your family, it is your way of protecting them from the things about yourself that scare you the most.
All children pick up signs that tell them what is acceptable in the world around them, what will cause grief, what will bring joy. As a gay kid you are even more sensitive to signs and signals, especially to things around gender and sexuality. You might not know what the words mean, but your ears perk up when you hear the word faggot, your heart drops when someone says the word sissy. You fear deep down that you are these things so you do everything in your power to distance yourself from the words and the feelings. In the process you push people away, creating a moat of unspoken words and Swiss cheese stories.

I think about all this now, almost a week after my Grandma died. She survived the depression in rural Europe, a bombed out London during WW II, endless winters on the plains of Alberta, the death of her only child at a young age, the loss of her husband in the bed right beside her and yet under the childlike guise of wanting to protect her I couldn’t bring myself to tell my Grandma that I was gay—and now it is too late.
I was close to her. Really, I was my Grandma’s only living relative and she was my last connection to a past. I was her precariously last genetic link on this chaotic planet of strangers. We were each other’s past and future. I see now how I kept parts of myself from her as a way of preserving our bond, a misguided attempt at protecting her, when really it was me that was afraid.

I would visit her at least once every two months at her home in Innisfail, staying the weekend, collecting the stack of Reader’s Digest books and MacLean’s magazines she had saved for me, spending the Saturday night talking about history, current events, politics and the plight of celebrities. I would call her about once a week, listen to what was new in town and then tell her about work and friends, nothing more.

Last week, as I sat in palliative care watching my Grandma sleep into death, I realized that the time had passed in which I could tell her about who I really was and whom I loved. I knew that I was not going to play out a cliché, self-serving scene of confession where I got to feel better by unloading my baggage on to her soul that was preparing to move on up.

She didn’t deserve that. She had never tried to stop me from telling her I was gay and I had never attempted to tell her. I knew I was gay, I was pretty sure she knew I was gay and the silent, shared knowing was going to be the closest we would come to acknowledging it in this lifetime.
By not asking about girlfriends, relationships, marriages or the prospects of great grandchildren she was communicating to me that she knew I was different. By keeping the silence I was confirming to her that yes, indeed I was.

Although I could blame a culture that supported this unspoken agreement as an excuse to why I never felt secure enough to talk to my Grandma about me being gay I must take responsibility for my actions. It was me who chose not to break through the comfortable impasse we had reached and thus robbed us both of an opportunity to grow and transcend a little in this lifetime.

By not “coming out” to my Grandma I gave life to the culturally inherited, wrongly held, internalized homophobic belief that says people will not accept you, that loved ones will turn their backs. I didn’t give her an opportunity to prove it wrong and I didn’t give myself a chance to be accepted by her.

Earlier this week, after seeing my Grandma laid to rest, my boyfriend took photos of me in my Grandparent’s old neighbourhood. Standing there paralyzed by posing for the camera I remembered pacing those streets convincing my 11-year-old self how easy it was going to be to keep my gayness a secret for the rest of my life, resolving never to get married to a lady and just keep my feelings about other dudes to myself.
Of course the resolution was not to keep. I “came out,” got involved, made friends, had sex, found myself in relationships with men, all without sharing it with my Grandma. It was what I knew to do.

Sitting on her couch one Saturday night a week or two after she saw Brokeback Mountain in the Innisfail Theatre, my Grandma mentioned how sad she was that the two cowboys never got to walk off into the Alberta sunset together.

It was a tender, small, giving moment that I let pass. In all her generosity and kindness she crossed the moat and I chose to remain uncomfortable and silent. I see now that by saying that, in her own way, my Grandma had said it all for both of us.

QUEERMONTON Week of March 6, 2008, Issue #646

“The moral issue raised by this case is not about homosexuality,” said Lyle Kanee, lawyer for the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) during the 1998 Vriend trail, “it’s about equality.”

The CJC, Alberta Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Human Rights Commission were intervenors in support of Vriend during the Supreme Court case. As allies (straight supporters of LGBTTQI rights) they understood that the fight to ensure sexual orientation was protected under the law across Canada was about more than sex—it was about human rights. Through their work, the allied groups illustrated effectiveness and the need for contributions from allies in creating change. They also set the standard for allies that would come after them.

