Where were you on August 9, 2012? If your answer isn’t “Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto,” you seriously missed out on history.
TWAT/Fest, the Trans Women’s Arts Toronto Festival (lovingly nicknamed the Trans Women’s Arts Throwdown), conceptualized and curated by PrettyQueer’s own Morgan M. Page/Odofemi, took place this month for the first time. TWAT/Fest was the world’s first ever fine arts festival planned and curated by trans women to showcase the work of trans women artists. The festival featured visual and performance art in a variety of media by talented trans women fine artists from across North America, each piece more stunning than the last.
The show was hosted by Good For Her Feminist Porn Awards’ 2011 Heartthrob of the Year Drew Deveaux. Although she was certain to remind the audience that she is not actually a stand-up comedian, Deveaux’s stand up comedy-esque opening remarks and anecdotes between performances were a charming, funny and emotional celebration of trans women, particularly those in the arts. Certainly the most memorable part of her introduction was when she confided that as a porn star, she’s often more comfortable in front of an audience without clothing, asking the audience if we would mind her stripping and then taking her clothing off to reveal “TWAT/Fest” written in silver letters across her bra and underwear. Deveaux’s performance brought humour and continuity to the entire celebration of all these talented artists!
The show was a once in a lifetime experience and by the end of the night, audience members and artists alike were buzzing with excitement for the show and looking ahead to TWAT/Fest 2013 which promises to be bigger and better. The after party at the Henhouse, DJ-ed by DJ Alyssa (Toronto) and DJ Bratface (Montreal) featured a special performance by Morgan M. Page/Odofemi and was a fun and sexy celebration of talented trans women artists and those who love their work! If you missed the after party, there are rumours of it becoming a quarterly event to keep the celebration of trans women artists alive year round and raise money for next year’s TWAT/Fest. Keep an eye out for upcoming TWAT/Fest 2013 fundraisers and and if you missed TWAT/Fest this year, don’t make the same mistake twice! Trans women artists should start working on your submissions for next summer now and start planning your trip to Toronto right away (that means non-Canadians should work on getting your passports now) because TWAT/Fest 2013 is not to be missed!
Mirha-Soleil Ross (Montreal):
The show opened with the premier of a silent film by Montreal based artist Mirha-Soleil Ross called “tease (c. 1992)” which shows Mirha-Soleil Ross dancing slowly but provocatively for the camera in a way that invites an uncomfortable awareness of viewers’ own voyeurism. This piece was filmed by Mirah-Soleil Ross’s late partner shortly before his death and was not previously released. It is well paired with “Gikinawaajichige (For Mark)” her other previously unreleased film which premiered at the end of the show. While “tease, (c. 1992)” awkwardly invited the male gaze while also calling the viewer’s attention to the male gaze on Mirha-Soleil Ross’s sexualized trans body and is among the artist’s final collaborations with her late partner before his death, “Gikinawaajichige (For Mark)” explores the artist’s reintegration into the world after the loss of her male collaborator. In her artist statement about the second film, Mirha-Soleil Ross describes it as an attempt to reclaim her art after experiencing the loss of the man she not only loved deeply, but upon whom she depended for every technical aspect of her work. “Gikinawaajichige (For Mark)” opens with the abstraction of watching the sun through the opening between closed drapes. As the film progresses, Mirha-Soleil Ross reveals more of the outside world as seen through her window and begins to reveal portions of her own body, specifically her hands, as well. The film, which is silent and largely abstract, speaks of the terrifying experience of beginning to move beyond the isolation and loneliness of the artist’s grief at her loss.
Isz (Izzy) Ellis (Toronto):
“Bars,” “Proximity” and “Sound” are the three gorgeous prints by Toronto artist Isz (Izzy) Ellis, who shared their work with an audience for the first time this year at TWAT/fest. Ellis’s style is sleek and futuristic but their prints exude a corporeal tension that evokes the sort of emotion that is the fabric of the most heart-wrenching and emotionally real science fiction. “Proximity” features an androgynous figure lying naked with their back arched on a thin pallet in near darkness, as if moonlit in a jail cell. The figure is digging their hands into their face as their head literally melts into the bench while meeting the viewer’s gaze with the piercing stare of one cool green eye that seems to plead with the voyeur of their sadness. “Bars” similarly plays with the literal manipulation of the subject’s own flesh as both hands pull at the flesh of their torso in opposing directions. What makes this image stand out is the look of the sadness of a quiet guilt on the subject’s face as they subvert eye contact with the viewer. Finally, “Sound,” a slightly more realistic print than the previous two, is a self portrait which shows the artist with their head bowed, eyes closed and both hands pressed flat against the sides of their head, as if to hold in the sound of invisible headphones. While this print captures similar feelings of anguish as the other two, the look in the artist’s closed eyes brings a softness absent from the others which suggests some small moment of escape to an inner peace in the midst of the guilt and sadness of the other two images.
Raphaële Frigon (Montreal):
Montreal artist, Raphaël Frigon‘s performance piece entitled “Input” was a demonstration of Frigon’s ongoing biotechnical living performance piece exploring the relationship between the identities we place on ourselves and those assigned to us by others. Frigon had an RFID chip implanted on her hand that contains an identity. Friends and strangers are invited to go to her website and input new identities that go into a queue and every time Frigon scans her hand, a new identity from the queue is assigned to her and actually exists in the chip inside her body. Frigon’s discussion on identity encourages us to embrace the role other’s perceptions of us play into our identities, literally letting it into our bodies, rather than seeking to overcome it and with this suggestion she brings a quiet and vulnerable beauty to the show.
Adelaide Windsome/Geppetta (USA):
If it is possible to identify a single highlight of this show amongst all the breathtaking art showcased at TWAT/fest, the short film Lili Longed to Feel Her Insides, by American multi-media artist and puppeteer, Adelaide Windsome (also known as Geppetta) brought something beautifully special to the show. This film is an emotional exploration of the life and death of Lili Elbe, a transsexual woman who underwent a full uterus transplant in the 1930’s and died from complications related to the surgery. Windsome’s use of handmade patchwork puppets, original music and emotionally charged puppeteering imagine Lili Elbe’s struggle in a way that connects the viewers not only to a factual history of generations of trans women’s struggles within western medicine, but an emotional history that connects trans women across generations. As the puppet Lili lyrically trembled while pulling out her rejected insides and finally died, the entire audience trembled with her, crying with our entire bodies as Windsome communicated Lili’s struggle with movement and images in a way that words never could. This film was something special that will stay with me and other audience members for a long time–I still feel this film in every inch of my body just remembering it and I look forward to the opportunity to see more work from Adelaide Windsome/Geppetta.