Performance collage

Christine Stoddard: Welcome. It's an honour to be at this table with you and a real pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about art, identity, and politics with three artists whose work I respect and admire. I wrote a series questions to frame our discussion, but what I am hoping is that we'll just start a conversation and see where it takes us. As you know, I'm organizing a website from the archive of performances at grunt. What I am looking for is a richer context for that work. Since you were all working here in the '90s, in the Vancouver scene so to speak, performing or working in multiple mediums, I am hoping you can offer a kind of oral history - an informal recollection of what things were like, how you have been thinking about identity politics as they were playing out at that time and maybe how that has evolved for you. This is what I would like to do, but if you had anything in particular you wanted to talk about, we can make sure we get to it. Also, I know you watched a few of the videotapes and I do apologize that some of those dubs were absolutely horrid.

Archer Pechawis: Let's face it. Back in the day, some of the performances were pretty horrid too. It may not be the tape quality that's the problem.


Paul Wong: You know that word "horrible" is such a subjective word. Because I did watch some of those horrific, VHS dubs.

CS: I meant the dub was horrific, not necessarily the performance.

PW: They were difficult to watch. I commend you for going through that stuff and actually looking at it. I had to fast-forward through my own stuff. I couldn't stand watching it. But it was good because I remembered stuff and watching some of the other people's work, some I knew and others I didn't know, it was extremely… well, let's just say it tried my patience.

LW: There is a conflict that happens when you try to document performance and when you are looking at documents of performance because the core of performance is the live body aspect. When you are looking at a flat 2D representation of it, oftentimes it's awful. Also because I think galleries, maybe grunt, deliberately chose not to overproduce it like some theatrical spectacle but tried to document it as plainly as possible, without light or camera effects. So, what we are looking at now are flat documents. We have to remember that performance is often documented very flatly. What would be great in this conversation is to try and recall the spirit of that time that some of these videos don't capture and, as you say, contextualize. For example, what was the impetus for this kind of very energetic work that was, sometimes, deliberately made to offend and sometimes, deliberately, made to not be pleasant? A lot of performance is that way and there was a reason; there is a reason.

CS: And yet, in a lot of the material I watched, there is actually a significant amount of humour and play.

LW: Yes, there's a lot of humour.

CS: That's my first question to you: how might you characterize the '90s in Vancouver. What were the hot issues? What was going on?

AP: I'd like to back up one step and speak to what Paul and Laiwan have said. Everything they've said is absolutely true. I was the technician for grunt and we never lit for camera - that was the policy. What we did was serve the artist; the documentarians had to do the best they could with what they had at hand, which was typically limited. Also, the colour temperature of theatre lights is wrong for video, especially back in those days when we were using Hi8 and sometimes VHS - remember those VHS cameras? - Low resolution, VHS handycams, Hi8 - and then in the mid-90s we moved over to mini DV. There was this gradual increase in what the camera would read. But you really do see it from the documentation, especially the stuff that was shot in VHS. Thank god for YouTube because it helps you deal with that kind of quality.

But the thought that popped into my mind, listening to Paul and Laiwan, is they are more like surveillance tapes. You could look at them in the spirit of surveillance tapes of occurrences, which at times bordered on phenomena. They were these ephemeral events that were attended by a relatively narrow band of people, plus sometimes you would get these folks who would somehow be sucked in. A friend would say, "Oh, come with me to grunt to see this thing." You could usually spot them because they'd be sitting there, they'd be the ones thinking, "How do I get out of here?" Or, conversely, there would be people who would come up later and say, "I've never seen anything like that. I didn't know something like this existed." So, you'd have those moments of transcendence as well. That's what's important to remember. When I made that crack about the performances, about the quality of the performances being terrible versus the quality of the tapes, I was actually speaking about my own work. Because there isn't a performance I did at grunt where I look at it and go, "that was fantastic!" I went to art school at grunt: being a technician, that's how I learned. I was very much mentored by Paul and to a degree by Laiwan. We were all mentoring one another. There were artists senior to myself who were taking an active role in mentoring, but there was that whole thing in the '90s where - maybe people still say this - the queers were out recruiting. Well, we were recruiting. We went on a campaign. I wanted to see more Aboriginal involvement in the gallery, which was encouraged by Glenn [Alteen]. "Let's have an Aboriginal performance series," he'd say. Well, there weren't enough performance artists in Western Canada to do that. We were doing ten-day series, two shows a night, plus cabarets. That's more than twenty artists right there and there weren't twenty Aboriginal performance artists maybe even in the country at that point. I was poaching friends out of the native theatre community and saying, "Why don't you come and do a show," because if I said, "Do a performance," they'd say "Well, what do you mean, do a performance?" "Just come do a show." "Oh, okay, we'll do a show."

It reminds me: I am Plains Cree, but my family married into the Kwakwaka'wakw clan, the Sewids on the coast. We're functionally adopted into their clan; we have all the rights and obligations of that clan, so we go to the Potlatches and whatnot. I was born here on the west coast so I'm kind of a "West Coast Cree." And whenever they have a Potlatch they'll call me up and say, "Will you come and dance?" Now, they know I don't dance, but whatever it is that I do, which is always mysterious to them - in that way that we all have that experience with our families always saying "so, what do you do?" and the more you explain the more confusing it is for them, right? So, whenever I go there and do my thing, whatever that is at the time, that's me "dancing." So, I would go to the community and basically I would say, "We're having a ceremony, will you come and dance?" We were going out into the larger community and tapping anybody we thought might be into it. We were constantly bringing artists out of their comfort zone and into this performative space and saying, "Well, what do I do…what are the rules?" There're no rules, it's no holds barred, and do what you will.

CS: There was such a diversity of styles in that period: from the performance poet, the staged reading, storytelling or the reading of poetry to more theatrical kinds of staging, where there is a script, or some sort of ceremony or ritual, or even installation aspects, where visual imagery plays a key role. It ran the gamut of performance practices.

LW: Something important that Archer is highlighting here is how grunt, and also Video In, were nurturing a kind of hotbed of artists who may have come out of art school, may not have come out of art school, but had a place to interact and engage. Paul mentored me early on and meeting Archer at grunt was really a fantastic opportunity for me to learn more about First Nations artists. We were having this very vibrant exchange, even though, on a structural level, Vancouver may not have been aware or was ignoring these exchanges. The grunt was a place that nurtured an open diversity before the concept of diversity or equity came about.

