Performance collage

Although there is an important history to be told about Vancouver's vibrant LGBTQ art scene and the various galleries and artists who form its central nodes, such an endeavour reaches well beyond the scope of grunt's archive. Instead, this project focuses on grunt gallery's unique approach to identity politics in a series of performances from the 1990s, at the height of an era concerned with aspects of difference, injustice, and the social status of historically marginalized groups.

Grunt gallery has a long history of supporting work that operates at the intersection of art, ideas and activist politics, and of supporting artists whose practices fall outside of the mainstream. Performance, as an oft-maligned practice in canonical art history, was, and continues to be, a key feature of grunt's programming. Since the gallery's inception, performance has been featured either in a festival context or as a singular work in regular programming. Starting in 1990, grunt organized annual or biannual performance art festivals curated around a specific theme, often in collaboration with other arts organizations. From a collection of works by indigenous performance artists in 1992 to a multi-disciplinary festival about hybrid identity in 1995, this pattern of performance festivals eventually culminated in LIVE at the End of the Century, the founding point of Vancouver's now well-established LIVE Biennale. The festivals sometimes included concurrent exhibitions or community workshops and the printed programs usually featured a series of contextualizing essays that outlined the key themes and issues. For example, Glenn Alteen writes a short history of queer performance in Vancouver for the Queer City Series (1993); Evan Tlesla Adams discusses the need for cultural autonomy in an essay for the First Nations Performance Series (1992), and Judy Radul undertakes a feminist critique of the spoken word in the Performance Poets (1991) program. Copies of these archival essays, as well as a chronological history and select images from the various performance series, can be found under the "Essays" and "History" sections of this site, respectively.

Because of the experimental nature of performance, the form of the works in (queer) intersections is incredibly diverse: the artists featured here draw on visual art, poetry, theatre, dance, music, quotidian and symbolic action, installation, multi-media, cabaret and even cinematic conventions to construct an alternative world. Content also varies widely, ranging from the intimately autobiographical to more explicitly critical interrogations of Canadian identity politics. The video selections on the site are divided into four, thematically-linked categories that overlap and intersect: "on loving and longing" explores how queer desire might be figured in a multicultural, post-'80s AIDS crisis era; "performing boundaries" exposes some of the variety of aesthetic techniques used by performance artists throughout the '90s; "intersecting identities" focuses on artists who respond to histories of racism, homophobia and other forms of violence by claiming hybrid, diasporic, trans or two-spirited identities; and "coming up queer" collects a series of performances on the challenges and pleasures of everyday gay, lesbian and bisexual life. Like the cabarets that usually opened each performance series, this selection of videos functions as a kind of "performance buffet," to use T.L. Cowan's phrase from her essay "Cabaret at Grunt: Up Your Community." Cowan discusses how the dialectical form of the cabaret might mirror the kind of critique of identity and claims to community diversity happening in the performance series more generally. This collection of videos attempts to reveal places where some of those critiques and claims might intersect across the decade.

Not every artist on this site would necessarily identify as queer, but their approaches to performance often draw on recent "queer" thinking about identity as a social construct: identity not as a singular inborn nature, but something that emerges at the intersection of society's ideas about race, gender and sexuality. Grunt's support of performance - as not only an aesthetic but also a political medium - appears at a time when theories about the performativity of gender, for example, were gaining currency outside of the academy and the critical race politics of groups like the Minquon Panchayat were changing the character of the Canadian art scene. As art historian and cultural critic Monika Kin Gagnon has argued, the 1990s were marked by a cultural politics of difference where terms like hybridity, duality, or multiplicity were more apt to be used to describe one's position than any singular identity category and where representation was a key site for the critique of power. This is also the decade in which Canada's multiculturalism policy becomes formally and firmly established - some would say, entrenched. "Art and Identity: Vancouver in the 1990s," an informal conversation with the artists Laiwan, Archer Pechawis and Paul Wong, included here in the Essays section, details the vibrancy of this historical period and some of the challenges many queer artists and artists of colour faced in addressing a systemic politics of exclusion.

Significant advances have been made against elitism in the arts and in increasing the cultural visibility of marginalized groups. And yet, performances from the 1990s still resonate today. These works, despite being over a decade old in some instances, continue to speak to our culture's demand for categories of certainty, for identities that can be named and capitalized. They provide an important history of how identity has been figured by culture and of the politics of difference that continues to operate in many of our social institutions. By staging some of the concerns mobilized by living on the margins of social norms - by presenting bodies that are marked or mapped in unsettling ways by categories of race, sex, gender and class, and by telling stories and making rituals about the pleasures and pains of the non-normative - the artists in grunt's performance archive speak to the complexity of identity as a concept and as a lived experience. The aim of (queer) intersections is to highlight some of the artists and works that best inflect this complexity and who, in being presented together, might create new conversations and new (potentially queer) intersections.

christine stoddard

christine stoddard is an interdisciplinary artist/scholar and occasional university instructor. She has a Ph.D. in Art History and Visual Studies from the University of Manchester, UK, specializing in contemporary performance. christine's interests range across the diversity of contemporary art practice, including time-based media, conceptual art and installation. She is particularly interested in relational aesthetics and sensory phenomena. As an artist, her creative practice is primarily collaborative, often with the cross-disciplinary group Proximity Arts. For the ATA, christine is developing a curatorial program around the rich history of performance at grunt gallery.