The Blue Light
One of the first visitors to inhabit this closet was Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed. Throughout her residency Latifa designed a placebo experience that prescribed other visitors with what they believed to be a healing tonic. Sourced from outlawed invasive plant species, this drink featured plants that Ahmed collected from local, gay-cruising trails and indirectly referenced an underground history of psychoactive substances that is particular to the ways in which many gay-cruising scenes have fashioned their own non-normative culture of intimacy (from a conversation with local queer historian, Kevin Allen). From a Western ethnocentric frame, invasive plant species are often perceived as a threat to the local biodiversity, but as Ahmed points out in her research, invasives can actually become useful if they are re-cast as valuable co-creators that can redirect the lifecycles of native plant species, so that their topologies can then become more resilient to conditions of disturbance. Invasive plant species are a type of plant that is introduced to native flora through physical processes of disturbance — and the outdoor practice of gay-cruising, from an ecological perspective, could actually become entangled in the pollination and multiplication of invasive plant species, though contributing to the overall remediation of neglected urban habitats. Through this work, Ahmed proposes that the material conditions that make cruising possible in outdoor urban parks are also entangled with the ecosystems through which the local landscape continues to be co-produced, and indirectly positions the search for queer pleasure in outdoor spaces as an intersectional space of encounter where queerness begins to drift in-between human and nonhuman co-actants.
list of The Blue Light co-author biographies:
Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed is a botanist, herbalist, educator, researcher, and artist. Latifa’s work centres around building connections between plants and people, with the goal of establishing relationships that challenge processes of exploitive extraction and seek a more sustainable and just future. Latifa’s most recent art practice includes a collaboration with Alana Bartol for the piece Seeds for Grassy Mountain and “…if we ignore them they will disappear…” excerpt from Robin Wall Kimmerer curated as part of a group exhibition with u’s gallery.
Latifa lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Treaty 7 Territory where her efforts centre on recognizing the ongoing destruction of at-risk habitats including native prairie and grassland. Latifa operates a consulting service, Latifa’s Herbs, which offers health consultations as well as educational services related to plants including identification, processing, harvesting, edible and medicinal usage, and cultivating. She is also the co-owner of ALCLA Native Plants, a native plant nursery that was founded in 1992. Latifa is formally qualified with a MSc in Herbal Medicine from Middlesex University, London, UK and BSc in Botany from the University of Calgary.
Jeremy Pavka (b. 1987, Lethbridge Alberta) is an interdisciplinary artist based in Calgary, Alberta and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Media Arts + Digital Technologies from the Alberta College of Art + Design (2011). Pavka’s practice uses analogue and digital technologies combined with comedic tropes to create laborious renditions of the everyday.
Recent exhibitions include: Jarvis Hall Gallery, Calgary, Canada (2017), Platform Gallery, Edmonton, Canada (2017), Stride Gallery, Calgary, Canada (2016), Unitt Pitt, Vancouver, Canada (2016), Sometimes Art Space, Havana, Cuba (2015), and 8eleven Gallery, Toronto, Canada (2015). He has participated in numerous residencies including Still Alive, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Banff, Canada (2016), Common Opulence, Demmitt, Canada (2015), and the Corbin Union Residency, Corbin, Canada (2013-2017).
Pavka would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Calgary Arts Development, and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for their generous support.
Shyra DeSouza is an interdisciplinary artist originally from Calgary, currently based in Berlin. She attended the Sculpture department at the Alberta College of Art & Design in Calgary, Canada, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts with distinction in 2006. Her primary artistic interests lie in unravelling and reorganising the perceptions that characterise contemporary lived experience, utilising strategies and concepts such as: mimetic exacerbation, memento mori, pareidolia, ennui, and implication of the viewer to drive the development of her work. DeSouza’s practice encompasses a broad set of skills and materials, typically resulting in various forms of film, installation, and sculpture. Currently DeSouza is collaborating on a short film project in Slovakia, applying narratives derived from a controversial historical subject, and using the medium of film to elicit similar inner conflicts in viewers, with the intention of projecting the complexity of experience, and disrupting binary thought processes. She has screened/exhibited her work across Canada, in the United States, and in Europe. As well as maintaining an artistic studio practice, she has undertaken several volunteer administration and board roles within the Calgary arts community, and has been awarded a number of grants and residencies.