So say, for example, myself, I came out of art school. Art school was very male-centric, straight, and I realized a need to figure out my identity politics. This was in the '80s when identity politics was not yet in textbooks and part of that was dealing with sexuality and coming out as a lesbian. That happened around 1986, I was twenty-five years old. I knew that sexually and racially I didn't fit the dominant norm, and the core thing I needed to do was to find out what it was to live as a lesbian and as an artist and it meant coming out as an activist. The difficulty was that the art world did not recognize activism as an artistic activity and activists did not see the value of an elitist art world. Art school didn't have queer studies or identity politics So the mid-80s gearing up to say 1992, when I think this hotbed of identity politics and sexuality studies on an activist level was happening in Vancouver which was also in response to the 500th year since Columbus stumbled upon this continent. A lot of artists of colour were making work in response to that. The core challenge for me was: how could I reconcile these two worlds - the one of the queer activist, and the one of the artist. On some levels, at that time, in that era, I couldn't. I had to be an activist and on some levels attempt to try and still make art and one of the core challenges was how not become ghettoized (racially, queerly, gendered etc.) And so, there was a lot of juggling going on.

PW: I would take it back a little bit further and, recognizing that my strategy from the very get-go - and it wasn't a strategy in the way that we use the word now - was developing my own practice and developing the artist-run culture and that it was very much a DIY thing when I started off in the '70s. We produced things for each other, we went to things for each other and within that I started to find my voice and develop my practice and yours along with mine. So, we shared time and physical space by sharing what we did with each other and helping each other bring it to others thus forming a community. We didn't want to be alone especially when we were grappling, especially when we were looking for a sense of belonging and being and questioning. For me, it has always been about answering the next question, whatever that might be: from claiming media space, claiming a room, a music night, a video moment, a documentary thing, an activist thing, a performance art body, queer politics, identity politics… It has always been a reclaiming and a claiming of something, so I might see, more clearly, who I am. And that continues to evolve into how I position myself out there. It's a consistent thing where performance - and I see the different strains of performance: Native, identity politics, Asian, queer - has always been a bringing together of like-minded members of a developing community who are thirsty, who are questioning. The work, regardless of it being not very well produced, had energy and it didn't matter that it was chaotic. That was the beautiful thing about it. That's what separates us from theatre and the stuff at PuSH, for example. It's not rehearsed to fucking death. They were really ideas that were just put out there… they could be horrific, absolutely unbelievably shocking, visceral, or not really work. It's fine.

LW: The strength of your strategy all along is this kind of improvisational, even punk aesthetic that paved a way to give us a place where our energies could converge in multiple ways. I think you're still doing that and you're still improvising according to whatever medium, or opportunity arises to make certain things more visible - whether queer issues or sexuality issues or Asian issues or art issues or shocking issues. For you, there's no real boundary to say, "Okay, I'm only going to concentrate on this kind of issue." That to me is always something that was inspiring. It's kind of like, "Let's see where the energy is, let's go there, tap into it, make it visible and create a community out of it." I think there is a tradition that's been started around that, even in the First Nations community, when you see energy happening you gravitate toward it, you bring it forward. There's no kind of institutionalization of it. It's more about these community-based energies gravitating towards each other. And I think that's a really a powerful thing - we can see that with Beat Nation today and how grunt, with the help of Tania Willard and many others, did it and continue to do this.

CS: A lot of what was happening in Vancouver at the time in those nodes - in that coming together and experimenting and moving forward and the energy of it - was happening alongside a state-sponsored multiculturalism that was trying to check the boxes and put these things into categories. Especially what was happening at the grunt at the time and what you were involved in Archer, was really like throwing a bunch of different people who had energy together.

PW: If were to go back to 1990, with those of us who are in this room and what you are saying… I disagree with you. Back then there was no ticking of this institutional thing because I fought the battles; I heard the disdain from out there. "What the fuck are those Indians doing or those queers doing and it's shit." I remember what it took to organize Yellow Peril. It was blood, sweat, and tears. I used absolutely every bit of my resources to kick down doors, to use my connections to produce and make these things happen and be slammed in the press and have… even around queer censorship people who took the other side and who were very vocal. "He's so political," "It's not art," and all that. We wanted to change institutional barriers and policies. Right now, there's a lot of this checking off the boxes. Anytime things become policy, you know… I'm doing the opposite now in the grey zone where it's not one of those boxes. I'm in-between those boxes and I still don't fit again.

LW: It's good to not be in a box.

PW: So, we fought against it, we fought for change and it's only because there were these little institutions like the grunt that were able to provide a little bit of space or the Video In's that were able to facilitate very minimal supports and budgets. People got paid twenty-five dollars a night and we had three lights, and Archer running up and down, doing stuff. I would go to everything to be supportive and be one of the twenty-five people there.

CS: You're absolutely right; it was an evolution over a decade.

AP: Those check box policies were made, were put into effect by the groundswell. There wasn't support for the groundswell from check boxes; it wasn't a top down process. It was very much bottom, bottom, bottom down. That notion of punk rock, especially the DIY aesthetic and that anarchic, anything goes, fuck you attitude was really transformative. That tone that propelled me into the '90s, it was that DIY spirit, pioneered by Paul and the beginning of Video In, and there was a lot of synergy. There were a lot of things that came together at once and really to me the crucible and what I've just been dying to get to, is Oka. That was the thing that changed everything. Post-Oka, all of a sudden we were friends with all these Asian folks. Paul had always been hanging out with the Indians but we were also - and this wasn't an accident - we were consciously establishing connections with other communities of colour. What made grunt such a safe space is that grunt didn't become a space of diversity because of policy. It was, in fact, the opposite. The only policy in place was if you wanted to do something, show up.

Meanwhile, there were other institutions where there was a siege. There were literally institutions where we had to besiege them, pounding on the door, saying, "We will get in here. You can open the door now or we kick it in, your call." And most of the time we had to kick it in and that was fine. But there were also bastions like Video In, or grunt, where the door was always open and as long as you could stand the cigarette smoke, you were welcome to hang out as long as you wanted to. I remember discussing that with Glenn about how all of a sudden we were being touted as this space of diversity and we're all going [looks around room] well, yeah, I guess we are, aren't we? I mean, everybody's here, right? But for my peers and I in the native community, there was this coming together around Oka. And not to diminish what was happening there, but the day after the Oka shoot-out, the Duffy Lake blockade went up on Lillooet territory and that blockade lasted far longer than the Oka standoff. I think it was October when the barricades came down. So there was very much a locus of energy here in BC because, of course, in BC there is that whole question of title. There are no treaties, so you have all this unceded territory. I hate to trivialize, but in a very profound way, Oka was like our Woodstock. I'm afraid that's going to be taken out of context - I'm going to hear about this for decades - and I don't mean to minimize it at all. This was an action where the Canadian government, once again, brought the military to bear against a small band of native people. Remember how the press really made it sound like there was somehow going to be an even battle between this handful of Mohawks and their supporters - like a handful, literally - and the entire Canadian military apparatus. "This is a fair fight, you know, these are Vietnam veterans with extensive combat experience." I mean, what the hell are you talking about. These are eight people in a treatment centre against the Canadian army. We were all looking at this and thinking, "Mm-huh, nothing's changed."

