Let’s explore sex through art and academia

Prepare to be covered in glitter

Let’s talk about sex. Or more precisely let’s talk about gender politics transexuality queer art and contemporary society. And why stop there? Let’s talk about blond wigs sequined bodysuits and five-kilogram bags of glitter.

PopSex! is open at the Alberta College of Art and Design’s Illingworth Kerr Gallery. Featuring an exhibition conference and film series PopSex! is an exploration of “sex and sexuality in the public sphere through art and academia.” The exhibition showcasing the works of 12 German and Canadian artists is certain to offer a variety of views ideologies and esthetics regarding pop culture’s favourite subject — and perhaps pop a few preconceived bubbles along the way.

Themed in part around Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science a German centre for historically progressive sexual research established in 1919 (and disbanded 14 years later during the Nazi regime) the PopSex! exhibition features a multitude of genres. And not unlike the act of sex itself some artists have chosen to collaborate.

As part of the exhibition’s opening local queer artists Anthea Black and Keith Murray are re-performing Glitter Bike Ride a collaborate performance initially enacted in New York. “I had a dream that Keith and I both died in the same moment but in different places” says Black describing the impetus behind the performance “and we were reunited in the afterlife as twin drag queens reincarnated to bring a message of divine genderless transgression to the world.” Add matching sequined pink jumpsuits blond wigs twin white bicycles and two five-kilogram bags of glitter it isn’t difficult to imagine some messy and magical performance art.

When Murray learned from his glitter supplier that glitter comes by the five-kilogram bag “one of the first things that came to mind was to strap it to my back and bike around Calgary leaving a trail of glitter.” Murray and Black decided on changing the location of performance to New York after mutual friend and fellow queer performance artist Jasmine Valentina was killed riding her bicycle in Brooklyn: “That really crystallized for us the idea of the queering of public space on our bicycles as drag queens twinned in the afterlife together…. It became a piece that really had extra significance as a way to remember Jasmine.”

Some readers may be familiar with the New York tradition of “ghost bikes” the custom of painting white bicycles for fallen cyclists and placing them on the scene of their accident. Riding white bikes through Central Park Murray and Black were amazed at the “huge amount of visual literacy around the idea of the ghost bike street memorial project” and the awareness of New Yorkers towards the tradition. While a Calgary performance won’t draw the same amount of conscious associations with death a video of the performance in its original context will be playing in the Illingworth Kerr Gallery throughout the duration of the show.

For Black and Murray Glitter Bike Ride besides being a combination of their favourite things sends a message of transgendered power shunning the popular patriarchal tendency to categorize gender on a polar scale. So profoundly does Murray believe in genderless-ness — or perhaps simply a softer less categorical version of gender — that in 2008 he married himself: “I married the masculine and feminine aspects of myself in a ceremony in Las Vegas. For me recognizing my dual identity has been an important part of defining myself as an artist but also as creating an alternative mode of being in the world.” Officially pronounced Mr. and Mrs. Keith Murray Murray’s artistic practise attempts to represent sexuality “transcendent of the gender spectrum.” Complementary to Black’s practice this duo recognizes a need to work together as queer artists. “We need each other especially in Alberta united in this common objective and building community” Murray says.

The performance of Glitter Bike Ride is only the beginning. PopSex! features some decidedly talented local and international artists as well as a free film series at the University of Calgary showing “Sex on the Screen — Iconic films from Weimar and Post-WWII Germany.” Despite taking a stance both academic and scholarly (or perhaps because of this stance) PopSex! holds the potential for plenty of sex appeal. A warning from Anthea Black and Keith Murray: “Prepare to be covered in glitter!”