Curatorial: Loner Culture

Featured Image: Still From Thirza Cuthand’s Colonization: The Second Coming.

September 12 – October 27, 2018
InterAccess, 950 Dupont Street, Toronto
Curated by Lindsay Nixon

“Maybe they’re in their bedrooms figuring out how to work a dental dam.”

— Thirza Cuthand, Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory

Thirza Cuthand’s early videos were before their time, driven by her self-branded persona, unabashed attention-seeking performative dialogues, and overexposure before post-reality states were in effect. Cuthand made camcorder videos about the isolation of living in Saskatoon as an NDN lesbian in the late 1990s. The accessibility and affordability of video allowed her to create in her bedroom, cut-off but reaching out for queer connection.

In the DIY style of the time, feminist activist Kathleen Hanna wrote, performed, and produced her 1997 record Julie Ruin on a Drumatix she bought at a pawn shop for $40, in order to “escape what had happened to her.” Hanna describes cutting and pasting samples for Julie Ruin in the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, by herself, in her room, facilitating relationships with the materials she used unmediated by anyone else. “It sounds like you can hear a human being’s fingers all over it. It sounds like bedroom culture. It sounds like something a girl made in her bedroom.”

Cuthand’s early videos suggest a similar relationship to materials—videos shot on a camcorder and carefully labored over by a “baby dyke” in her bedroom, who didn’t just then throw her work away, but chose to share it with the world. This exhibition asks, how can we connect all the bedrooms wherein NDN weirdos are creating work that is never shared? In curating this exhibition it became important to identify a gender-neutral term for girlhood, to make space for all the ways NDN loner culture is embodied by girls and gender weirdos alike. As Kite said to me in conceptualizing a gender-neutral term for girlhood, that’s “loner culture.” In “Loner Culture,” Cuthand, Fallon Simard, and Kite fill a shared bedroom with big feels and their loner creations.

More information can be found here.


Full “Loner Culture” Exhibition Text

After watching the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, I was obsessed with what Kathleen Hanna described as “bedroom culture.” In the DIY style of the time, feminist activist Hanna wrote, performed, and produced her 1997 record Julie Ruin on a Drumatix she bought at a pawn shop for $40, in order to “escape what had happened to her.” Hanna describes cutting and pasting samples for Julie Ruin, by herself, in her room, facilitating relationships with the materials she used unmediated by anyone else. “It sounds like you can hear a human being’s fingers all over it. It sounds like bedroom culture. It sounds like something a girl made in her bedroom.”

In curating Loner Culture, it became important to identify a gender-neutral term for girlhood, to make space for all the ways NDN loner culture is embodied by girls and gender weirdos alike. The origin of the term NDN is elusive. It’s been kicking around in kookum’s favorite pop culture such as Keith Secola’s NDN Kars—so, for a minute. But NDN reached a state of terminal velocity on the internet, where it has become a frequent shorthand for Indigenous on platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. In my search for a genderneutral way to describe the things that NDN youth created in their bedrooms, and how those creations were influenced by the onset of the internet, artist Kite said to me, that’s loner culture.

Thirza Cuthand’s early videos suggest a similar relationship to materials—videos shot on a camcorder and carefully labored over by a “baby dyke” in her bedroom, who didn’t just then throw her work away, but chose to share it with the world. Cuthand’s early videos were before their time, driven by her self-branded persona, unabashed attention-seeking performative dialogues, and overexposure before post-reality states and digital worlds were fully in effect. The accessibility and affordability of video allowed Cuthand to create in her bedroom, cut-off but reaching out for queer connection, imaging alternative futures from within spatialities where lesbian Indigenous futures were not ensured—stifled, even.

Cuthand’s early monologues feel similar to a perzine—a zine about the personal experiences of its author—dealing with topics ranging from the isolation of living in Saskatoon as an NDN lesbian in the late 1990s, to the perils of being a young lesbian dating in a community of women older than you. Cuthand has never been afraid to break the barriers of identity politics with her radical intersectionality, addressing topics of power differentiation and intimate partner violence at a time when single issue politics reigned in lesbian and Indigenous art alike.