PW: I remember Oka very well because that summer I was in production for the national tour of Yellow Peril: Reconsidered - an exhibition and publication that featured twenty-five Asian-Canadian contemporary photographers, filmmakers, and video makers. That was like pulling teeth to find twenty-five works that worked together and it was a very, very difficult process around race and representation. The exhibition opened in Montreal that September at Oboro and we all went to the peace camp. It was really interesting to see that show come together, going to the peace camp, and buying up all the t-shirts… but not taking pictures. And what pictures I did take I said I would never use because it's not my business to use them. There were other Aboriginal people taking the same picture and it should be theirs. These were very politicized decisions. I went to the peace camp to support and that was it. I was not there to take something that I could have taken but to sit back and observe. That was the whole thing around identity politics. Certainly for myself and certainly for others, is that people didn't want to give us the room to speak. They were threatened. Feminists wanted to come together, but they weren't there talking about men, they were there talking about themselves. As an Asian-Canadian artist, we just wanted to talk about what some of those contexts and contents were. People outside were always threatened thinking that we were talking about them. It was never the case. You know, we just wanted to hang out and find out about ourselves.

LW: And trace our trajectory. How did we get here…

PW: And we were not allowed to do that in most cases.

LW: It wasn't considered viable art material. In ‘89, I decided I wasn't going to live in Canada anymore. I sold everything and I went back to Zimbabwe thinking I was going to live there. Part of that was to retrace my diasporic trajectory: my parents from China went to southern Africa and then on to Canada, due to socio-economic upheaval, in the first instance, and political and socio-upheaval due to civil war, in the second. I had gone to China in '86 to explore the first. I came away realizing, okay, I'm not Chinese, as one would assume, and in China they didn't know what I was either. I went back to Africa and walking down the street realized, no, you're not Zimbabwean either. So I was working out those kinds of issues, and when Oka happened I thought, "Okay, Canada's a colony." It suddenly hit me, it's not only in southern Africa that there's apartheid. The apartheid is here. And so, for me, going back to Zimbabwe was trying to reconcile "what is postcoloniality?" Meanwhile, Zimbabwe was becoming increasing dictatorial, despotic and homophobic. I was wanting to go back to work, in some capacity, politically as an activist or as a cultural activist - even though to be an artist, as we know it here, would have to be some kind of sideline. Then as time wore on, I realized I couldn't survive there. The homophobia was increasing; Mugabe was lashing out against queers and he was clamping down.

So in ‘92, I came back and I had been working on a show: Distance of Distinct Vision, examining postcolonial issues, it opened at the Western Front. That project (also a book and website) is an example of wanting to figure out where I, as an artist, fit within a postcolonial context, especially because the art world, particularly in Vancouver, was not discussing these things. There was no platform for it. I think the two things, which expanded my consciousness of Canada / North America, were Oka and, then, 9/11 in 2001. Because I had insight looking from a third world country to North America, I had a thought that "Everybody's really asleep here." Before 9/11, it's like they didn't see the structure, the construct that was happening politically here. When 9/11 hit and people couldn't believe what was happening, it was like the bubble blew. That was the second big bubble burst that happened in terms of framing that decade of the '90s politically.

PW: I just segued back to 1973…


PW: Well, because I don't often get to think about these things and where things began for me. The development of Video In was built around democratization of the media. It was non-corporate, non-government; with video, you could easily exchange videotapes. Put them in the mail, give them to someone in a suitcase, and you'd have an audience. One of the first tapes we received after the Matrix conference, where I had met Peter Berg, was a tape called Why Wounded Knee? It was sent from inside Wounded Knee during the occupation. He said, "Distribute this. Copy it. Get it out everywhere." It was snuck out with somebody, under some woman's skirt, past the FBI, and sent to us to distribute. And we did that. That tape should probably be salvaged from the archives and digitized. It got watched a lot… And another tape that got watched a lot at 261 Powell Street was about Leonard Peltier. Also, another early video work made in Vancouver was called Transsexual Lifestyle. We kept track of everything that was watched.

LW: This is pre-YouTube.

PW: Exactly…it is through watching Why Wounded Knee? and other videotapes that I learned about the American Indian Movement. At Video In artists, creative thinkers, media activists, educators all converged. We didn't work in isolation. The artists weren't over there by themselves, activists over there by themselves… it was a collective of common ideals.

AP: That distance between art and activism collapsed in a good way for me in my community post-Oka. We had these safe places, we had Paul's house - a legendary safe space - and grunt and, to my mind, you can't have this conversation without including the Pitt. Our programming crossed over, staff and programming. The grunt and the Pitt were a kind of a binary system for a while, especially after the great Indian takeover of 1992 when the Pitt became essentially an Indian gallery. There was this collapse and it's really important to recognize that it wasn't all of a sudden that race, gender, sexuality - all those hot button topics - became, for some of us, especially, I think, just … the one big thing. It was very inclusive in the sense that basically anybody who had an axe to grind, we were the axe sharpening house. I really want to honour Glenn Alteen in this, in that he was very good at sitting back and looking at what was going on: "I think we should do a performance about this. We're going to do a series about queer Indians this year." Once again, artists like Cliff Red Crow who'd done a spirit song, I think, but who wasn't a performing artist. We took all these queer Indians who weren't necessarily performance artists but who were part of our community.

PW: or queer even.

AP: Or even queer, in some cases.


AP: Some of us just dressed well.

LW: It looked good on you.

CS: But wasn't that the brilliance of "queer" as a more inclusive term…

PW: and then, there was some who weren't queer, and then became queer.

LW: … those who were converted.

AP: There was a lot of cross-conversion in all sorts of ways. An outgrowth of that was the born-again Indian. There are a lot of folks where it's the hidden secret in their family. You look at the history of Canada and there are way more Natives in the woodpile than most people are willing to own up to. In the course of the last couple of decades, a number of my presumably white friends have done some research, come back, and said, "I've got my status card." People had no idea. "I'm Native, holy crap." We all just started looking at each other… The whole colonial project is about divide and conquer and it always has been since the dawn of time, since before it was a colonial project when it was just about "They've got better grazing land than we do, let's get over there," "They've got buffalo and we don't." But it wasn't all politics. A lot of my memories of that time are about the great parties we had. We had these performances and we had all the gear set up so I'd get someone going on the lights and we'd just spin tracks and we'd have these huge dance parties. Especially at the Pitt…

PW: At the Pitt, that was because Dana Claxton was director there.

AP: Yes. In 1992, 1991… Around that time, it was post-Oka certainly, the Pitt Gallery had an AGM and no one came. Literally, no one came. So, they were forced by the rules of the province to have an emergency AGM, basically the next day. As soon as we heard this, well: we'd wanted our own gallery, we'd been talking about having our own gallery for years. So, we got on the phone, Dana Claxton, myself, Donald Morin, Leonard Fisher, a few of our allies, the usual suspects… We were all friends. We all called each other and we walked in and we sat down and I remember it was Daav McNab and Bruce Walther, and I remember them just sitting there. We basically walked in and said "Hi, here we are." But it wasn't a hostile takeover.