A currently active ally is U of A student Gillian Scarlett, who, along with a full course load and other volunteer activities, is also the Siderite Coordinator and organizer of the upcoming Day of Silence.

Her busy schedule and commitment to queer rights is how she has always led her life. “Social responsibility should be encouraged,” she says. “Everyone in society should work towards queer rights because it’s about human rights over and beyond being gay.”

It was a notion that Scarlett formed growing up in Lacombe, Alberta, with one gay friend and a lot of time on her hands to think.

Making the jump from rural Alberta to the U of A was a relief and confirmation that “campus was more open-minded than my small town.” What she realized, though, was that there was still human rights work to be done.

In her first year Scarlett joined Siderite, a U of A campus group that brings the University and students living in residence together to ensure that the campus is a queer-friendly place to live. As an allied group, Siderite founder Sarah Flynn explains the nerdy yet appropriate name “refers to a chemical compound that becomes stronger as particles join together and do not break down when attacked by outside chemicals.”

Creating the group was Flynn’s response to the 1998 death of Mathew Shepard, “and in recognition of the homophobia I was experiencing and witnessing in rez—I mean, really, how different is Wyoming from Alberta? It seemed just as likely that something similar could occur here.”

In its first year Siderite members were victims of a gay bashing and property damage, which Scarlett points out “wasn’t that long ago. This is not ancient history.”

Last year, less than 10 years since its creation, Siderite was in danger of folding because it did not have an incoming coordinator. “We were struggling to find someone,” recalls Scarlett. “There were a few obvious choices but they were already overextended.” Not wanting to see Siderite fall, Scarlett took on the role as coordinator herself.

Initially she had reservations about her role, but thanks to the group’s support she came into her own while beginning to develop a broader understanding of what queer could mean. “Queer is all-encompassing. I have queer thoughts and life. Standing apart and having my own experience is important to me and informs what it means to be queer.”

As for reaction to Scarlett as a “straight” woman leading a queer organization, the only dissent came from members of social activism groups like Make Poverty History and Save Darfur. In a level voice she reenacts her response to them: “What about you? You’re not living in a Third World country; you’re not living in the Sudan. Why do you care about those issues?”

By turning the tables and asking them to consider their motivations, Scarlett empowered the social activists to see the interconnection of human rights.

It is this kind of strategy that expresses Scarlett’s queer-mindedness and how thriving in rural Alberta gave her diplomatic skills. “Being from a small town with liberal-minded parents had its advantages” muses Scarlett. “It taught me to see both sides of the fence because I had to witness bigoted perceptions that I didn’t agree with. I learned that you couldn’t come across aggressive if you want people to consider what you are saying. Kindness counts for a lot.”

Growing up, Queer as Folk was an early favourite, providing her a role model in the form of Diane, the earth mother “fag hag” who minded a diner while partying and occasionally raising hell with her de facto queer family. Along the way Diane ends up queering the group by having her voice as part of the conversation.

It is voices, or rather the absence of voices that the Siderite-led Day of Silence is about.

Students and the general public are invited, says Scarlett, “to spend the day in silence to echo the silence queer and ally students face everyday to protect themselves from homophobia.” People are also encouraged to wear green to create a sense of solidarity.

The Edmonton Day of Silence will be observed on Apr 2, the 10-year anniversary of the Vriend decision, which still has yet to be read in to the Alberta books. At 3 pm everyone is invited to the U of A Celebration Plaza in front of the Students‘ Union Building to break the silence and feel the weight of repression lifted together.

“For me,” Scarlett grins, “the Day of Silence along with the other Vriend-related programming is a fantastic week for human rights in Alberta. It honors an important legal precedent, increases dialogue in the human rights community and speaks to the power of collaboration.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Queermonton: Week of February 21, 2008, Issue #644


The Mar 3 provincial election is important to all Albertans. It’s an opportunity for us to speak through our vote and tell the current government what we think of its leadership. It also provides an opportunity to empower new voices to be heard.

Sarah Flynn, interim administrative professional officer at the U of A’s new Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services says that she casts a ballot “to make sure that irrespective of whether the candidate or party I support actually wins, at least I’m showing my endorsement of those willing to discuss and address human rights.”

Kristy Harcourt, queer activist and former host of CJSR’s Gaywire, agrees, especially when it come to issues of human rights. “Gay people need to vote. Our rights are recent, fragile and we have a say over what our governments do in our name.”

