Remember Why You Do This

I have been trying to come to peace with wild big themes of fame and attention and celebrity, and sort of who gets uplifted, and who doesn’t. And trying not to feel sore about not being famous or something I don’t know. I was talking with my Mom tonight on the phone because I hate having these feelings so I need to remember why I am an artist in the first place. She and I have both been making largely political work through our careers, and my father also. And Canada just doesn’t really have a system for art stars or anything. And when I tell people I’m in the Whitney Biennial a lot of people don’t know what that is. But then it’s like, do I really want to even be an art star? Like is that why I am making art? To be famous? I mean honestly that’s really not my intention with the work I do. I started making videos because I wanted to create representations of under represented communities, like teenage Indigenous lesbians, and then all the other multiplicities of marginal identities I picked up along the way and the people I grew to love and work with. Cause I remember growing up what it felt like to be a weirdo and alone and like I was the only one like me. And I didn’t want someone else to feel that way, like they couldn’t be complex and strange and having a sexuality that doesn’t involve men except in occasionally embodying feelings of transmasculinity. I’ve always said this in every artist talk I have ever done, I make representations of under-represented and under-served communities. I speak about and to 2S/Indigiqueer people. I’m really clear about it.

So I guess part of me thought the Whitney thing would be the big break, and I’d like finally be on the cover of something, I don’t know. But Canada is more excited about Venice because Canadians go to Venice and as a general rule Canadians don’t go to the Whitney Biennial because it was made for American Artists. But in a way this is good because it’s finally making me confront that old desire to be famous. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it was some kind of ego compensation from when I was a bullied little kid or something. But does it really matter? Or is it really the art that matters?

When I think about my life and my future it’s not really like, driving around in a Mercedes or eating caviar or sleeping in king sized beds or even really doing interviews every week. I think about some really practical things like the stories I want to tell in my work, and visually arresting scenes I want to film, and children I want to raise and my home I want to live in and doing things in my community. I can still do all of those things without being famous.

And then again I think back to my under-represented and under-served communities and it’s like, yeah how can I even think I would be famous when I make work that not everyone can extend themselves to empathize with? Like some cishet people are just not gonna celebrate a kinky old fat NDN masculine lesbian. And it’s not that that’s okay, that’s just where they are in their personal evolution, and not much I can do about it.

But I was talking with Dayna Danger on Friday night in Kingston after our opening at Agnes Etherington Art Gallery and they were saying that they felt I made space for them and the other loud sexy challenging 2s artists coming up now. And when I think about it, maybe it’s true. And maybe that was the point. I was always trying to help people get video skills and encourage emerging 2s artists. I always kept it in the back of my mind that the reason I made videos with such DIY aesthetics was to subtly encourage other filmmakers and video artists that they could make something too without having the big production values and the big grants. And I guess it worked. And really that’s what I should be celebrating, that there’s a space for this work to be seen and embraced and people pushing the envelope.

People try to get famous in all kinds of destructive ways. And probably I could be more famous if I changed the type of work I make and made really consumable images. But I honestly didn’t want to be a celebrity, I wanted to change the world, and those are two very different things.

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