Number 575, Nov 9, 2006

Toot suite.

Check in for some queer indie art.

This year marks the third round of the Toronto Alternative Art Fair International, or TAAFI for those of us that have a sweet tooth. Running in direct opposition to the larger, and more established Toronto International Art Fair, TAAFI promises to have more bite to it, not to mention a lot more drag performance and queer content. If one were to generalize, it could be said that The TIAF is Yorkville, while TAAFI is Queen West to the core. Securing TAAFI’s westerly presence, the three day fair is being held at The Gladstone and Drake Hotels, with The Beaver and The Social acting as an additional party and performance spaces.

This year’s organizational collective is a queer triumvirate of Parkdale mainstays, Andrew Harwood (original co-organizer, and den mother to us all, really), John McLachlin (past fair participant and gadabout) and Will Munro (DJ, artist, promoter, workaholic, whatever) Given this homo powerhouse it’s no surprise the fair is pretty queer heavy. Together the collective have scheduled 25 exhibitors, 20 invitational artists, an opening night gala, a drag show, a pile of performances, and a few lectures in one jam-packed weekend. If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art TAAFI promises, you’ll want to study the fair schedule/catalogue that comes with the price of admission.

Although there are numerous queer highlights to the fair, one event not to be missed is Drag Strip, which includes performances by Los Angeles-based Vaginal Crème Davis, as well as locals Keith Cole and Donnarama. A fierce line-up by any standards. Their credentials alone could fill a book. Donnarama, voted Best Drag Queen by Now magazine, Queen of Grapefruit, Miss 501 and Smirnoff Twisted Superstar, brings her part-impersonation, part comedy routine to the strip. The ever-offensive Keith Cole, Canada’s Worst Handyman and member of the Hardworkin’ Homosexuals, will help the night get a little sloppy. Be prepared for full exposure. But the real jewel of the evening’s tiara is sure to be Vaginal Davis and her “terrorist” drag. With roots in the punk music and art scenes, Vaginal is known for her contrarian and anti-assimilationist performance work. This “petite” lady keeps good company, touring with the likes of Margaret Cho and Le Tigre, and organizes the legendary L.A. art-sleaze thing, Platinum Oasis, with Ron Athey. Hats off to Vaginal for keeping drag dangerous.

If you could use a bit of saving, perhaps Lesbians To The Rescue, or LTTR, can lend a hand at their room in the Drake Hotel. New York’s LTTR describes themselves as a “feminist genderqueer artist collective with a flexible project oriented practice.” Although they are likely best known for their zine, the collective have previously organized a month long series of art events and performances. Seeing as part of their mandate is to “[shift] shape and design” in order to fully address evolving ideologies, the collective isn’t tied solely to one form of existence. Through their various incarnations the group thrive on dialogue, collaboration and community in order to share ideas.

Gay owned/operated galleries and Berkeley Street neighbors, Craig Scott and O’Connor pack up their wares to become neighbors at the Gladstone Hotel. O’Connor Gallery, now in operation for more than a decade, reaches out its tendrils in a rare jaunt over to Queen West to showcase their collection of finely crafted queer art.

Ed Pien sets up shop as a Gladstone invitational artist. At no point in time is there not an Ed Pien exhibition on somewhere from New York, to Berlin, to Windsor. This Toronto-based artist and educator at both university of Toronto and Ontario College of Art And Design displays maniacally detailed paper cut-outs at TAAFI. Although you’ll like be more familiar with Pien’s inky mutated figures, and hidden worlds on huge sheets of crinkley paper, his cut outs are no less stunning.

If sitting back and taking things in more to your liking than wandering from room to room fighting crowds, there is always the Saturday panel discussion pondering the question “Is Queen Street Dead?” or the all-day Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival screening in the Drake’s Yoga Den. Though asking if Queen Street is dead seems more rhetorical than anything, given how much the area is evolving, it’s a question on many people’s minds. Though the street itself certainly isn’t dead, (we can still see it, right?) perhaps a particular version of it is. Hear what New York-based urban critic Roberta Brandes Gratz, and 401 Richmond Building president, Margie Zeidler and company have to say about it.