Voting is the simplest form of political action afforded to a citizen that is often taken for granted. For NDP activist Robert Smith, who had a hand in creating the party’s first gay and lesbian caucus, voting is the opposite of apathy: “You can’t expect change to happen, you have to be part of the process—voting is part of that.”

Another part of the process is getting informed. The Progressive Conservatives have been in power for almost 37 years. In that time they have done some good for Albertans, but in the last 15 years they have let the promise of their vibrant beginnings slide.

In 1971, a modern, urban-centric leader by the name of Peter Lougheed led the PCs to a surprise victory in the Alberta provincial election, upsetting the seemingly entrenched Social Credit Party that had been in power for 36 years. The Harvard-educated former Edmonton Eskimo went on to lead the PCs to three more electoral victories and leave a legacy with the party that has helped them maintain power for over three decades.

During his time as premier, Loughheed introduced the Alberta Bill of Rights, stood up for Alberta by fighting with former prime minster Trudeau over the National Energy Program and started the Alberta Heritage Fund to ensure that the profits from our province’s natural resources would benefit Albertans for generations to come. He also empowered Horst Schmid, the PC Minister of Culture, to let the arts flourish in Alberta.

In the years that have passed the Conservatives, primarily under the leadership of former premier Ralph Klein, has moved sharply to the right of the political spectrum, squeezing out diversity and social welfare, and in doing so have eroded many of the Lougheed government’s accomplishments. The Ministry of Culture has become the monolithic Tourism, Parks, Recreation (and, oh yeah) Culture portfolio, health care is on the road to becoming two-tiered, the environmental damage of the oil industry is the smelly elephant in the room and the recent activity around royalty payments points to a government, even under new leadership, that is more loyal to business than citizens.

For queer citizens the most poignant of erosions was the Conservative government’s 1998 refusal to read sexual orientation into the very Alberta Bill of Rights that the party created. By ignoring the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1998 decision in the Vriend vs Alberta case, where the Alberta provincial government was sued for not protecting the rights of a citizen, they have effectively said that queer Albertans are not citizens worth protecting.

In 2000, two years after Vriend, the government added to the erosion by creating an amendment to the province’s marriage act that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. The amendment included a notwithstanding clause, which is like a veto card that legislators can use to override certain charters in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In theory the clause would have allowed Klein to override the then-upcoming 2005 federal ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in Canada. In the end the clause was more symbolic because marriage is a federally granted right.

Klein’s actions are emblematic of the PC party’s stance on human rights. By attempting to deny one group protection the government has created a precedent for how all minorities could be treated.

The travesty of lost promise within the Progressive Conservative party lies not solely within the party itself but with Alberta’s electorate. We voted them in, or worse, by not voting, we stood by powerless as they abused us. But a change is possible.

By not voting we are rendering ourselves mute and empowering someone we disagree with to represent us. By not voting we are paving the road to corruption and are allowing the very people who want to curb our rights the opportunity to do so. If there is someone who knows the power of voting it’s five-time city councillor Michael Phair.

“There are thousands of excuses for not voting and that’s the reason you end up with a government that you don’t want—so vote and elect the government you do want,” Phair says.

To get to know the candidates better, join Team Edmonton for its free Feb 23 mixer at Amber Brewery, where representatives from all the major parties have been invited to join the fun. It is an opportunity to get involved and talk to someone who might be representing you at the legislature. V

Trevor Anderson's new film

Photo Credit: Klyment Tan

Monday, February 18, 2008

I am on the internet!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Make sure you check out Anthony Easton's show at Mandolin Books with an opening on March 6th starting at 7pm.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Photo of the Moment

Thursday, February 7, 2008

video of the moment: TURN DOWN VOLUME!

queermonton Week of February 7, 2008, Issue #642

While walking past one of the decaying Make it Not Suck “art bombs” that have transformed Jasper Ave construction site barrier walls into outdoor art galleries, I found myself pondering the recent fate of American designer Marc Jacobs.

While running my hands across the peeled and pulled remnants of pasted local rockstar portraits and visual requiems of a city now unrecognizable, I remembered how at the height of my revere for Jacobs he embodied everything visceral and refreshing now represented in Make it Not Suck. He was a vitalizing voice from outside the elite circle of tastemakers who had something to say about design, young people and how the two relate and culture in general.