PW: Due to lack of interest, there was a shift.

AP: Due to lack of interest, there was a shift. To their credit, Bruce and Daav… of course, anyone's going to get a sense of ownership over a space that they've been running through blood, sweat, and tears and no money. So we had to assuage their fears to a certain degree, you know, we actually do want to keep showing art and doing all those things. They were really gracious and very supportive and we moved from 36 Powell over to that space on Hastings Street, so suddenly our square footage went up by…

LW: Doubled?

AP: Oh, more than that. We quadrupled the square footage of our space. The space was too big, in fact. It was cavernous. It became a real issue, as the technical director. I had my hands full just keeping the lights on, the place was so old. And we had no money, although Dana took care of that in a hurry. We didn't have the physical plant staff. It was huge. We needed a three-person cleaning staff just to keep the place neat and clean. So there was all that stuff. But, the Pitt went from being this place that was about to roll over and die…

LW: …to a very active place.

PW: And there was that great exhibition, way ahead of its time, First Ladies. Remember First Ladies? It was an exhibition curated by Dana Claxton that featured contemporary, Native women artists. It was a show that, now that I think about it, was extraordinary. It brought all those women together and a lot of them met for the first time. Fay Heavyshield, Teresa Marshall - I can't remember all the women.

AP: I was literally on the Rez when this show happened, that's why I'm not jumping in.

PW: Those kinds of shows introduced artists to one another and contextualized their work to a public. You know probably a lot of those works wouldn't have been that interesting on their own, but the mix of the four or five pieces together was like, wow. I know that it inspired those artists on to greater and bigger things and served as a model for other artists to emulate.

CS: Were there other events or exhibitions or programming in that period that functioned similarly?

AP: Joe Sarahan's show at the Pitt. Joe Sarahan is not a Native artist but again it was an intersection. Joe's very much a queer artist; that's a lot of the content of his work. I didn't see the show, I was out of town, but people raved about it and those were the kind of bridges that were being built. There were a lot of alliances being formed and bridges being made. I can't believe no one has said the M-word yet: Minquon Panchayat.

PW: Right. That. It segued past me…

LW: Before we go to Minquon Panchayat… I had come back to Canada in 1992 and in ‘93 I was working actively with lesbians, two-spirited women, and queer women of colour; the key problem was that there weren't a lot of women of colour or queers of colour being trained as artists. So how do you create a space that encourages and can mentor young queers of colour in creativity? We were having informal gatherings, mostly writing together and raising consciousness, talking about current issues. We created a zine called Zine But Not Herd, (thanks to Nicola Marin for that title) and we would gather about once a month. The collective didn't last long, but we were doing crazy little things together, drawings, exquisite corpse writings, erotica, it was very much DIY. We'd photocopy them and pass them around to each other. Then, Dana invited us to do a show at the Pitt and we called it Making Out: Women on the Verge of Revolution in the Mango Swamps of Enchantment. I think it was part of Queer City, I can't remember.

AP: Of course, I remember now. Great name!

LW: We were an anonymous collective of queer women of colour, we were two-spirit women and lesbians and bisexuals. There was a visual art component, there was a zine component, and there was a performance component.

AP: So much for anonymity.

LW: Yes. [laughter] Many were non-artists, even though they were active in other fields. There were musicians and journalists and university students and cooks and social workers - creatively they weren't recognized in the art world. I was probably one of the few who were formally trained in art. I was trying to bridge activist activities that we were doing in our living rooms and then translating it somehow into the public. The artist fees that we got, we put into an account at the CCEC Credit Union and we gave out a few small grants to participants who applied and said, "I want to do this project," which we called the "Making Out Fund." We had very little money. We were trying to raise money for young-lesbian-bisexual-of-colour-and-two-spirited-women-artists to be able to have some kind of support for their own projects to encourage them creatively. So, "Making Out" was one of the things that came out with Dana's direction of the Pitt and I think soon after that I joined the Board of Directors for a year. It was a dynamic place, as Archer mentioned.

On some levels, queers of colour were doing things with no resources but there were these supportive pockets of people. In terms of the Making Out Collective, it was difficult to continue for various reasons. As activists there were so many huge challenges, as lesbians or bisexuals of colour or two-spirit women, the kind of day-to-day challenges weren't giving us the space, perhaps, to become artists. Some remain activists. I think the split between activist and artist and how that might be more integrated is more possible now, in 2012, whether it is because of certain "multicultural" policies or whether there are more resources for queers of colour (universities and art schools are more equipped to create curriculum to contextualize identity and sexual politics, there is more discourse and vocabulary) or maybe even partly to fill certain requirements of equity or whatever, there is more opportunity to be an artist for young queers of colour while also an activist in identity and sexual politics.

CS: Can I turn that around just a little bit? I'm very interested in audiences and what art does to people - I'm thinking about that period when there was this hotbed of experimentation and the politics in a lot of the performances were very strong. Do you have a sense of what kind of impact that might have had on the larger community in Vancouver, beyond the art world?

PW: Well, I can track a little project that can take us up to the Minquon Panchayat fairly quickly.

CS: Yes, we can't forget about the M-word.

PW: I did a series of projects, where I was the curator, which focused on Asian, American and Canadian media art. It began with a four-part series of screenings here in Vancouver in 1987, at Video In. Laiwan designed the poster for the event. Asian New World focused on reaching an Asian-Canadian audience, which we had never done before. It was unbelievable. Asian-Canadians who came to see the screenings looked at and discussed that work from a whole different perspective, it was amazing. That developed into the photo, film and video exhibition Yellow Peril that I curated for Chisenhale Gallery in London. To see that work re-contextualized and exported to the Black Art scene in the UK, it was seen there as this important Canadian show, not as some sort of marginalized event.

Because of the response over there, I decided to reconfigure and expand that show for Canada. Yellow Peril: Reconsidered was a major, six-city, touring exhibition and publication that moved back and forth across the country for several years - it included screenings, workshops, panel discussions and conferences. It made an impact on a national level. It generated enormous controversy, negative and positive. It took years for it to become a success story. It started off very shakily; it was difficult to find people who identified with the issues because there was no community. There was a fake community that I lied about and created. [laughter] But then a real community did gather around the project. On a national level Yellow Peril became the template for other communities to emulate and to address the same kind of issues at a professional level. It resonated in a very meaningful way.

