Elektra KB, No SMILES (Simplified molecular-input line-entry system) Yet (Crip Lullaby), 2020. Photo credit: SD Holman.
The Fifteenth Edition of the Queer Arts Festival (Vancouver BC): Vanishing Act
Artists: Andrew McPhail (Canada), Aryakrishnan Ramakrishnan (India), Areez Katki (Aotearoa New Zealand/ India), Bassem Saad (Lebanon/ Germany), Charan Singh (India / UK) & Sunil Gupta (India/ UK/ Canada), Elektra KB (Colombia/ USA), Fazal Rizvi (Pakistan), Hank Yan Agassi (Germany), Hiba Ali (Canada/ USA/ Pakistan), Imaad Majeed (Sri Lanka), Omer Wasim (Pakistan), Renate Lorenz & Pauline Boudry (Germany), Renuka Rajiv (India), Shahana Rajani (Pakistan), Sharlene Bamboat (Canada/ Pakistan), Syma Tariq & Sita Balani (UK), Syrus Marcus Ware (Canada), Vishal Jugedo (Canada/ USA) & vqueeram (India)
Curated by: Adwait Singh
Exhibition dates: 18 June – 1 September 2022
Various venues in Vancouver BC.
I spy with my little eye a lumbering vessel—deemed too large to fail—bleeding foul plumes across the sea. For those doomed to touch life through this ooze, the only hope for a future appears to be a ghostly one; their only inheritance being a poisoned gift. The 15th edition of the Queer Arts Festival (Vancouver BC) scrutinises the patriarchal paradigms of possession as the foremost commissioners and distributors of toxicity, uncovering the processes through which they cover their own tracks. We know this to be true of administrations that made out AIDS to be a specifically gay problem with their poorly-concealed intent to police queerness; exonerating themselves of any culpability in catalysing the epidemic through their own colonial exploits. Once again with COVID-19 we witness the consolidation of monopolistic interests, immunological schemes, and exceptional power under cover of public health and biovigilance, in a manner that eschews any inquiries about etiology, keeping the public eye blinkered on the exigency.
The rapid spread of alienation, dissonance, and precarity that is second nature to queers to the hitherto immunized sections of society, expands the field of queer gravity. Put otherwise, as alienation grows universal the universe grows queer. The rampant feeling of social insecurity and political despondency is further compounded by the viral signification that literally translates care as isolation, making us look askance at our bodies as vectors of contagion. Unlike the selective localisation of the human immunodeficiency virus in the bodies of queer men then, the novel corona virus has somewhat democratized the feeling of vulnerability, revealing our bodies as deserving of curative care, not castigation. Might the looming precarity acuminated by COVID-19’s indiscriminate affliction finally succeed in eeking out a belated acknowledgement of the grave injury dealt to our predecessors who were selectively targeted, unjustly villainized, and left to die? Sometimes it takes a second viral visitation to appease the ghosts left in the wake of the first.
This sets the stage for a mutational politics that seeks to resist neo-colonial technics of exposure and their controlled replication of the status quo. It has become amply manifest that any bid to abject the viral through a program of differential immunisation not only redoubles its virulence but breeds other forms of corruption. Perhaps it is time then for this ghost-making-machine-of- a-world to face its own Frankensteins, as queers have long been wont to, haunted as we remain by these toxic spectralities. In more ways than one, the AIDS crisis set the tone for what has been an unfolding revelation of queer existence as a catastrophic, even indulgent co-becoming with the viral while maintaining an overall indigestibility in relation to the devouring milieu. The existential slime that we have to wade through daily, engender mutations discernable through a symptomology of non-institutionalised forms of virtuosity, counter-productive preoccupations, self-sabotage, impossible relationships, trans-temporal collusions, acting-outs, misshapen kinships, uncanny ways of being and worlding.
Vanishing Act divulges scenarios of queer toxic remediation and apocalyptic negotiations from South Asia and its diasporic beyond. Through affective and subjectivating communes with spectres of saints, sinners and snow, visions of queer futures are cast beyond notions of re/productivity and in terms that uphold virtuosity, transience and mutability. Steering the term apocalypse closer to its Greek connotations of a critical revelation, the exhibition proposes a queer incorporation and containment of toxicity as a moral and political imperative during imperilled times.
 See Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin’s Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012).
Left: Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Toxic, 2012. Right: Sharlene Bamboat, If From Every Tongue it Drips, 2021. Photo credit: SD Holman
Exhibition views. Photo credit: SD Holman.