From its roots, Make it Not Suck is a comment and a reclaiming of the city aesthetic while reminding those in power that people inhabit the city, not merely consumers.

While Make it Not Suck has become a call for urban visual vigilantism, Jacobs has become a key and slightly nauseating figure in the Luxury Goods Distraction Complex that plagues the upper classes and all those wishing to join them. Jacobs sadly has become more famous for his newly toned body than for his body of work.

I am not alone in my disillusionment of Jacobs’ transformation from gawky savant to idiot cover boy. Especially among highbrow fashion writers and gay bloggers, his fall from awkward into the quicksand of slick has become something of a dead Kennedy in the blogosphere, none of which I will repeat here. They tend to focus on his physical transformation, which I think is too bad. Jacobs, like anybody else, is allowed to get fit, get off drugs and try on a different persona. As he expressed in his early work—and Make it Not Suck drives home—ugly is often beautiful.
What the bloggers and the writers are really mourning is the loss of an option.

Jacobs, like Make it Not Suck, expressed himself from the core of creativity, working out his curiosities while creating the change he wished to see. Rising above the inherent wrestling match of commodification versus expression that often hampers fashion and art he challenged the idea that clothes should be made for those already in the scene by making clothes for those the other designers neglected to consider.
Similarly, Make it Not Suck is far from an esoteric art project by high-minded artists, but is instead a collective response via staple guns and ingenious inspirations brought together by photographer and DJ Sheri Barclay (who fittingly enough worked as a dresser for designer Daryl K in New York).

In the face of shoulder pads and offensively bleak-looking condos Jacobs (early on) and Make it Not Suck provide a much needed relief to the tear-inducing banality of corporate “creative” expressions.

The legend of Jacobs begins in 1992 when he and his collaborator Robert Duffy were fired from their new jobs at the helm of fashion house Perry Ellis. What got them the axe was their audacious—and ultimately trendy—landmark grunge collection. For many people the collection marked the beginning of the ‘90s and gave a uniform to Generation X. Imagine the newly anointed supermodels of the day as they clomped down the runway in Doc Martens, plaid skirts and oversized Nirvana T-shirts to an assembled audience of thin-lipped ladies in power suits and tightly cravated gentlemen.

It was unglamorous while communicating what was happening in the dull suburban basements of East Coast and Middle America. The press was split, the fashion elite was offended and Jacobs in some circles was crowned “the people’s designer,” who, because of his bravery, was now out of a job.

Within a decade Jacobs more than rebounded, landing the role of creative director at the powerhouse of fashion Louis Vuitton. It has been since then the transformation of Jacobs has begun. Fashion writer Suzy Menkes calls his Spring ‘08 Marc Jacobs collection “a bad, sad show.” Peppered with transparent pants and globs of satin, Jacobs seems to be referencing the early ‘90s fashion he railed against.

For me nothing exemplifies the fall of Jacobs more than his print ads. Consider this slippery slope: Kim Gordon and family, Charlotte Rampling, Meg White, Dakota Fanning, Victoria Beckham.

These women, in chronological order, are the subjects of Jacobs’s ad campaigns, most from the famous white thick-bordered ads as photographed by Juergen Teller. From talented women of substance to a woman who, instead of singing a solo like her girl power mates during the current Spice Girls reunion tour, opted to strut down a nonexistent runway.

Now don’t get me wrong: Posh is my favourite Spice, but compared to Sonic Youth, Rampling and the untapped genius of Sheri Barclay who the hell are the Spice Girls? And what is Marc Jacobs thinking?

In the face of Jacobs and others falling in line with global greed over global need and seemingly detaching themselves from their own creativity, interventions like Make it Not Suck are needed. They are queer responses to the rigidly straight confines we often find ourselves in.
I like to think of what would happen if Jacobs and Barclay met on the corner of 109th and Jasper, a Make it Not Suck installation behind them and a Starbucks straight ahead. Would Sheri say, “Hey, Marc” and rekindle the fire in Jacobs’ once pudgy belly, compelling him to strike up a conversation? Or would they do the hipster stare-down and go their separate ways?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Photo of the Moment January 27th


visit to read a review I did of the Re-drawing the line show at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

prairieartsters is a blog all about art on the prairies...


