Sex, gender, and projectors

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MFA candidate Caitlyn McMillan explores sexuality and place in her graduating exhibition

Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

A Portrait of the Artist as Queer
Fifth Parallel Gallery
April 2 – 20
Free admission

The last show you’re going to see at the Fifth Parallel Gallery this semester might not be the show you’d expect.

The walls are covered with six drawings of a nude woman lit with the projection of landscape photographs. Ninety other photographic transparencies are hanging on the north wall of the gallery.

For MFA candidate Caitlyn McMillan, these images make up A Portrait of the Artist as Queer, an exploration of themes McMillan has been dealing with through her degree.

“I suppose the entire time I’ve been doing my grad show I’ve been looking at gender and sexuality and how gender and sexuality relate to the places we inhabit,” McMillan said.

McMillan started her project last summer when she went on a trip across North America and started looking at the places she’d been to through the theories of Doreen Massey.

“I’ve been looking at Doreen Massey’s theories [of] how place affects us and how, in turn, we affect the place that we live in,” McMillain said. “So essentially, through a lot of my travels and through a lot of the things I was doing in my grad school, I started contemplating how these places, how Canadian places specifically – I have some New York in here – so I guess it’s North American more than Canadian, how these North American spaces affect queer bodies and queer people.”

Her show incorporates photos from New York, Regina, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, and Banff, which viewers are invited to place on overhead projectors around the gallery to be projected on to large drawings of McMillan, so that the “viewer is actually controlling how they influence these queer bodies.

“I’m placing these Caitlyns back into these places, giving the viewer a visual of these queer bodies in visual landscapes,” McMillan said.
And depending on which landscape you place on which body, you’ll get a different sense of a different queer body in a different space, a different sense of how vulnerable a queer body can feel in a particular space.

“But, there’s a separation due to size and scale, so I mean different situations feel different ways depending on what influences are upon you,” McMillan said. “Sometimes the figure is large and looming and overwhelming and other times it’s tiny and is kind of dwarfed by the other things that are going on around it. Sometimes it’s really exposed and you can see it a lot super exposed and sometimes its more hidden wallflower kind of thing in the background, depending on the environment that it’s in.”

But McMillan admits “heteronormative” people might not get it.

“I expect queer people to get it,” she said. “I expect them to get it. I expect them to see it at face value and hear the little explanation and go, ‘Yeah, sure,’” she said. “But I expect heteronormative people to not get it. I expect them to not understand why I’m exposing myself in public spaces, not understand why I would choose to have nude pictures of myself in such a public place, and they wouldn’t understand what the queer body has to do with these landscapes.”

McMillan said she’s had some conflict with professors about her work and that some people may be apt to call the work “lesbian” or “feminist.”

“Leesa [Strifler] wanted me to always talk about feminism, because it’s so obviously feminism,” McMillan said. “But I’m like, ‘No, it’s very similar in politics, but it’s not feminism.

“I think that this body of work could be probably labelled lesbian or feminism or all those other things, but it’s about me saying I’m queer. It’s about me labelling it that way.”

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