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My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

#HashTagGallery Slut: Keith Cole hosts a three-way at the AGO

by Drew Rowsome

While never claiming to be psychic, I have on occasion been prescient. Way back in 2005, I was one of the contributors to fab magazine's first (and only) satire issue. Among my assignments was a piece dreamed up by editor in chief Mitchel Raphael wherein local drag queen/artist/bon vivant Keith Cole was to win the Governor General's Award for Visual and Media Arts. I came up with "From Blood to Urine: Keith Cole wins Governor General's Award," and everyone had a good laugh.

At the time Cole was living in the shadow of his scandalous (it even made The New York Times) evocation/re-interpretation of Liberace's Dancing Waters at a benefit. It made him famous but it also made him a punchline, as evidenced by my own contribution, instead of an artist treated as seriously as he deserved to be. We should have been paying more attention. Cole might delight, might horrify, might reveal a glimpse (or more) of his genitalia, but the audience was always gifted with something memorable.

His previous scandal was a drag performance at the mainstream circuit-boy temple, fly nightclub. While lip-synching and exercising his formidable dance moves - Cole is classically trained - he unleashed parachutes bearing the contents of a bucket of KFC, that wafted, well some plummeted, to the dance floor below. Most were not amused, a few found it hilarious, but in hindsight it can be viewed as a clever commentary on circuit-boy/gay culture at that point in time. The slightest bit of analysis peels back layers and layers of meaning, much as the tasty 11-herbs-and-spices crusty batter pulls off the KFC chicken that the circuit-boys all coveted but didn't deign to eat. Or at least would never admit to eating.

A partial list of Cole's accomplishments - a Dora nomination for Best Male Performance in a Musical for his work in Buddies' Arthouse Cabaretinspiring the creation of BoylesqueTO, bringing back gay with The Keith Cole Experience, running for mayor against Toronto's version of Trump, hosting innumerable events, winning the reality TV show contest Canada's Worst Handymanchoreographing, writing and performing, providing cub reporters with entertaining quotes, etc, etc, all while earning an MFA from OCAD University - is exhausting to compile or read. And while he is still a year or two away from a well-deserved Governor General's Award, he is finally being recognized by the art establishment with a slot at the AGO.

Until Sunday, May 7, the AGO is presenting Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971 - 1989 - In Performance, an exhibit mining the gallery's collection of General Idea and their contemporaries' artifacts in an exploration of the central role of performance art to the Toronto art scene. In conjunction there are a series of commissioned performance pieces including Cole's #HashTagGallery Slut. As the promo material exults,

The legendary Toronto performance artist presents a work that considers legacy and memory, collapsing time, space and identity in ways only Keith Cole can conceive.

The piece has something to do with a three-way gone wrong and Cole promises, “There will be water. There will be interpretive dance. There will be cats.”

Pinning Cole down, for an interview, is never an easy task - he is booked solid and his mind, and mouth, operates at a speed unknown to most humans. My first attempt elicited an apology but he is busy with prepping #HashTagGallery Slut, a piece for the Whitney in NYC, a piece for an exhibition at Paul Petro Contemporary Art, guest spots on the Baroness Von Sketch show, "writing tons of stuff for anthologies and doing a little voice work. And my upcoming teaching job." Then followed a tragic diatribe (that he requested not to be repeated) about how hard he is working and how little money he is making. Being an artist is not glamorous or cushy, it is hard work for little remuneration.

The next morning there is a cheery email that, alas, contains no further information,

Sorry . . . I was a bit down and poor. But - life is a bit better and funny how 24 hours can make things better. I hope the AGO people sent you info [redacted]  It can be soul crushing. But . . . onwards!

So, aside from the artist-speak promo material, #HashTagGallery Slut remains a mystery. But, being a Keith Cole production, it is guaranteed to be uplifting, sexy, hilarious, thought-provoking and, with luck, scandalous. And it will bestow the honour on the audience of being in the presence of a future Governor General's Award winner. 

#HashTagGallery Slut is presented on Wed, Oct 26 at 7pm and Sat, Oct 30 at 2pm at The Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St W. ago.net

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