Saturday, January 26, 2008

video of the moment: January 26th

Unlimited: Current Online Feature and Past Articles

Unlimited Magazine is a new magazine from the publishers of Venture. It has great content and an awesome design. Edited by Dan Rubinstein and art directed by Malcolm Brown.

Follow this link to view a sample of 60 Women Living in Edmonton, part of a photo project I did called Towards Seeing Everything funded by the Edmonton Cultural Capital Project:

Follow this link to read my 360 article in the 1st edition of Unlimited magazine:

Towards Seeing Everything Artist Talk with Amy Fung

Below are my notes from this Thursday's Artist Talk.
Thank you to Sharon at Mandolin Book and Moderator Amy Fung!

I want to talk about process tonight, for some of you it will be a new buzzword and for many I suspect it will be an old one. I am tonight looking at how it relates to a lingering buzzword - diversity.

Over the last year I have had the opportunity to be on committees and be involved in working groups.

In my time in these groups I see how diversity is one of the most important values a group can hold. I also see how in many ways we often fail to fully understand diversity.

It is not just about color, size, backgrounds ECT. but of course those things play a part. Diversity is about differences in the minds, thoughts, ways in which the brain works and ways we express ourselves.

True diversity is uncomfortable, unsettglining, challenging. You know that you are experiencing real diversity when you face gets flushed, or you are outraged or feeling confronted.

Diversity comes when the very core of your beliefs are cast in a way that allows you to recognize that
you are possibly wrong,
there is no such thing as right and
that we are all just doing our best to find the answers in a way that provides us joy or peace.

For me the best way to explore and understand diversity is through process. How does one arrive at a certain belief, idea or result? I am fortunate to have just gone through a process where I had to become apart of 4 different processes in order to complete something that was important to me: the role of non-profits and relations to culture.

I am not an artist’s artist. What matters to me are people and how we interact. How we are with each other, and inside ourselves.

I don’t know theory, I never went to school, and I don’t really know what is going on in the art world- or even fully want to believe that there is an art world because for me an Artist is not caged by a group or school or even profession. An Artist is someone who listens to their curiosities, and then how they see it the curiosities through.

A Politician is an artist, a chef is most certainly an artist, doctors shouldn’t always be, but is okay if they are, researchers should be artists and most single parents who play an active role in their children’s lives are for sure artists.

The best writers are artists and the same can be said for painters, filmmakers, photographers and all other titles we often bundle as Artists. And those rare individuals who really make change are artist. It is not a holy word- but for me the term Artist does suggest that there is some internal work being done. A good preacher, yogi, imam monk is an artist. The best policy makers are artists. And in that thinking many people working in non-profits are artists by survival. I know this 1st hand because of my involvement with various non-profits.

I am involved with HIV Edmonton and on the board of Mile Zero Dance. These experiences have given me insight into the inner workings of what makes non-profits tick but also an understanding that when we talk about culture, ecspeally a city’s culture we damage our understanding by not unpacking the word. What is culture? Who deserves to be included under the umbrella? What is the purpose of culture? And how do we ensure that all people are seen as part of the culture. To me a city is just a manifestation of human’s relationships so a culture is part of that manifestation. It is the thing that can not be tangible because it is more than fluid, it is the vapour we all breath that affects how we walk, talk, build and eat.

As soon as I heard about the cultural capital grant as funded through Edmonton’s designation as Canada’s Cultural Capital I knew I wanted to do something that included voices from outside the typical arts and culture community because for me they are the ones that most influence my work. It was being a volunteer and then employee of HIV Edmonton that I began to understand the delicate choreography of stigma and help services. It was while listening to Dr. Fay Fletcher and her work with Changing Together that I began to appreciate the different textures that surround despair and solutions.

My initial idea was to use the naked human form as a way of capturing people’s attention to issues and the simple fact that non-profits exist in Edmonton. It was and is a good idea but as I traveled down the road with the idea I realized that it wasn’t where I wanted to go.

The 1st aside of the evening. I often hear artists as well as those people in the non-profits, talk about projects and they say things like, “oh the idea got away from me and took on a life of it’s own” there is something both beautiful and dangerous about this urge and or phenomenon. As bosses of our own process we cannot abdicate responsibility to a higher power like whim or inspiration without taking responsibility and ensuring that we hold on to the wheel. It is good to be fluid in our thinking but we must honor our initial curiosity and see that through. Too often great ideas are watered down or over complicate because of something taking on a life of it’s own. Since you breathed life in to the idea you are responsible for where it goes. We do not let our children wander the streets at 5 years old. We can let something have a life of it’s own when we have ensured it can stand on it’s own.

