February 18, 2023
Written by Alexander Rondeau
aberration // apparition brings together a group of queer, trans, and/or two-spirit (2QT)-identified contemporary artists from across Northern Ontario. Working with various mediums, each of the artists’ pieces offer nuanced, Northern readings of “queer hauntology”: the complicated and varying forces at play in navigating the world as a 2QT person.
“Hauntology” (originally coined by Jacques Derrida) refers to the often invisible yet perceptible feeling of a social and cultural past as it lingers into the present. A queer hauntology extends across various layers: in the queer inheritance of loss (most notably from the AIDS crisis), to the feeling of being surveilled by the heteronormative world precisely for aberrating from the norm. In rural and Northern communities, queerness often appears in glimpses: bright and brilliant, but usually conjured in small numbers or quick to disappear. Such aberrating 2QT Northern dispositions emerge like ghosts, seemingly out of place and out of time; but, importantly, this can also be powerful and inspiring, thus allowing 2QT individuals to instead haunt the world they move through, like an apparition. Queer hauntology is also tasked with the charge of working through mourning; queer history is saturated with spectral and phantasmic forces as many salient problematics surrounding queerness quite literally have been issues of life or death. Accordingly, queerness inherits a history of haunting. Queerness, now, in the present, is also steeped with longing, lust, desire, and affective forces from the past lunging into the present further swelling divisions of a linear past, present, and future sense of queerness.
Together, the artists in aberration // apparition offer embodied, Northern perspectives of 2QT hauntings that question and complicate the ghostly nature of queerness.
Ray Fox’s long, vertical gestural charcoal drawing, Otter Trail, packs a strong emotional charge. At first glance, the artist’s smeared handprints might appear as a desperate escape attempt. However, Fox’s contribution is actually imbued with joy and playfulness in his recreation of otter tracks. “Otter trails” are one of the oldest and most popular motifs of Anishnaabe beadwork, featuring a series of diamond shapes connected by sprawling hexagons mimicking the four paws, tails, and bellies of otters running and gliding through the snow. Notably, “otter” is also a commonly used taxonomic classification of gay men’s bodies. Fox’s haunting choice of charcoal pigment subtly nods to tracks as ghost sightings — traces of beings left behind conjure a living creature’s presence specifically through its absence, leaving a lasting impression in the snow until the next storm.
Budding Waters, by Cesar Forero, is a colourful, quirky ceramic installation with dozens of small floating figurines that queerly avoid any specifically identifiable species: part ghost, part jellyfish, part alien, but with drag-like features adorning oversized red lipstick and dramatic eyeliner. Forero first created this work in response to overfishing and human-caused climatic changes impacting jellyfish populations in recent years. However, their decidedly queer and phantasmic forms prompt an important consideration of both readings and misreading of queerness in the North: the legibility of signs and signifiers that produce queer subjectivities, or failures to recognize queerness as such. As Forero’s suspended ecology of tiny queer beings ogle back at us, we’re reminded of a key cornerstone to queerness: its slippery evasion of any fixed form and its insistance on taking innumerable shapes and appearances.
Suspended along the gallery’s street-facing wall, three 35mm photographs printed on silk titled Hauntings by Lucy Wowk float through the air like ghosts suspended in time. Wowk exhumed archival 20th century queer and sapphic photographs paired with excerpts from personal writing produced through research on these 1920’s queer photographs. Hauntings was first printed on biodegradable onion skin paper adhered to a rocky surface in a hiking trail in Pete’s Dam Park on the outskirts of New Liskeard, Ontario. Wowk described encounters with semblances of queerness while growing up in the North as fleeting and brief, like a form of haunting, or a veil that couldn’t quite be lifted.
Lurking in the background of Tejhler lb’s Do Androids Dream of the Pinetree Line of Ground-Control Intercepts? is a decommissioned United States Air Force radar station near Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Built in the 1950’s and decommissioned in the 1980’s, this abandoned military observation station remains heavily monitored, causing much anxiety amongst local Indigenous communities suspicious of secretive activity. Inspired by a nightmare, Tejhler’s mixed-media piece is a self-portrait of the artist tucked in bed with the overhanging words “always under the cover” as the military base looms out the window, surveilling their every movement.
Flickering like flashbacks of a dream, La Daans di morr by Sioux Lookout-based Nadine Arpin pairs footage from a community performance wherein a large, 16 foot wooden puppet was set ablaze and made to dance to improvisational Michif violin jigs. Arpin has woven Michif text throughout their video piece, offering thoughtful meditations on settler colonialism’s violent erasure of two spirit ways of life. For Arpin and their community, La Daans di morr was a cathartic form of medicine to exercise a spectre.
A red light flashes on a dark, monochromatic painting by Marni Marriott, where the artist’s ghoulish rendering of her own hands clutches a purse with faded barn quilt motifs. It’s unclear if Marriott is at a queer dance club, a garage, or even in the underworld, but the faded barn quilts on the purse are an important marker of the artist’s overall trajectory. Previously, Marriott’s barn quilt paintings were far more formal, operating similarly to the lyrical, narrative artistic and craft histories of quilts by which the geometric patterns determined the lyrical adornment of Marriott’s formative queer becomings. However, in Handbag (Barn Quilt), Marriott’s corporeal presence overpowers the faded barn quilts, as if the artist has successfully worked through the difficult stories she shared in her more structured, grid-like work, all the while carrying those rural, Northern memories by her side.
In ranging expressions, each artist makes visible the psychic perceptions of queer hauntings across Northern Ontario. Many of the works oscillate in the interplay of queerness’s powerful capacity to haunt, like a ghostly apparition, and the invisible yet perceptible surveillance of 2QT identities that aberrate from the norm. Collectively, all the artists also document varying forms of anti-presences that make up the queer experience, and 2QT supernatural abilities to conjure dynamic forms of expression precisely through absences that we can’t touch, but can feel. The colourful lighting choices in the space also subtly point to queer forms of longing for community spaces (Northern Ontario is a region larger than Texas, however there is only one designated gay bar in this vast expanse) that may haunt us. It is the continuous foregrounding of joy and playfulness as resistance in all the works that makes aberration // apparition a celebration of these six Northern Ontario 2QT artists’ resilience in navigating a difficult world and moving through ooky spooky feelings.