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queries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that questions LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Summer may be coming to an end, but there’s still plenty of time to experience one of the most notable queer art offerings: Blurred Boundaries: Strange Visions in Canadian Art, which runs through September 25 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. With installations spanning over 150 years, the Blurred boundaries exhibition is a powerful illustration of the different ways queerness can be conceptualized in Canadian art.
“Exhibiting historical works is invaluable as it shows that same-sex relationships have always existed and are far from a contemporary manifestation,” said Renata Azevedo Moreira, AGO Assistant Curator of Canadian Art, who curated the exhibition.
Take, for example, the photographer Edith S. Watson, whose work was largely created more than a century ago.
“Everyone should see her album ‘Happy Voyages with Queenie in Canada,'” says Moreira. “It features photographs of Watson and her companion ‘Queenie’ (journalist Victoria Hayward) as they traveled across Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”
Moreira also points to the Toronto-born, Montreal-raised artist Cassilswhose 2011 archival pigment print “Advertisement: Homage to Benglis” pays tribute to Linda Benglis’ 1974 historical feminist artwork “Advertisment.” Collaborating with photographer and makeup artist Robin Black, Cassils appears in the work in all their ripped, trans-masculine glory.
“I don’t think any work in this group is more symbolic of resistance than Cassils’s ‘Ad’,” she says. “It’s a direct confrontation about the definition of what a female or male body should look like, and whether these concepts even make sense today.”
“The artist’s choice to present it over wheat-pasted press releases condemning the ban of the photos in German metro stations as an act of transphobia adds a necessary layer of activism to the exhibition.”
The work of Cassils and Watson is shown alongside the mighty likes of General idea, Will Munro, Zachari LoganFrances Norma Loring, David Buchan, and Robert Flack. Together, their work makes up the 13 installations of the exhibition – which, while by no means massive, is a towering presence in one of North America’s largest art museums.
“I think [queer art] has been embraced by parts of the art world, especially university galleries, artist-run centers and experimental art spaces that encourage the production of works that question predetermined concepts and the status quo in general,” says Moreira. “Queer theory has had a huge impact in new media art, bio art, nano art, and any practice that questions the boundaries between art, science and technology.”
Queerness, however, is less prevalent in traditional public settings — “especially when it comes to openly stating that a show or artist is queer in a title or on the label,” Moreira says.
“There seems to be a fear that this may alienate or even offend some of the audience, or that queer art will only interest a queer audience – which is untrue and ignores one of the most important functions of art institutions, which is to reflect the world.” through art. We need more curators interested in alienating and decolonizing exhibitions and collections that work across institutions.”
Going forward, Moreira says she’s excited about seeing more spaces and artists that “resist rigid classification and definitions, reflecting, as it does, a new generation raised to see identity as not fixed or stable, but transient.”
She cites Concordia University’s Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology, Brooklin’s Eyebeam and the University of Western Australia’s SymbioticA lab as some examples of the world’s more “fertile spaces” in this regard.
“These institutions, among other things, center queer definitions of what art is by proposing new terminology and providing inspiring environments for talented artists to create groundbreaking art,” she says.
Moreira also ushers in the queer-focused Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York City.
“It’s a necessary stopover for any queer art enthusiast who has the opportunity to travel there,” she says. “The National Gallery of Canada also currently has a show of contemporary queer art called Over the Rainbow: Works of LGBTQ2S+ artists I look forward to seeing soon, along with the General Idea exhibition, whose work is also featured in Blurred Boundaries.”
“My next show at the AGO opens on October 8 and is called her flesh and present works by female artists, including Alma Duncan, Nina Levitt and Jess Dobkin, all of whom have created and/or continue to create works in which lesbian perspectives are central.’
But in addition, Moreira encourages people to research artists “whom they find particularly unconventional in a museum, even if they are not openly stated.”
“They can bathe in strange perspectives that are sure to surprise you,” she says. “It’s a lot more common than you might think.”
Blurred Boundaries: Strange Visions in Canadian Art will continue at the AGO until September 25th.
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