So I was given the grant based on the naked idea but more importantly I think I was granted money for the project because at the base of the project was a curiosity about the role of non-profits in creating culture and how culture in turn works with non-profits.

With a letter of introduction (still with the chance of nudity) I approached and was accepted by 4 different non-profits: HIV Edmonton, Mile Zero Dance, Changing Together and Chrysalis. Of the 4 I had intense experience with 2: HIV Edmonton, Mile Zero Dance; perfiral experience with Changing Together and no prior knowledge or understanding of Chrysalis. It was a passion suggested by a trusted person with whom I knew to listen to.

With my friend and artistic advisor Kathy Ochoa I met with a representative from each non-profit. Before we met I sent them a questionnaire that asked them about their work, barriers, success. I was s looking for the nitty gritty, the highs and lows that I wouldn’t get from the website and that only someone committed and maybe slightly burnt out could provide.

I got what I wanted and even though after each meeting I bored poor Kathy with the, “Okay I get it now, this is what I am going to do speech”, it wasn’t until it was almost getting too late in the process that I realized that I was going down a very narrow path dragging all the non-profits with me and that if I kept traveling I might be the only one who made it through to the other side.

I needed to follow a way that was large and accommodated many different destination- not just the small one of meeting my grant requirements. Something also about this process is that it was deadline. I had until the end of 2007 to finish. It was a busy time so it added to the stress, which added to the work.

The learning for me by the end of summer was that every non-profit was unique and that although they shared a lot they were very different. Funding was a concern for all of them. There ability to think outside the box and bring in community help was something else they all did well. They all also appreciated and understood the power and need for creativity in their work and who art could help them. I think to a degree I saw how art help create a good reflection back on them. Art reminded them that their work was beautiful and meaningful and had a place in society to be celebrated.

What I hope you see when you look at the work is 2 seemingly contradictory yet related things. On the outside all the work looks the same. It is white squared. This for me represents not only how they all represent building blocks that make up our culture but also how in many ways they re all in the same boat and can work together to see a bigger picture (towards seeing everything) once inside the box there are difference. Differences of size, numbers, perspectives and details. There are still boxes thought. This was something that came naturally. I see now how it is both in response to my need to contain the largeness of the issues but also as a way of pointing to the idea that these are just details of what I was exploring

(tour of art work. notes not included)

In closing
In the end for me I realized the project need more than just images hanging on a wall. People needed to come together. I planned a community discussion and invited people from all the different groups to come together to discuss what the images were attempting to animate.

In part this was a reaction to the classical art opening where nobody talks about the art, but in part it was also an homage to art show where people connect after not seeing for a while and catch up on each other’s lives. It is also a place where people come up with new ideas and have conversations that lead to new projects.

A group discussion is also an opportunity to bring together all the different processes I was involved with and give them a chance to influence each other they way they had me. I often feel blessed in this life that I get the opportunity to meet and work with some many amazing people- present company included.

Not to tute my own horn but I am happy with who I am becoming as an artist understanding that I have a long way to go and credit it all to the diversity of voices that I have had along the way.

In the end if we as a collective or even as individuals are working towards seeing everything we need to pick up different lens, filters, and perspectives along the way. It can be achieved through many ways and I thank you for being a part of tonight, which is only on example.

Video of the Moment: January 26th

birds in edmonton... (turn the sound down)

Photo of the moment : january 26th

News Vue Weekly Week of January 24, 2008, Issue #640


On the historic day Dr Sima Samar was named Deputy Chair and Minister of Women’s Affairs for the interim administration of Afghanistan she was here in Edmonton. Seven years and many accolades and weighty global assignments later, she is back, this time as one of four keynote speakers for the University of Alberta’s 23rd annual International Week.

Hosting Dr Samar that day—mere months after Sep 11, 2001 and in the early stages of the invasion of Afghanistan—was Nancy Hannemann, director of Global Education with the University of Alberta International, the coordinating body of the annual event.