Jessica McCarrel is a coffee lover, Canadian artist and cultural worker interested in the subtle tactics of resistance and privative practices that make living a subversive art. McCarrel obtained her BFA from the Alberta College of Art. Her artwork has been exhibited in Canada (Alberta) and in the United States (New York, Los Angeles). She runs Kaffeeklatsch, a coffee company that serves notable coffee in unique and unexpected places to facilitate social connections.
Anna Semenoff: My research is influenced by phenomenology: the study of structures and systems of perception, and the ways that they influence our understanding of our built environment and how we occupy it. Employing a minimal aesthetic, my work utilizes sculpture and installation as an immersive medium, both giving rise to a self-awareness regarding the nature of perception. Specifically, I am concerned with how we give form and shape to our world via a codified perceptual apparatus – with the reciprocal nature and logics inherent within the act of seeing, particularly how seeing is active, and gives form and meaning to that which is seen.
The materials I choose in my work create an arena of associations, such as color, texture, and shape. Structurally, they emulate architectural spaces – functioning as projective maps or scheme. They exist in a fluxive space between the non-representational world of minimalism and projective geometry. Moving between the physically immediate and the geometrically transcendent – this friction aims to mimic the complexity of perception – between the organizing and codifying technologies of perception and the unfathomable depths and non-disclosure of “reality”.
Ashley Bedet came back to Calgary, where she was born. Bedet is the product of many very different worlds reproducing, meeting difference, and then reproducing again. That makes her the product of at least four distinct separate paths. She graduated from NSCAD University in 2014 and has been slowly making and showing work since.
Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Rocky Wallbaum now lives and works in Calgary, Canada. Throughout his life, Rocky has worked as a cook, a college professor in Culinary Arts & Business, in Human Resources Development, and also in retail - while maintaining a parallel, creative writing and performing practice. Always on the lookout for new things to try, Rocky has volunteered widely, as a singer in church and community choirs, a board member of a United Church, a Big Brother, and a Beaver and Cub leader. Rocky has co-Chaired a School Parents’ Council and directed seminars in cooking and wine tasting. Guided by intergenerational processes of exchange and support, Rocky’s teaching and creative practices have both led him to present at local and international conferences, and currently he co-chairs Rainbow Elders Calgary, a not-for-profit organization that enables local seniors in the LGBTQ+ community to give back to Calgary’s community.
Rocky holds a Bachelor of Education (with distinction) from the University of Alberta, and a Masters degree in Adult Education from St. Francis-Xavier University in Nova Scotia. He is a certified facilitator of True Colours and Colour Spectrums Personality Inventories, and a trainer in Faculty led Instructor development programs. Creatively, Rocky has been involved with drama as an actor and director. He plays guitar and writes songs, and enjoys performing in concerts and around campfires. Rocky published his first erotic story in 1999, and has enjoyed reading and writing erotic fiction ever since. Thematically, Rocky’s stories feature men of different generations, who know and like each other, but discover when they meet one-on-one, that they have other interests in common. Although rooted in fiction, Rocky's erotic stories portray how men may deepen their emotional connections through the pursuit of mutual, sensual pleasure — and his writing, in some instances, has often been perceived as a generative tool for pleasure-making that foregrounds the body in the experience of reading, as a site where writing becomes a sensorial form of nourishment and way of relating, queerly, and virtually, to other bodies. A selection of Rocky’s stories can be located online through the Nifty Erotic Stories Archive (est. 1992).
Mid-career Canadian artist Richard Boulet maintains an active studio practice addressing issues of marginalization, specifically the topics of mental health and more recently, concerns relating to LGBTQ communities. He has exhibited widely, with a national touring that included the Textile Museum of Canada, a 2016 retrospective at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, plus multiple solo and group exhibitions. The content of his textiles and drawings convey searching for sensibilities of community engagement primarily through semi-autobiographical works rooted in his living with schizophrenia.
