by Eroca Nicols
Allyson Mitchell, of FAG (feminist art gallery (1)) fame has instigated the queer answer to evangelical North America’s hate driven, scare tactic based hell houses. Instead of demonizing the sins of fornication, abortion, suicide, occultism, and— of course—same-sex relationships, as in traditional hell houses, KillJoy's Kastle engages these icons of deviance to highlight fear that surrounds queerness and feminism.
The welcome mat image to the work is a giant half rainbow glory hole sprouting "vagina dentata" complete with dripping bloody fangs. It bears the sign, LESBIAN RULE, in giant fuchsia letters, leaking gold. A self proclaimed "demented women's studies professor" acts as tour guide through the installation, which is the remains of the previous nights performance. She advises “Careful! Don’t slip on the pussy juice!” as she amusingly embodies the stereotype of the fun murdering feminist kill joy.
The tour winds through monster truck sized voluptuous vagina sculptures, a lavender corridor of "two adult lesbians in love," remnants of riot ghouls and truck nut ball busting butches. After living through the emasculator and many encounters of the latch hooked and heavily hand crafted kind we end up being offered a piece of vegan, gluten free chocolate cake after processing the experience with a real live feminist killjoy.
Wielding craft like an inviting, recklessly cozy, distinctly feminist fuck you! to hetero art world cleanliness, this Lesbian haunted house is a pussy palace of radical inclusion and anti oppression while at the same time staying relevant, fun, uncompromising and un-whiney. This is neither an easy nor an unconsidered plan of action.
“Designed to pervert not convert"
It is important to acknowledge that as much fun and mystical magic all of this madame oriented mayhem is, the dark underbelly is that there is one lez ruled castle and multitudes of Christian Right run hell houses. That shit is real scary. Allyson Mitchell and the crowd sourced crew of queer badasses she has brought together to make Killjoys Kastle get it. Tongues are firmly in cheeks and pussies but radical organizing and art and support for queer artists is not just a laughing matter, though laughing is also encouraged. These humans are carving out an outsider existence within the current framework being set out for artists by making work in ways that are doggedly defiant to demands for competitivity from the capitalist art market and dude worshipping hetero favoritism.
A hefty combination of dispute and dialogue rages even now after the installation has closed (mainly on FB) about whether/how the house was white-centric, cisnormative and exclusive. This brings to light yet another dark underbelly- that of feminism in general as mainly engaging with the interests, abilities, and concerns of white, cis, able bodied, middle class women. I agree with Alison Cooley's sentiment that this work, "successfully manages at once to satirize those evangelical scare-tactics and homophobic stereotypes, and to provide a sense of the systems of exclusion which operate within radical communities."(2) The continued conversations online suggest Kill Joys Kastle walks a complicated line of showing that underbelly and also perhaps celebrating it at the expense of more marginalized groups within the queer community.
To approach this work in term of success or failure seems to me to be missing the point. Is it possible to work in ways that are anti-oppressive and inclusive while at the same time acknowledging that fuck-ups are imminent? Can makers be discerning and self aware but still embrace a biting (insert werwolf, vampire) sense of trangrassion, satire and humor? Can the queer community assume its' intelligent beastly criticality while resisting co-option? Is there potential to acknowledge myriad faults and address these concerns from within the community and with the community with dignity and care? These questions are the real monsters. And Killjoys Kastle, in all its fake blood and blunder, takes a stab at both asking them and addressing them. The work serves as a call to other art makers and producers that claim radicality to step up and deal with the skeletons in their own closets. Spooky, scary.
The dominant arts communities in Toronto would do well to acknowledge and learn from the badassery (and openness to dealing directly with criticism, see the FB page (3)) of FAG’s and Allyson Mitchell’s commitment to a radically open queer spaces of art. Many artists and arts organizations in Toronto (including the Love-In) flirt with flying radical flags but Killjoys Kastle and FAG are all in. FAG puts their money, their home, their art and their vagina dentata where their mouth is. For this, I say hells yes to LESBIAN RULE.
1.Since FAG’s inception in 2011, Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue have been dedicating their home (the gallery is in their home,) their opportunities (they gave their commission at the Tate Modern over to local emerging queer artists of color,) and their place of privilege in the art world (university professor and development director respectively,) to making a space for feminist and queer makers in Toronto and beyond.