Hannemann says that bringing people like Dr Samar to the city to connect people here to issues around the world is what International Week—or I-Week as it has come to be known—is all about.

“Every individual in Edmonton should be a global citizen,” Hannemann insists, “and realize that they are connected and that their actions affect everyone around the world.”

Coinciding with the U of A’s centenary, the theme of this year’s event is also a gauntlet thrown, Addressing Global Challenges: 100 Years and Beyond.

“Knowledge is a very important component of addressing issues,” Hannemann explains. “The University has a role in affecting change. As we look at the next 100 years what do we want the university’s role to be?”

The role that the university and I-Week can play in affecting such change is an intensely personal one for this year’s I-Week volunteer coordinator Roshini Nair. Nair made the jump from the sciences to a major in anthropology after seeing 2006 I-Week keynote speaker Stephen Lewis.

“[International Week showed me] that a community of people who care very deeply about international issues exists, and that my educational pursuits do have real-life relevance,” Nair recalls.
It works the other way as well, says Pat Mooney, who is speaking on the issue of extreme genetic engineering at an event on Jan 31.

“It is an encouraging thing to be invited,” Mooney says, adding that with much of his time spent with politicians and bureaucrats the week is a refreshing change which offers him the opportunity “to talk to students who offer new perspectives, different angles and different sets of priorities.”

With more than 60 free events, including speakers, workshops, displays and performances, Hannemann says the aim of I-Week is to use dialogue and connections to spur people on and get them “inspired to be involved in resolving issues in a real way.” To do so, Hannemann insists that people must “understand that the issues presented are complex,” pointing to Africa as an example of the intricacies of global issues.

“We look at Africans as victims of war and other calamities,” she explains. “I want people to see that many vibrant cultures exist in Africa, to share a more holistic view of African people and to recognize that Africans have much to contribute to the rest of the world.”

And so, the week offers “Beyond Indigo,” an exhibition of renowned Nigerian textile artist Nike Okundaye as well as the Jan 29 “Spotlight on Darfur,” which will bring together an expert panel including UN personnel, academics and Sudanese refugee and activist Mohammed Adam Yahy to discuss the ongoing crisis in the Sudan.

Knowing how disingenuous it might sound, the authentically excited Hannemann confesses that this year is the highlight of her 14 years of involvement with I-Week.

“Every year gets bigger and better. This year we have four prominent keynotes,” she says. Along with Dr Samar there is medical anthropologist Dr Paul Farmer, a hero to many in the HIV community; anti-landmine activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams; and author and economist Jeffery Sachs.

While introducing Edmontonians to global issues is a major aim of the week, Hannemann stresses that more important is what people do with the information for the other 51 weeks of the year.

“Garnering knowledge is only one part of it. You have to act. Follow up on issues that are important, go with what struck you, become more informed, get connected, have a long view, and plan for change.

“When I started this work people shied away from promoting global citizenship within the university but now we have a university president that is an advocate for global citizenship. Things can be done to create a better world both at an individual and institutional level.” V

Mon, Jan 28 - Fri, Feb 1
International Week 2008: Addressing Global Challenges 100 Years & Beyond
U of A Campus, most events free


As a Kurdish poet, journalist and—before he was imprisoned for his writing—executive director of the Department of the Culture Ministry in northern Iraq, it’s safe to say that Jalal Barzanji is more than qualified to speak on the 2008 International Week theme, Addressing Global Challenges.

In his role as Edmonton’s Writer in Exile, Barzanji will be sharing stories from his personal journey and speaking about writing in an atmosphere of fear and how one can use writing as a tool to “defend freedom.”

“He inspires us by his example,” says Dr Gurston Dacks, acting dean of the Faculty of Arts, whose office is sponsoring the event. “He wants to create poetry, and that trumps everything else.”

The Faculty of Arts is also a sponsor, along with Edmonton Community Foundation, Canada Council, Edmonton Arts Council and others, of the Writer in Exile program. Hosted by the Writers Guild of Alberta, the program is intended to aid “immigrant writers living in Canada, and to create opportunities for them to pursue a professional career.”

“I belong to my freedom and my writing,” says Barzanji. “[Writing is a way to] at least try to create even a small amount of change in order to make the world more beautiful.” V

Wed, Jan 30 (3:30 pm)
The Power of Writing: An Exile Speaks
Dewey’s, U of A, Free