AP: I can speak to that too. I don't know if I've ever said this to you, Paul, but it is something I will always love you for. This was early on, just post-Oka, so all the politics, all the issues that came up at Oka. Once the dust had settled and it was just that horrible process of everybody in court and that sort of soul-crushing institutionalizing and criminalizing - the dynamism of it gets sucked out by the state because it's deliberately set up that way - these endless cycles of court appearances, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, we took that energy and brought it into the arts, where we wouldn't have to go through court for our shenanigans. There were numerous public forums that would happen, some better organized than others.

At one of the very well organized ones, which happened at the Cultch, Paul was one of the panelists and I believe Chris Creighton-Kelly. I don't remember who the other people were, but at the outset, Paul was moderating and so the place was jammed and the topic was "Dealing with Racism in the Arts." This had never been a public conversation before; this had been a private conversation amongst us, certainly, but this was the first time it was an open dialogue in the community. At the very outset - and I will always love you for this Paul - Paul said, "First and foremost, this is not a discussion about whether there is racism in the arts. This is a discussion about the institutional racism in the arts in Canada." And you could feel a shot went through the room where a bunch of us went, "Yes!" and a bunch of people gasped. You could just feel the air go out for some people, "Well there goes my whole argument." It polarized and it unified the room at once. It was so enervating having those one-on-one conversations with people where they just didn't get it. All of a sudden, we all just came up a level. This was now the starting point of the conversation, and it went from there.

There were other forums that were not quite as formal or well organized. There were all these things happening all over the place, from kitchen tables to art galleries. They were happening all over. I remember, one was going on where I was doing a gig and I couldn't go because I was tech-ing a show up at the old Main Dance space. A friend of mine, Ivan Coyote, walked in and said, "I was just at this forum." I went "Oh, you went to the thing." Do you remember? There was a white woman who'd put on a show where she was talking about Sojourner Truth, I think. So there was this uproar about that, of course, and they had the obligatory forum about it. Apparently, some white person got up and was talking about what they thought and in summation said, "I feel like I can say this because I was a Black queen in a former life." At which point every person of colour in the room completely lost their mind and the whole thing just went down the toilet. This is what would happen at a lot of these things. The least educated person in the room would always be the first [to speak]

LW: to take up all the space

AP: to jump to their feet and say, "But this is how it is and I was a Native, I was Hiawatha!" and of course everyone is going "AHHH!" So, when Paul did that, and really established a tone - and this is speaking to an audience - this permeated out from the arts. These discussions would often have ramifications that would go outside of our community. Also, you hope that, maybe, for some people who had come hoping to make an argument about how there wasn't racism in the arts that maybe there was that teachable moment where they went "Oh."

PW: I don't recall that event at all.


LW: Your brilliant moment, Paul.

CS: I think Archer will still love you, though.

PW: In terms of that kind of taking an active stance, taking responsibility and taking things on nationally, it was everywhere. And it was hard work. It was unpaid work and I still had to look glamourous and be smart, which I don't like, being smart all the time around this kind of stuff. I'm really good at putting my foot in my mouth most of the time. But in most cases, I came out on top, with very few words, but they were succinct. I was radical, outspoken and challenging. It was hard fucking work to always be the asshole who had to say it, and tell people, "Fuck off, sit down, I don't want to hear from any white people. I want to hear from the Indians first," because they didn't know when to shut up. The whites were always the first with their hands up and always with things to say that weren't interesting. I could never hear from the people who came, who we had reached out to invite, the people who had never been invited to these kinds of forums. These people would sit at the back of the room, sitting quietly in the dark. Standing at the podium, I could see what the battle was all about, but the white people sitting in the front never understood, never saw themselves as the problem.

LW: The core problem with a lot of those things was that, as people of colour, we were supposedly there to appease those people's guilt. That's what always undermined any kind of progress. I think the hardest work that we were doing at that time was attempting to not only solidify our alliances and have a vocabulary to speak to the world about what it was that we cared for so deeply. It was also dealing with a huge audience: the majority, the dominant culture, and their insecurities about us finding voice and not wanting us to have an articulate voice. In some ways constructing, say Paul or anybody else as "angry," or whatever it is.

Also, this other construct, particularly within the Vancouver art scene, which was the intellectual, conceptual construct of what art should be, owned a particular discourse. There was an effort of protectionism to maintain that view of what Vancouver art was or should be, so as to be exported. So, here we were, on another level, actually doing good, solid work to broaden and diversify what Vancouver art could be. Without that work, I think, Vancouver would be even more parochial now, considering how diverse and multiplicitous it has become as a city. It couldn't have remained within that narrow confine of what that art world thought art was. So, even though we had to deal with backlash that was trying to discredit the voice we were attempting to explore, in terms of audiences, the hardest part was dealing with that guilt. On a certain level, many of us just stopped engaging on that level, not wanting to be wasting time appeasing the guilt.

Perhaps we could throw Minquon Panchayat in now, in terms of how that was an alliance that framed these explorations and the experiments we were doing within building a greater alliance, perhaps even working to form a discourse of some kind where thinkers and artists of different ilk, and writers and performance artists were coming together to try to identify what the vocabulary was and how we could speak to each other about it. In the thick of it then, I know I did not have the vocabulary; I wasn't that articulate, and the possibility of its explosiveness made me cautious, but I did trust it as an alliance-building process.

PW: In, I forget what year, I was very much involved, in various kinds of ways, with the ANNPAC network (Association of National Non-Profit Artist-Run Centres) the national body that said who was and who was not an artist-run centre in this country. In 1992, I think it was, they had a conference, and AGM, and they decided to put together a steering committee to deal with diversity and inclusion. The committee of artists-of-colour was given a mandate to address those issues, expand membership and make ANNPAC relevant; thus, the Minquon Panchayat was formed. The Minquon Panchayat very quickly developed and implemented a pro-active one year plan: a working national team of mentors and interns from across the country took on the task of transforming the organization. At the 1993 AGM in Calgary, we produced a two-day festival. We invited forty-four artists groups to present their work from all different communities and disciplines. The majority of the ANNPAC membership had, of course, never heard of any of these artists groups, nor were they even aware of these communities. The response was reactionary, they freaked out, and they questioned the validity of the artists and the groups; they were threatened by who we had invited. They wanted to show change by maybe adding on two new member groups - certainly not the twenty-five or so we were putting forward. This would have represented a huge expansion and new direction. They insulted us, all our guests, they humiliated the Minquon Panchayat, and we walked. From there, we went about dismantling ANNPAC. So, that was the Minquon Panchayat, it was a very quick arc. What we learned, was that, politically, we'd had enough of this bullshit of trying to transform organizations that were purporting to deal with "inclusion." What we needed to do was act outside the box, because this is what happens when you try to deal with systemic institutional racism - they still want to maintain total control. They want us to be the thirteenth dinner guest and they don't really want us to be designing the menu and doing the guest list.

AP: …or, really, even sitting at the table. As Malcolm X so famously put it, "All of us are sitting at the table, but are all of us diners? I'm not a diner until you let me dine." And in this case, we took it the step further, which was we're not going to wait for you to let us dine. We're just going to set a whole new table.