Richard has worked in a number of Canadian cities including Winnipeg, Montreal, Vancouver and currently Edmonton. He has also spent periods of time in Calgary and Regina during phases of marginal living. Jobs have included working in a gallery, set painting and mental health advocacy. At this time Richard is employed with the Edmonton office of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and his professional art practice is represented through dc3 art projects.
For formal education Richard has three degrees, most recently an MFA from the University of Alberta, in drawing and intermedia, where he refined his desire to work in fibre combining text and image. This culminated in a focus on quilting and cross-stitch, which is still evident in his current work, although as of late drawing and mixed media also feature prominently. His earlier degrees are both from the University of Manitoba, firstly in Environmental Studies (Architecture) and then a BFA in painting.
Born and raised in Ploiești, Romania, Bogdan Cheta now lives and works in Calgary, Canada. Drifting between the surface of the printed page, the looseness of improvisable walks, or the meandering movements of large-scale installations, his projects usually gather in a search for how to use, and imagine the act of storying as an artisanal technology for place-making. He holds an MFA in Craft from Alberta University of the Arts (2019) and his research is oriented by an attention towards the atmospheric phenomenologies of lived spaces and their potential to re-activate alternative sites for political discourse and social engagement. Recent presentations of his work include projects at Balice Hertling in Paris, 67 Steps in Los Angles, the 12th Havana Biennial, and locally, at Stride Gallery, Untitled Arts Society, The New Gallery and TRUCK. With support from Canada Council for the Arts, this is Bogdan’s second presentation with M:ST, and his first joint collaboration with CommunityWise Resource Centre and the Calgary Queer Arts Society.
** Project was generously funded through a research grant awarded by Canada Council for the Arts and co-presnted by M:ST Performative Art & Calgary Queer Arts Society.
*** Special thanks to Alexandria Inkster, Kevin Allen, Mina Harker & Sharon Kahanoff.
a constellative list of The Blue Light collaborative works
** The Blue Light is a constellation of multiplicities that doesn't attend to the scripted finitude of meaning. It simultaneously dwells in the past, as it reaches for a "now" that becomes spent through its own impossibility to signify any act, or action that jells into a cohesive elucidation. Here are multiple authors and different storylines - but there is no direction, or a script through which this queer murmur surfaces. Like a Benjaminian image, The Blue Light becomes a way of thinking that swims through the darkness - through the inhospitable presence of an unknown horizontality - an atmosphere that has no end... [Bogdan Cheta, summer 2022]
I can feel safe in place and queer under the vast sky
a mixed-media essay that drifts in-between the written word and cross-stitch compositions
Assembled during the 2021 winter Covid-19 lockdowns, Richard Boulet’s contribution to The Blue Light is a work that began its process as a collaborative essay. Through ongoing conversations, and daily writing sessions, we examined what it might mean to construct an imaginary safe-space where untold stories from queer pasts can be safely exchanged, exteriorized and re-routed towards a productive form of agency that is not only recuperative, but also meaningful in its capacity for deferring any overarching signification. Queer memory is complicated: it hurts, it dwells on events that cannot be undone - and at times it can erect closets. Apart from having a physical, prop-like role in the expression of queer subjectivities, queer closets can also roam, objectless, like interior voices that multiply to give form to a psychic materiality of retreat — a materiality that in turn exteriorizes a way of looking that is positioned somewhere in-between reality and its continual re-surfacing into a never-ending field of potentiality. This [possibility of potentiality] is what transforms queer memory into an active site of re-generation from where the impossibility of the possible, as Giorgio Agamben would frame it, begins to choreograph habitable gestures that like the clandestine occupation(s) of the queer closet —are also spaced through their rooming of a groundless un-speakability.
In Richard’s practice, the cross-stitch emerges as a handcrafted gesture that spaces the psychical dimension of his daily writing practice through a process of metamorphosis that he describes as being “akin to a way in which a flower blossoms”. The cross-stitch, in this sense, becomes a haptic method of translation that transports Richard’s thoughts into textile assemblages which can later be touched and felt by other readers - as private, queer visions that are made tangible, but not graspable. The way in which the cross-stitch, while in Richard’s hands, becomes a slippery interface for mapping the “possible” through the impossibility of translation, opens up new methods for thinking about the act and space of reading — as a tactile, queer act of feeling.
