Homo rhapsody: Vincent Chevalier @ FAF
“It’s a strip-tease burlesque puppetry lip-synch sing-along,” artist Vincent Chevalier says of the performance he has planned for Faggity Ass Fridays, exceptionally at the Royal Phoenix this Saturday (Sept 1). Working in performance, photo, video, and the media collage of Tumblr, this seemingly self-obsessed queer artist will spill part of himself onto the stage one last time before he vacates Montréal next week. (Banner photo by David J. Romero).
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“So when did you figure out you had AIDS?” a 13 year-old girl asks Vincent Chevalier in his video of the same name. Uncannily, the Montréal-born artist unearthed the VHS tape of himself and his childhood best friend playing “talk show host,” with a mock-tortured Chevalier pretending to be a man dying of AIDS, (inexplicably wearing a yellow clown wig). In a deliberate display of art imitating life, the video is edited to bring us into tragicomic shock, since we know Vincent Chevalier’s ill-kept secret: he is HIV positive and has been since age 19. This jarring honesty (and multi-layering) is typical of the artist’s work, which has included pieces like the self-explanatory “I am AIDS” (2006) and “Hospital Documents 2004-2011,” wherein page after page of his real-life medical files were displayed on the cold white walls of an art gallery. Chevalier’s haunting self-portrait diptych “Pictures of Me” was auctioned off at ARTSIDA earlier this year. This Saturday isn’t the first time Chevalier will headline a Faggity Ass Friday show either: he’s lent his talents to countless performance nights over his young career, and is now poised to make a raucous farewell, for now…
Vincent Chevalier’s endlessly stimulating Tumblr, Hyper Flesh Mark Up Language, is a collage of the Concordia BFA’s obsessions and fascinations, from porn to contemporary art, RuPaul, more porn, GIFs, and the alternately sarcastic and serious topic of living with and talking about HIV. It’s about “the tension between Universal Resource Link Locator (URL) and IRL (In Real Life),” he says, which is also the jaw-droppingly frank subject of his blog places where i’ve fuck’d, which records the location and experience of his every one night stand using Google maps.
“Just because I’m poz doesn’t mean I’m a fearless mofo. I have to worry about criminalization, disclosure, I have to worry about people finding out that I don’t want to find out,” Chevalier tells me. In spite of these anxieties, the 28 yr-old artist speaks with a self-assurance that suggests he knows his work is onto something. HFML has led him to field questions from hundreds of anonymous viewers and users who ask him inane questions like “How do you deal with your AIDS?” and assume that he “got it because of mistakes” he’s made.
“I take it all very seriously. It’s a curious thing where my art starts to teach sexual health, such as with consent and disclosure,” he explains, adding that his audience doesn’t always know when he’s joking – he facetiously refers to his status and its consequences as “my AIDS” – but he knows from personal experience that the stigma faced by HIV positive people is all too real. His practice delves into the intersection of the luxuriously self-obsessed (“my selfish reason for making work”) and the defiantly personal. His “political reason” for making his excessively personal art practice “is to critique what people expect of poz people, to ask ‘what does it mean for me to give you everything and it still not be enough?””
OH MY AIDS
Although his Tumblr page, video, installation and performance works address the issue of HIV disclosure explicitly, it is the more coded language of hankies that has made him “infamous” in the queer/feminist/Concordia visual art scene. Designed by artist and friend Mikiki (who also performs at Saturday’s No Pants, No Problem!), the outline of a folded hankie in a denim pocket that is tattooed on Chevalier’s right butt-cheek signals that he is willing “to submit to the whims of someone else,” even though the nature and naughtiness of that submission is dependent on who can read the code, and who’s invited to “colour it in.” The piece (of ass?) is further immortalized in languid photos by 2B favourite David J. Romero.
His lip-synch for this week’s Faggity Ass Friday (on Saturday, remember) will include strip-tease, the fisting of a “cop puppet”, and a much-anticipated crowd sing-along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The piece will be dedicated to his well-meaning heterosexual oldest brother, who once infuriated Chevalier by saying Freddy Mercury’s death from AIDS had no effect on how bro thought of Queen’s music. Just as Freddy Mercury’s queerness seemed obvious to anyone who was able to read his 70′s cruising fashion codes, so does this soon-to-be displaced artist hope someone gets his externalizations, hears them as statements, and perhaps, answers back with some measure of sensitivity and intelligence.
Now that he’s set to live “in exile” (as I put it) in Peterborough for a new job in the art world, I asked Vincent Chevalier whether he thought his HFML Tumblr would be enough for him to hold onto his hard-earned fame, far from the myriad of gallery shows, queer parties, and festival venues that keep an artist “hot” in this fickle world.
“I do want to be famous. I already think I am slightly infamous. HFML both inflates and cements that infamy. ‘Going into exile’ in Peterborough to have my Surfacing moment – I’m pretty sure my star won’t go out.” Not 2B missed:
SATURDAY, Sept. 1, 10pmm $10 benefit for the Sense Project
Royal Phoenix Bar, 5788 boul. St-Laurent
Banner photo by David J. Romero, courtesy of Vincent Chevalier