LW: And create a feast out of it.

AP: We made our own feast, but the beauty of it was that ANNPAC dissolved. It was the death of ANNPAC and a new thing came of it. So, we made a new table. To me, what was really at the core of it was this white terror that the people of colour were going to take over and exclude. It was really about this illusion of scarcity. There was this terror of scarcity: if we let the people of colour dine at the table, there won't be enough for everybody. Whereas, it's like the old people have always taught us, you always have to welcome. We made a new table and it took a few years to make it clear, and for everyone to calm down. Everyone is welcome at this table. "Inclusive" doesn't mean somebody doesn't get to sit and it doesn't mean that there won't be enough to go around. There was this bounty that sprung up from that. What happened to ANNPAC made it crystal clear to a lot of institutions of power that this era of exclusion is now over. Diversity is not a fad, it's not the flavour of the day, it's not the flavour of the week, and this is actuality, look around you. It opened people's eyes.

PW: Talking about these things now reminds me that I did piss off a lot of people, a lot of us did. Actually, I'm not that well loved. A lot of people really dislike me to this day and I forget that. I forget that they were at those negotiation tables, at those forums and I pointed my finger at them. That's the price you pay if you're going to take a stand and voice your opinion in this very polite society. Those people don't forget and, yes, you're not going to be popular. You are going to make long-term enemies who will continue to undermine you and dislike you because of what they perceived.

LW: I think something we're getting the flavour of is the dynamics of that time, which is that it was volatile and possibly angry.

CS: I was going to come back to how we started the conversation, about that banality of watching the video documentation. This volatility is exactly what's not captured: that energy, and the real risks that some performers were taking at that time to put forward those kinds of views about racial and sexual politics.

AP: That's really what made the work exciting, for me. I know a lot of performance art jokes, but the fact is that there were moments of transcendent beauty and rage. Performances came out of that spontaneous world of experiment that literally changed my life forever. People were coming and throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck. It wasn't just aesthetic either. The fact is there were budgetary constraints. People couldn't afford to rehearse this stuff to death. There was no money. People were working in day jobs and putting this stuff together, coming in and doing the shows. It was punk rock in this sense, DIY. People would come to me and say, "What should I do? I've never done a show. What are you expecting?" We would always encourage them. It's like that writing advice: write how you speak. "Well, whatever's on your mind, just come in and give it a go." There were times when you would have an hour-long performance, and maybe for fifty-seven minutes of it you were thinking, "Well, this needs development." But then there would be that moment where it would all pay off - and this circles back to our talk about audience. What you would see was that a lot of these ideas would germinate in this little hothouse that we built and the artists would take that work on to larger audiences.

For example, the Talking Stick Festival became quite large in the early 2000s. A lot of those artists came out of the same sort of environment - not necessarily grunt, but in other cities where small artist centres would encourage them, and then you would see it move into events like Talking Stick. That audience was comprised mostly of people who weren't art-goers. They weren't typical art patrons. They were going to these events because it was a Native space. It was a safe space, it was at the WISE Hall for example: a neighbourhood spot, you could walk to it. And, it was an Indian thing. It wasn't just Talking Stick; there were all these different festivals and events. That's where you see that lineage between the small little artist-run centre and how those messages go to larger publics. The policy of apartheid in this country is a two-way street. As Native people, we take advantage of the apartheid system. I mean, there is a whole, underground, Native realm, complete worlds, ecosystems, social systems, and structures that are completely inconnu to average Canadians. Canadians all believe they're experts, and the whiter they are the bigger the expert they are on Indians. The fact is there are these rich worlds of activity happening right under their noses that they're completely oblivious to. They have no idea. What's going on on the Rez? No idea. There are ceremonial events, cultural events, these whole worlds that are thriving under the continued policies of apartheid that exist in this country. It's wonderful to be able to traverse those worlds. Well, here we are, Laiwan, Paul and I. We've known each other for decades now and we're peers. So I traverse this - what do you call it? - this diverse world. It's not a Native territory; I go outside of my territory. When I cross that membrane, penetrate that membrane which seals behind me and go into Indian country, it's very rewarding to see where those threads and those elements have gone into that world and how they traverse back and forth. It's very much about places like the grunt that become those points, those crossing points. For a while, this was like Checkpoint Charlie, now it's more like in Berlin where they have painted on the road, "this is where the wall used to be."

PW: The bottom line for me as a facilitator, activist, and as an artist is really for me to be able to develop my practice, my art, in as free-flowing a space as possible and for others to do the same. I have seen the results of what we incubated in extraordinary and successful ways in the second generation of practitioners who have enjoyed great success in the art world and who don't have to know that history. I've seen it. I know where the thread has come from and I know where the seed was planted. I know who taught what to whom and I now see it out there. That's what happens. That's what happens when you are allowed just a little slice of pie. Can you imagine if we had the whole pie? From the beginning, I always just wanted a share of the pie, an equal share not the crumbs. I have seen the results of the crumbs. We want more. The pie is still not divided equally and that continues to be a problem. I try to be aware of that in my own privileged time, which is not really that privileged at all in comparison to others. It's being aware that there's so much more to do that I don't even know about. So I try to stay open to these things that I'm not aware of that are underneath the surface. And I trust my peers when they tell me that something is of interest. Then it has my blessing, it has my interest: I become aware of it.

LW: I think something that both Archer and Paul are speaking about is an alternative model, which has to do with abundance - going back to what Archer was saying about scarcity and the scarcity mentality, particularly since the economic bottoming-out of 2009. We're at a place that's constructed by increased scarcity and it's a construct that's saying, "Okay, there's an economic downturn, you all have to tighten your belt." But the reality is that this world is full of abundance and this scarcity is a way to keep resources in control and in the hands of a few. So all the ones who have access to pie are going to have access to pie and all of those who don't are going to be given even less. On some levels this is not only on an art level now; it is spreading across a broad economic spectrum, so that to be within the margins, you're even lower on the ladder now because the middle class are becoming marginalized. For example, Vancouver is becoming the second-most unaffordable place in the world in which to live. That's all a construct that's allowing whatever resources there are to be controlled by a very few. I think there's a shift that's turning: people who are stuck in that mentality of scarcity are going to make conditions and creativity is going to be stifled. Part of our underground work now has to do with how we continue to model abundance. For me, that's crucial, particularly in terms of issues that are close to me: like, how does love survive in this time where there's an increasing conservatism and an increasing crackdown on anything that has to do with being human. The increasing scarcity makes everything dog-eat-dog, in the name of an oil pipeline, in the name of job-creation, at the cost of healthcare and education cuts. In truth, it makes no sense. How do we model beyond that?