— Bogdan Cheta on Richard Boulet’s contribution to The Blue Light, April, 2021
21:00 minutes, virtual environment: https://www.mountainstandardtime.org/
Preoccupied with 'planning', and 'common sense', structuralism goes beyond corporate aesthetics and suburban planning: it generates a sort of violence toward its own citizens, dividing people along demographic lines, imposing hierarchies of power, and valuing non-ambiguous conclusions above all else. In this context the self is continually insulated as a subjective center that negates the conditions under which a material orientation can begin to register beyond the means through which this change might be exploited for economic return (Martinon, 2020). Many have argued that there is no way out of capitalism — but i’m skeptical of this argument, and even though my skepticism might be registered as naïve, i feel that becoming untranslatable - that drifting outside of the frame through which meaning circulates, is perhaps the only ethical way of relating to a world that continually instrumentalizes the meaning of change. What if “change” means that the idea of art also changes? How does one continue being an artist, but also simultaneously drop out from a system that sponsors the idea of “art” through structures that replicate the very antithetical logic of late-capitalism? (Franco "Bifo" Berardi)
Accessible on the main page of the M:ST web site, the work is influenced by my move from Calgary to Berlin, and the kind of re-orientation process through which my practice has had to be translated as it shifted in-between these two global positions. The work consists of photo and video documentation taken on an accumulation of walks, as i attempt to negotiate moments of reflection around my experience of becoming a foreigner in a new cultural and urban environment. Using Berlin’s recognizable orange trash bins as a sort of non-productive anchor, i allow myself to drift along a path of accumulated refuse, between margins of productivity, and drifting again in search of these liminalities upon my return to Calgary, interlacing the two together into a suspended psychogeographical experience. This online virtual environment, entitled crossing blue, is an imaginary geography that invites the viewer to fabricate their own fictional, and non-fictional entanglements with situations that highlight possible shifts in their perception. Constructed through the form of a virtual walk, viewers can access the work via desktop, interacting with the popup images as the accompanying video plays — or via mobile, incorporating their own walk or surrounding imagery, emotions, memories, and personal experiences into the ongoing, mental composition. (*note that it is recommended to use headphones with this work)
Historian, Aby Warburg (1866-1929) often established a speculative thought space for his students during lectures by constructing a provisional configuration of images to accompany the sound of his voice as he lectured. (Weigel, 2013) Similarly, the aural component of the crossing blue virtual environment invites the viewer on an embodied path through various thoughts and encounters that may or may not be reflected in the accompanying visuals. Like Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, crossing blue positions the viewer in such a way the thought process becomes characterized by the movement between the images and auditory elements, further virtualizing an embodied position from where the act of "meaning" can find other possibilities of deferring "closure". The viewer is a requisite collaborator in this process of co-authorship. As the video continues, the popups slowly fade into ether, never static, challenging the process of perception, leaving behind a mark that is as empty as it is substantial.
the opposite of a look is a kiss
a series of give-away multifunctional tools that were distributed throughout local gay bars in Calgary, during the 2021 Covid-19 lockdowns. The project conjures a question of how images can literally become useful and in turn, be put to use
"To look and touch are two sides of the same objective. Sometimes a persons objective is simply to look but do not touch, or touch but do not see. Enter the multipurpose tool; joining a mirror - to look and reflect, with the emblem of a kiss - to touch. A reminder that the opposite of a look is a kiss, and that the two are entwined. The card can be used to pry, reflect, remember, scrape, crease, flatten, prop or any other verb the user requires of it. These actions will mark the card at the users discretion." - Ashley Bedet
This artwork is complimentary. It can only be picked up in person, on-site at the Kaffeeklatsch location, where the receiver will also be presented with a personalized letter from the artist. Please travel to 2000 Veterans Pl NW or 1205 1st Street SW to receive one.
