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Sexing and Sizing Up

Edmonton’s Exposure Festival

Community Event by Pam Rocker (From GayCalgary® Magazine, November 2009, page 30)
Sexing and Sizing Up: Edmonton’s Exposure Festival
Image by: Ted Kerr
Sexing and Sizing Up: Edmonton’s Exposure Festival
Sexing and Sizing Up: Edmonton’s Exposure Festival
Playwright Neil Labute wrote, “Go back to the theatre, audience members everywhere, and get your hands dirty. Sit closer than you usually do. Smell the actors and make eye contact and let a little blood splash on your hem. Let us know that if we are brave enough to write about the stuff that matters, then you’ll come and watch...”
His words resonate profoundly with the mandate of Edmonton’s Exposure Festival: exposing queer artists to new audiences, and exposing Edmonton audiences to new art. By presenting these artists working in diverse media, Exposure seeks to question and inspire, celebrate and expand the spectrum of queer expression. This requires something from both sides of the footlights: the courage to take risks and venture out to showcase your work, and a sense of adventure to see and hear both the emerging and the established artists that are shaping our culture.
This year marks the third for the festival and Dave Jackson, Exposure’s Media Director, shares that they have been rapidly gaining national and international recognition.
“This means that when we approach artists to present their work, that they have already heard of us and are usually eager to participate. It also means that audiences have begun to hear about the Festival and we are growing in terms of interest and attendance. It has always been a goal of Exposure to reach beyond just the gay, lesbian, bi, trans-gendered, two-spirited community and show Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and the world, the contributions that Queer artists are making.”
Their theme: Sexing Up and Sizing Up Queer Bodies, exemplifies some of the big issues and ideals that we encounter daily. Todd Janes, Programming Chair for the Festival, says that this year, a lot of discussions with the programming team were wrapped around ideas of the Queer body.
“The body as a site for protest and transgression, but also at the same time there is a duality of the theme, and we are situating much of the work around the body as a site for celebration and empowerment. We are about queering concepts and offering multiple points of access into Queer communities and larger discussions. Including issues of Trans surgeries and who pays for them; issues of porn and the Queering of mainstream porn; of the bodies that we not just occupy, but that we celebrate and sexualize. When we draw power from our physical selves and when we falter because of our self-doubt or because of what the media tells us.”
The theme is the skeleton, but the presenting artists will be the flesh that makes it come alive. Among them is Exposure’s headliner, Buck Angel, the first female-to-male transsexual porn star.
“Buck is so exciting and lovely and I feel that his energy is so infectious that it will be magical. I think we are taking risks in different ways with bringing such a porn star into our festival and situating his work within a larger discourse around complex issues. It is bound to generate stimulating discussions around bodies, power, sex and money,” shares Todd.
Making its world premiere is the locally made documentary And the Rest is Drag. Featuring Edmonton’s own Alberta Beef Drag King Troupe, this film contemplates gender from the perspective of people who consciously and politically queer their gender. Edmonton locals Danielle Pears and Melisa Brittain co-produced the film and shared the director’s chair with accomplished novelist, Shani Mootoo. Danielle and Melisa share that, through the film, “we are hoping to encourage people to think less linearly about gender: to think about all of the shifting and complex intersections that constitute our genders. These intersections include race, class, sexuality, size and ability, but also the political climates and sub-cultures in which gender is being performed.” It was very important to them to premiere at Exposure, because “it is by, for, and about this community, and is the result of the work and support of members of Edmonton’s queer, arts and academic communities; communities that the Exposure festival brings together.”
Screening immediately after And the Rest is Drag is Invasion-Lesbian Beauty Queens, a look inside a series of beauty pageants that took place in the UK. Overall winner Valerie Mason-John (AKA: Queenie) will be in attendance. Valerie, an international artist/facilitator, will also be working with a local troupe of multi-disciplinary artists to present the “Queerly I Am Nothing New” Salon. This performance event explores the idea that queerness has always been around. “There have been LGBTQ people in all communities since humanity evolved in this world,” says Valerie, “even the animal kingdom had its queer lifestyle. We’re not going to go away, we’re in an era in the West that many of us can be Out and Proud. Let’s celebrate that, but remember that we are doing nothing new. I hope that as many visible minorities as possible will come out of the Queer closet and take part in this exciting Salon. Queer has always been more than white, able bodied, professional male.”
For the literary crowd, a Festival highlight will be a reading of the award winning Fruit: A Novel about a Boy and His Nipples, by Canadian author, Brian Francis. Published in 2004, Brian’s story about a 13-year-old boy and his talking nipples, captures the realities of puberty and budding sexuality in living colour. A favourite of both teens and adults, Fruit went on to make the CBC Canada Reads list in 2008. Francis will also be in attendance for, Our Queer Bodies, a lively panel discussion focusing on issues of body image and queer-identified people.
In addition to providing a platform for seasoned artists, Exposure offers a safe space for new artists to cut their teeth and present their work to the public. Ted Kerr, a founding member and the current Producer of Exposure, is excited about the involvement that local youth are taking in the Festival. “When I think of the queer youth in Edmonton, I am amazed and heart-warmed by how many great, open, productive, and awesome members there are in the community. This year, the Queer Youth Curators show (Printed Matters: Creating and Curating queer), received the highest amount of submissions in its 3 year history. This speaks of the great work that Camp fYrefly does and the importance of festivals like Exposure to provide opportunities for Queer Edmonton youth to ‘be queer’ all year round, through their expression and passions.”
The very word, “festival”, evokes an image of many different people coming together, and the whole team at Exposure is quick to point out that the queer community has made their success and growth possible. Jennifer Alabiso, Board Chair for Exposure, says that there is incredible support in Edmonton. “We have many friends among the downtown businesses. They support us with space, by making both in-kind and cash donations, and by attending our events. This is one of the most gratifying things about being a part of the festival, really, the ways that the Edmonton community responds.”
Nevertheless, finding funding is still the biggest challenge to any arts-based festival. “Especially in a recession, money can be hard to come by. We’re lucky, as I said, to have so many local supporters, but this has been a year where we all feel the pinch a bit,” says Jennifer. “I think it’s safe to say that the entire team feels that stress and they all bust a move to make it go. It’s amazing, incredible, and awe inspiring. But trust me, we all break a sweat at least once during the lead up.”
Break your own sweat and get out to the Third Annual Exposure Festival. Take Labute’s advice; get your hands dirty, sit closer that you usually do, and let them know that if they are brave enough to create stuff that matters, then you’ll come and watch.

Program details can be found in this issue of Gay Calgary and Edmonton Magazine.


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