PW: Well, you know, Louis Vuitton: that label and their holdings made a record increase in profits last year. Total sales climbed sixteen percent, to 23.7 billion euros - fourteen percent, excluding the effects of acquisitions and currency shifts, the company said. Again, the sales target beat analysts' average estimate for 23.4 million euros. Regardless, Louis Vuitton and all their subsidiary brands made substantial profits last year. So, there is abundance.

LW: That's a different kind of abundance. The core is also how do the younger generation of artists access the rage happening, say, in the early '90s and not get sold into this narrative of, okay you have to make art in a certain way in order to succeed and to get that piece of the pie.

AP: I think that's where the Occupy Wall Street Movement comes in.

LW: Yes. Beyond that art narrative of "to succeed, make this type of art," this passionate awareness and activism is the trajectory to follow. So, in the '80s and the '90s, the do-it-yourself punk kind of aesthetic encouraged a rage that created a path that became a model for how to create work that was, in turn, modeling that abundance. The energy was very abundant. And the Occupy movement does hold that possibility. It is a good model, but we can see the clampdown that's happening around it and attempts to appropriate it.

AP: I think Laiwan raises a really urgent point around love, spirit and those intangibles that make up so much of an art practice. I'm just going to take some credit for Indians here, not personally, but I'm going to give Indians some credit here. A thing that never gets discussed in the political sphere is how the widening of the Left… it was kind of post-Oka that the Left suddenly woke up, "Oh, there's all these oppressed people here in Canada. Who knew?!" It was actually quite comical to watch. I remember, and this is a bit of a tangent but I think it illuminates the point. In the '80s, there was the divestiture movement in the universities when it became clear that universities in Canada were supporting the South African apartheid regime with massive investments, as was everyone else. For me, my awareness of that came up in Montreal and it hadn't really permeated to the prairies yet. The representative of the South African government, whatever his diplomatic title was, was doing a lecture at the University of Calgary, and this was when apartheid was still policy, so the early '80s. I thought, I've got to see this so I went out to this talk and what was striking to me was how there were a number of African students there who were throwing insults from the back of the room and I realized that the reason was that they were afraid for their families. They weren't engaging in the dialogue directly because they were afraid of the repercussions at home. There were a lot of these nice, liberal kids getting up and doing their thing about how evil apartheid was and I got really pissed off and I put up my hand and I said two things. I said, "First off I don't know why you're arguing with this puppet of the regime. He gets paid more money than anyone in this room to be good at lying to you about whatever's going on there. So, don't waste your breath. If you want to affect some change, demand that this university stop investing in South Africa." Not that I came up with this idea - it wasn't my idea - but I said it out loud. And the second thing I said was, "You know, it's all well and good for you all to stand here beating your chests about how horrible apartheid is when you live in an apartheid state. How many of you have been to the Siksika reserve, the one five kilometres from here?" And the whole room went very quiet. So, I did my thing, stomping out of the room in a rage. It was really interesting watching the Left suddenly become aware that apartheid exists here - because, suddenly, everyone loved the Indians.

Post-Oka politics were the death of my love affair with the Left, but what was valuable to me was this sudden coming together of activist forces and Aboriginal folk. I remember how embarrassed people used to be when we would pull out our Sweetgrass and start doing our spiritual stuff. Politics come from the sweat lodge for me. The centre of my power as an activist comes from my spiritual path. We were always bringing the spiritual stuff and people were like, "Oh god, the Indians are doing their Spiritual thing. Oh no!" It's like, yeah, God exists. We are spiritual creatures. This is how we see the world. Our spiritual path, we don't go to church one day a week and forget about the other six. Our Spiritual realm is the world. The world is not separate from Spirit. Spirit is the world. You guys have it all backwards. Listen. And yes, we're going to go [sings traditional Aboriginal song] every damn time. We're not doing this to impress you. And I think that in a very real way it opened a door for discussions of Spirit, because you would get laughed at if you talked about spiritual things or there was a kind of snickering. And to me that was always the biggest weakness of the Left. There was a profound discomfort with anything spiritual, not wanting the messiness of it.

LW: It's touchy feely.

AP: It's also that Marxist tradition and how it can't be empirically proven. You can't get an economist to map it out with an algorithm. I think that's something that doesn't get discussed and I think that's brought a profound change that we are beginning to see the effects of. Those seeds are out there growing all the time.

CS: I have one final question, and you may or may not be able to answer this. If there was one piece, performance, image, or work that you recall from the '90s… Archer, you were talking about those moments that just…

AP: White Shame. Always. I've been beating this since the day after the show. And I always fear that it's like, "Oh, Archer's talking about Ahasiw's performance again." And I always will because that was the one for me. Paul, you were there. That was the one where he sewed the eagle feathers on his chest.

PW: Was I there?

AP: Fuck yeah, you were. You gave him a glass of scotch afterwards, which was an outrage in itself. Paul can't help be provocative. It was ‘92; we were still pretty freshly post-Oka. We were all still pretty upset, still are! And Ahasiw did a performance where he did a bunch of things; I was the technician. He set up these five little tipis that were about four feet high, with no skins, just the poles, five of them in the space, and he said, " Okay, I need light in each one of these" and I said "what are you going to do?" and he said "I'm going to do some sewing." He did a number of actions, one of which was he sat down in one of the lodges and sewed eagle feathers to his chest. The gallery was packed. It was so full you couldn't move. And the result of that was that once you were in there it was very, very difficult to leave. For a lot of people, and for a lot of Native people, what he did was completely unforgiveable because it was a desecration of the Sun Dance. These are sacred ceremonies that are not discussed. He broke the cone of silence. For other people, it was just the revulsion. It was such an appalling act to witness in that context. At the Sun Dance, it's a different thing. It has a different purpose; it's a different world. But to take it into a gallery and to do that action - people to this day think he is unforgiven for this, for subjecting them to this thing. So, he did this action and as he was walking off stage Paul held out a glass of scotch that Ahasiw took and drank. That was the last spike for a lot of people. Not only did he do this sacrilegious thing, but then he drank alcohol fresh on the tail of it. People went out of their minds. Absolutely out of their minds. At the end of the performance, which was brilliant, he had brought in this somewhat rancid moose hide. I wouldn't let him have it in the gallery so he had to take it to the alleyway because it stank. He put it on a frame and handed out knives to people in the audience saying, "Who will work?" and all these gallery goers were out in the alley scraping this hide. No one will ever top that performance, and why would you want to, in a sense? Even now, two decades later, I'm still unpacking what happened in that performance. To me, that was a pinnacle of transgressive work and if people are making work that's more transgressive than that now, I don't want to see it.

CS: Laiwan, a moment, image that crystallizes that period for you?

LW: There are actually too many. Right now, I can't choose. I think seeing Paul Wong's in ten sity, but that was before that period even, in the late '70s. Any of Paul's work, for me was a relief, in terms of sexuality, in terms of Asian-Canadian issues. There weren't models for me and so it was a great relief to be able to see Paul's work and also to have him grab me and say, "Here: Design this poster."