Almost twenty years later, Kite now considers the confluence of youth culture and indigeneity with her installation Better off Alone (2018). Kite represents the uneasy truth that, for some Indigenous youth, the first representations they saw of Indigenous women, of Indigenous peoples, in popular culture were in Disney’s Pocahontas. Disney’s Pocahontas is a complex figure for Indigenous youth. You have to give it to P: she’s pretty badass, always going against her father, famously wondering, what’s waiting just around the riverbend. Her best friend is a racoon, she has dream visions, and she gets down with her kookum. Disney’s Pocahontas was an early model of Indigenous feminisms for all the NDN kids out there, before age and experienced oppression complicated her representation, because it was Pocahontas’s relationship building, not the warriors, who would end the war between the settlers and her people.

But Pocahontas was also a frequent commodification of the late 1990s. Her image sold pencils, cups, and even girl’s dresses cut and sewn to look like Indigenous clothing made of hide. Because Pocahontas was an idea, and a sexualized one to boot, she was an object upon which John Smith could project his ~nice guy~ ego, his adventure-seeking, kinder gentler brand of colonialism that set him apart from men like Governor Ratcliffe. Smith first laid eyes on Pocahontas when she was running around the forest in a skimpy hide dress that hugged her hourglass shape. He drew a gun on her but was ultimately softened by her full lips, and her hair as it caressed her face, blowing wildly and sensually in the wind. Somehow, despite the gun, despite the undertone of sexual violence that marrs their entire meeting, we, the audience, are supposed to believe both are swooned. Pocahontas’s savagery, as the would-be colonists put it, is how those dangerous white men, as Powhatan put, saw her. The same fascination with the savagery of Indigenous peoples leads to another kind of nostalgic child’s play centred around voyeuristic representations of Indigenous peoples such as culture camps for kids that appropriate language and visualities from indigenous communities.

But with Better off Alone, Kite juxtaposes Pocahontas’s image with underground rave culture, exhibiting kandi—brightly colored jewelry made of plastic—from her own loner youth, and even one that spells out “pokahontas”in lettered beads. Who is pokahontas, the club kid persona and raver? We know she teaches John Smith about the colours of the wind, getting him all high and shit, talking to rocks and trees, flying through the air with holographic deer while her body feels like paint strokes that fade in and out of the wind’s current. What a trip—and pokahontas is the trip guide. Her visions expose that humans are all connected to one another in a circle, a hoop, that never ends—that otter are kin. She blows minds.

Like raver culture, and youth scenes generally, the internet was, and is, used as a means of digital connection. At the onset of the internet, early message boards and chat rooms created digital networks for NDN youth such as Kite and kandi kid pokahontas. In the place of voyeuristic fascination with Indigenous savagery that can motivate settler child’s play, Kite finds joy in the creation of computer programs that make computer’s bark, for instance. Kite has reclaimed NDN play for those whom it rightfully belongs to, her own brand of NDN child’s play re-appropriated.

Kite and Cuthand’s work in Loner Culture expose the hurt associated with NDN youth, but also a culture of light heartedness in working through hard truths. Partying. Fetish pup play. But Fallon Simard’s trans guy memes are perhaps the apex of NDN’s dealing with pain through the use of a signature senses of humour. With his Trans Guy Memes, Simard transforms common hurtful moments of transphobia he has experienced into moments of laughter between those affected. From misgendering to the affect of anger when cisgender men use single stall bathrooms to actually take a long dump, pointing to all the situations trans folks have to deal with to simply navigate a bathroom safely, Simard uses popular contemporary memes to speak back to instances of transphobia and transphobic violence.

In another set of memes, Simard overlays images of their chest post-surgery with layers of pink and unfocused images, until the scars are indecipherable as anything other than a beautifully made composition. Simard engages memes as both coping and healing mechanism, arguing it’s OK to vent about systems of power that cause daily harms, in a culture where so-called millennials are often shamed for doing just that. Further, in a meme-ified culture that can tend towards glorifying coping mechanisms that might cause different kinds of harm on the trans guy body—self-harm, isolation, and taking poor care of one’s self—Simard shows there is no shame in healing one’s hurt (or in using so-called unhealthy coping mechanisms, for that matter). Every trans guy is just doing what he can to survive.

In Loner Culture, Thirza Cuthand, Fallon Simard, and Kite fill a shared bedroom with big feels and their loner creations. Loner Culture attempts to connect all the bedrooms wherein NDN weirdos are creating work that is never shared, bringing together these separate times and moments which all mirror each other. With the early onset of the internet, what were the digital networks that did connect NDN loner bedrooms?

Loner Culture is the audacity of a future imagined and of a community created when one is told they don’t have either. Loner Culture is that wished-for future realized, and a beacon of home for all the NDN youths in the struggle. We see you. We love you. Slay all day.

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