Queer Ecologies: Breaking down walls

Two day performing arts event explores complex themes from queer and trans perspectives

Choi’s performance in The Isabel lobby.
Credit: 
Supplied by Kala Baju

On Saturday, Toronto-based artist, performer and researcher Alvis Choi, otherwise known as Alvis Parsley, delivered a bewildering yet brave piece of theatre to an intimate crowd of 25 people at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts. 

The performance was part of a two-day performing  arts event in Kingston called Queer Ecologies that explores themes concerning home, nature and place from queer and trans perspectives. Choi’s production Born With the “Sea” drew on personal, and at times painful memories that explored issues associated with migration and sexual fluidity. 

“For this particular piece I was thinking about water and migration and how that relates to my own experience as a queer and trans identified person,” the Hong Kong-born artist explained in an interview with The Journal. 

Going into Choi’s performance, I had no idea what to expect given the subject matter advertised as well as the unorthodox nature of performance art pieces. 

At times, both the audience and myself were in a relative state of flux as we tried to navigate the intense performance and its complex themes. 

With a microphone in hand, Choi began the piece with a few lines of ambiguous spoken word poetry about the sea, looking out onto Lake Ontario from the glass-walled lobby of the Isabel. 

Choi then came inside, pacing slowly to the middle of the lobby from where the audience was watching. 

The artist began reciting more poetry, speaking softly, repeating phrases and at one point resting on the floor, and humming various noises.

The artist then rose, walked slowly up the stairs leading to the lobby and continued the piece. The performance came to a climax as Choi went around the room, asking nearly every person for their name and the meaning behind it. 

This was the most powerful part of the performance and it caught my attention in particular, because everyone suddenly looked afraid — uncomfortable to be picked out in the crowd. 

“The question of who is considered an outsider and who is othered was a theme,” Choi said of the piece. “If we think about how everyone is a immigrant then these questions of immigrants being ‘outsiders’ need to be challenged.”

Choi’s art provided social commentary on our mistakes of questioning perceived outsiders about their own cultures to a point of interrogation, which may be uncomfortable for those on the receiving end. Choi asked everyone in the audience for their name and the origin of it, allowing everyone to experience this position as ‘other’ as well as overcome it. 

Choi’s performance was honest and relatable to some members in the audience who shared similar experiences and spoke of them to the artist one-on-one, after the show. For others, the performance offered insight into the hardships faced by trans-immigrants. 

Performances such as Choi’s force us to contemplate our positionality and the privilege we may experience, breaking down our own experiences or cultural lenses to enhance our perception of realities beyond our own. 

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