— a rose held gently in a manicured hand
installed in two separate locations, this pair of neon signs beings to project a different message via the contours of the same image
Installed as a permanent window fixture at kaffeeklatsch (1st SW location in Calgary), a rose held gently in a manicured hand is a neon sign that signals a scene where an image that was previously laminated by its signification becomes unmoored, and through the indeterminacy of this slippage — lubricated by the potential for a return to a moment that precedes the determination of its own coding. Here - the illuminated image is not only relieved from its role to signify a message - it is also detoured, intertextually, towards an exposure that returns it back to the material intensities of its own light. This return of the image to the light that illuminates it is the gesture that transforms “a rose held gently in a manicured hand” from an inanimate object into a *sticky* thing that now reaches out, queerly, and without fear — into the world — like a hand that feels its way through the dark as it cruises for the company of unknown strangers.
Conceptually, this sign mirrors the functional utility of a second neon sign that operates remotely in an undisclosed satellite location — where it is used as a generic advertising prompt for a local nail salon. Through its simultaneous illumination in two separate physical locations, the vector through which this sign’s utility is coded also changes its direction to become re-signified by the daily events that animate these two different installation contexts. In its nail salon application - this sign’s utility is fixed to its communicative value for addressing a service — while at kaffeeklatsch, this neon signage loses its indexed signification by highlighting instead an interval of visual ambiguity which in turn becomes abducted by the locals as an untranslatable gesture that can be re-assigned towards a multiplicity of other unknown scripts. At night, and in both of these installations — a rose held gently in a manicured hand, simply becomes a light source - something that illuminates the street, a warm glow that warms up the darkness.
a placebo drink that was circulated through kaffeeklatsch, a queer all-age project and concert venue
Drawing from the psychotropic properties of these plants*, the Kaffeeklatsch Scheinpräparat (30 mL) can be used like a portable, imaginary mind garden where one can nourish ongoing fictions and their potential to re-articulate spaces and situations from everyday life. In German, Scheinpräparat means = placebo, a term that is associated with an alternative form of medicine that relies on the affective properties of mental visualizations. Kaffeeklatsch, on the other hand, when translated from German, means = social space / an informal space for discussion and contemplation that is activated through the consumption of coffee, where coffee is used as a sensorial stimulant for conversation. Drifting in-between the significance of these two terms, Kaffeeklatsch Scheinpräparat - is a drink that takes form both as a mental sculpture and as a herbal healing tonic. To administer, please stir one (1) drop of the Kaffeeklatsch Scheinpräparat tonic with a full glass of your choice of beverage.
Crafted by Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed, a local plant healer + researcher, this infusion is prepared from a selection of local invasive plant species which have infiltrated and in the process altered the ecological materialities of outdoor gay cruising spaces in Calgary. Invasive plant species are a type of plant that emerges on the landscape through interrelated processes of multi-species disturbance and entanglement. Often these plants are seen as an economic threat to the sustainability of local crop-production, and similar to the gay men who cruise for anonymous pleasure in spaces where their presence has to remain clandestine and un-perceptible - these plants also find room to grow, and infiltrate through the ruins of everyday urban interactions.**
* Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) tincture, Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) syrup, Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) apple cider vinegar, and blue spirulina powder
** the price for the Kaffeeklatsch Scheinpräparat is the same as the price of entry to the local gay bathhouse. All proceeds from the sales of this artwork will be donated to CommunityWise who has generously made space for The Blue Light installation, currently residing in the same closet space where the original Kaffeeklatsch-cafe first started.
short erotic story published online, through the extensive LGBTQ+ "Nifty" archive (est.1993)
"Student Conference" is a short erotic story that unfolds through an intergenerational fiction that draws from Rocky's own biography. The story was written by Rocky, as a fictional scenography that was intended to furnish this space with a particular atmosphere. My involvement in the story was mainly conversational - to facilitate an entry point for Rocky's thoughts through the "backroom". This story was later selected by the editorial committee for the LGBTQ+ erotic story archive ("Nifty") - and it can be read online by anyone. The idea is that the "Blue Light" backroom becomes itself inserted into the queer archive - by way of this story -- since the backroom was used as a kind of atmospheric character in the writing process, and now fragments of the backroom can re-emerge through reading.