Universe: York's Monthly for Faculty, Staff and Students
Volume 1, Issue number 3, December 2002

Unplugged Art

Daryl Vocat: Rules of the Playground
By: Deirdre Hanna

When Daryl Vocat moved to Toronto from Regina to attend York University's MFA program, the radically queer artist was surprised to find that the shift to the big smoke left him less vocal on political platforms than he had been in the smaller city.

"The pace of life in Toronto is much different," he explains from the midst of Rules of the Playground. Vocat created this body of screenprints at York - where the 2001 masters graduate works as a studio instructor - for a recent solo show at Open Studio, an artist-run print workshop and exhibition venue in the heart of Toronto's downtown gallery district.

"The scale of the city alone makes life different - it takes so much time just getting around. I attend protests. I'm willing to help. But I am much less willing to organize."

Vocat's decision to focus his radical energies on his image-making wasn't strictly inspired by the lengthy travel time from Downsview to the city's downtown core. There was a real need to build a queer-positive infrastructure in Saskatchewan, while one already exists in Toronto.

"Regina City Council was refusing to sign a proclamation for Pride Week in 1998," he offers as an example. "It was ridiculous. They claimed they were going to stop signing proclamations for anything, but it was clear that Pride Week was motivating them. It was very easy to get radicalized."

If Vocat wants to get his fix on gender issues into the mainstream he's smart to be focusing on his art practice. Known for his in-your-face depictions of heterosexually challenged lovemaking often interspersed with iconic images lifted from Boy Scout manuals, Vocat regularly exhibits at galleries including Art Metropole, Neutral Ground Artist Run Centre, S.P.I.N. and West Wing Art Space and screens his videos at festivals across North America.

"Sexuality is not an innate orientation as most would believe, but rather a preference that in some way biology may play a role in defining," Vocat posts in his Queer By Choice Web site. "Having said that, I am still trapped. If I claim that being queer is a social construction I am to deny my body and biology. However, if I acknowledge biology, my sexuality is defined from a determinist perspective. I won't let that happen. Is the struggle for queer rights any less valid if people choose their sexuality?"

Rules of the Playground demonstrates a move towards increasing iconic subtlety In it, Vocat layers stylized diagrams from instructional manuals - more Boy Scouts - over photo-based images of men involved in sports, using colour schemes inspired by team colours.

"I was thinking about the intimate nature of first aid, and the unspoken erotic nature of sports," he says. "Play is often associated with children. Sport is the adult form of play. An image of two adults wrestling takes on an entirely different meaning than one of two children wrestling. I'm showing these moments of intimacy as a nice thing."

"Gain Importance from Taking Part," for example, depicts a how-to diagram of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation imposed on an image of two pro basketball players embracing, with a yellow-and-purple palette lifted from the Lakers.

"It comes from growing up queer in the prairies and needing to make your own role models. For someone looking at the men's underwear section of the Sears catalogue, these depictions of male contact are real life savers."

Deirdre Hanna is a Toronto-based arts journalist and writer. She has written extensively for NOW Magazine, where she was art editor for 14 years.