PW: And you were paid to design it.

LW. Actually, looking back now, I am thinking of how powerful attending the Powell Street Festival was for me from 1992 on. PSF became another hotbed, this time for Asian-Canadian lesbians and women of colour. It was a nurturing space for empowering Asian-Canadian women artists and writers and it became known for that. Particularly significant was that Asian-Canadian lesbians were being hired as coordinators of the festival, this included Eileen Kage and Leslie Komori, both renowned as exceptional Taiko drummers. They had a following, and that following came to PSF and expanded into a flourishing of queer work by Asian Canadians. The challenge was that PSF always occurred the same weekend as the Pride Parade, so we were forced somewhat to make a choice, and many of us chose PSF. There was a dynamic that was also sexy, being surrounded by an alternative abundance, good food, good art and lots of lesbians… and PSF today continues this lineage.

CS: Paul, for you?

PW: For me, certainly performance and making art in other mediums, and seeing others and doing my own, has been a process of seeking out and learning by doing. And there've been no fucking sacred cows. That is one of the problems now: work is so formulized, it's taught, it's not coming out of a real place. You obey the rules. That's the checkboxes you were talking about. I see so many people out there doing the checkbox thing, all fitting right in. This includes people I helped get into checkboxes and it just drives me nuts. I'm not seeing the Ahasiws. I'm not seeing fucking real, radical work. I'm just seeing things that are ever so nice. And it's all competently made, it's nicely lit, but I don't see the risk. I don't see the personal risk, the career risk. I don't see the cutting-off of family ties, losing a boyfriend over it, I don't see it!


PW: But you know, certainly doing a little bit of my own Asian identity stuff, I learned from my mistakes. How was I to know that you weren't supposed to open Chinaman's Peak: Walking the Mountain (Contemporary Art Gallery, 1992), that it was bad luck to deal with death on the New Year and then to have my cousin die suddenly two days before the opening? I never knew those things were wrong because no one taught me these things. No one sat me down and showed me - or Ahasiw - these things. There's so much silence about a lot of that traditional crap - oral histories and five thousand year legacies. If we are locked into those things, there's no evolution. Culture changes, practice changes. It's good to know where they come from, but, in a performance space, in an artistic space, nothing is sacred. That's the same thing as being locked into those other kind of rules and those boxes. That's what I am constantly questioning.

One of the great moments was when I installed Chinaman's Peak: Walking The Mountain at the National Gallery a few years later, in 1995. At the opening, my mother started to rearrange the elements because they were all backwards. It was a beautiful to see the guards rushing towards her and then backup on my signal as we all watched her rearrange the elements. I had made it all up wrong. I would have never known that unless my mother was at that opening rearranging all the elements into the right order. So, we learn from a process of making mistakes.

AP: I realize hearing Paul, and this is why Paul is still my mentor, that two decades have gone by. I think I am ready to see someone be more transgressive. It's true: performances have become quite tame. It's this weird self-consciousness that theatre has developed that drives me nuts. And it's not supposed to have -"Not supposed to have," listen to me! There was a real spirit then and, in a sense, you can see how the machine co-opts energy. When Paul was talking about his mother rearranging elements, I thought about that big show at the VAG, and there were all those Indians in it - Topographies (1996). Teresa Marshall had made all these drums out of televisions and things. There we were, and there were the drums. Indians and drums! What are the Indians going to do? Play the drums. The guards went out of their minds because there's a bunch of the Indians pounding on the artworks! Can you imagine that now? Maybe I'm going to have to go back into those horrible little spaces and see what the kids are doing because that spirit of transgression is urgent. It's needed urgently.

Paul Wong

As a self-invented video pioneer and one of Canada's most renowned multimedia artists, Paul Wong is an award-winning artist, curator, and organizer of events and public interventions since the mid-1970s. Known particularly for his tough engagement with issues of race, sex and death, Wong's work is varied and eclectic, ranging from conceptual performances to complex narratives, meshing video, photography, installation and performance with rare Chinese-Canadian meets cutting edge counter culture perspectives.

Described as a Chinese-Canadian Warhol, Wong's work is in your face, radical, eccentric, sexy, campy, shocking, experimental and spontaneous. He is a media subversive, a video renegade relying on artistic entrepreneurial smarts and is a raw originality with an eye for social context, driven by an insatiable search for identity, community and authenticity. Wong is constantly redefining his role as an artist and cultural strategist staying ten projects ahead of even himself and always unpredictable.


Laiwan is an artist and writer recognized for her interdisciplinary practice based in poetics and philosophy. Born in Zimbabwe of Chinese parents, she immigrated to Canada in 1977 to leave the war in Rhodesia.

In 1983 she founded the OR Gallery at 1729 Franklin Street in Vancouver. She was artist-in-residence / programmer during its first year. In 1988 she initiated the First Vancouver Lesbian Film Festival in collaboration with the Lesbian Network, the Vancouver East Cinema, the Pacific Cinematheque and the National Film Board of Canada. This four day event was a celebrated public success for the community.

Laiwan continues to exhibit in various group and solo shows, curates projects in the US, Canada and Zimbabwe, and is an activist in gay and feminist community organizing. Published in journals and in collections such as Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry; Facing History: Portraits from Vancouver, and, DAMP: Contemporary Vancouver Media Art; Laiwan also writes about art. Recently she examined hauntology in the work of Ed Pien for Canadian Art Magazine.

Recipient of the 2008 Vancouver Queer Media Artist Award, she re-created the interactive multimedia installation DUET: ETUDE FOR SOLITUDEs in August 2008 for a solo exhibition titled Loose Work. Displaying a variety of interdisciplinary works made over the past 25 years, the show honoured Out on Screen's 20th and the OR Gallery's 25th anniversaries. Her new work was recently featured in the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition HOW SOON IS NOW: CONTEMPORARY ART FROM HERE curated by Kathleen Ritter.

Archer Pechawis

Performance artist, new media artist, filmmaker, writer, curator and educator Archer Pechawis was born in Alert Bay, BC in 1963. He has been a practicing artist since 1984 with particular interest in the intersection of Plains Cree culture and digital technology, merging "traditional" objects such as hand drums with digital video and audio sampling. His work has been exhibited across Canada and in Paris France, and featured in publications such as Fuse Magazine and Canadian Theatre Review. Archer has been the recipient of many Canada Council and British Columbia Arts awards, and won the Best New Media Award at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in 2007 and Best Experimental Short at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in 2009.

Archer also works extensively with Native youth as part of his art practice, teaching performance and digital media for the Indigenous Media Arts Group and in the public school system. Of Cree and European ancestry, he is a member of Mistawasis First Nation, Saskatchewan.