While on route to the AGO's David Bowie Is exhibition I was completely immersed in Sarah Liss' book Army of Lovers: A Community History of Will Munro. Two artists with similar sensibilities and influence but very different ambitions, celebrated in two very different ways. Army of Lovers is achingly intimate and manages to give a sense of just how much Will was a part of the fabric of, and one of the creative forces that galvanized, Toronto's queer art scene. Interviewee after interviewee praises Will's ability to stitch together different artists and sexual/gender orientations to create something new, a wonderful metaphor for an artist whose speciality was working with textiles, knitting and underwear.
It is hard for any collection of interviews, or artefacts, to paint a complete or even accurate portrait of a person - especially a pair of artists so multi-faceted. Liss has interviewed much of Will's inner circle, but Army of Lovers is slanted towards the Queen Steet West queer art scene that flourished briefly but very influentially. The anti-Church Street bias that runs through the book isn't representative of my experiences with Will - he was, to me, about building bridges rather than burning them - but there are probably dozens of books that could be written about Will and his influence: this is just the first. Vazaleen, arguably Will's most notorious creation, was one of the city's greatest parties but it was also initially, partially, created, when Buddies took a brief detour into the mainstream and there was suddenly a void. Vazaleen kicked open a door to the creation of great parties from The Gaza Strip Club to Hot Nuts to Fuck U Fridays and whatever will come next. Will's army of lovers was composed of all genders and sexual orientations but the more flamboyant and entertaining the better.
Army of Lovers is essential reading for anyone who knew Will or was touched by his art or attended one of his parties, but it is also a wonderful historical - but entertaining and far from dry, the final chapters are heartbreaking and painfully moving - document for anyone curious about how the gay world evolved and is evolving. Will would have liked that, gay history and his fear of our losing touch with it was a major theme in all his endeavours. He would be honoured to have his place in that firmament recorded and we are lucky to be reminded of it.
Army of Loversis from Coach House Press and is available at Glad Day Bookshop.