Interview with Mikiki | August 2018
Mikiki is a performance and video artist and queer community activist of Acadian/Mi’kmaq and Irish descent from Newfoundland living in Toronto. They will be in Calgary along with collaborator Jordan Arseneault for the M:ST Performance Art Biennial from October 2-7. During the Biennial they will perform Disclosure Cookbook, a project that involves communally preparing and partaking in a lavish meal with people who are HIV positive. If you would like to participate please call HIV Community Link Support Services at (403) 508-2734.
Mikiki, you’ve said that you ‘fight for the autonomy of sexual minorities’ (although, this is true of both of you and Jordan) can you talk about what this entails?
When I was living in Calgary in 2003, I worked for what is now the Calgary Sexual Health Network. Their current ED Pam Krause was my supervisor and really instilled in me the importance of honouring what is beautiful and sacred about queer communities and experience. A lot of us who don’t or can’t access genetic families congregate later in the evening and that we can consider our ‘family’ time as sacred and worth defending as if we were spending time parenting kids.
This taught me to worry less about fitting ourselves into a mould of what we have been taught to see as normal or acceptable in how to configure one’s life, and to demand that others have the same ability to decide what their life, sexuality and gender look like.
Disclosure Cookbook challenges the politics and stigma that surrounds HIV, what motivated you both to become invested in this dialogue?
My HIV+ diagnosis reads to society as scientific proof that I did something ‘bad’ (read: have condomless sex at least once in my life) and thus am ‘paying for it’ by getting HIV. That’s total rubbish that has been downloaded onto us by generations of moralizing about illness, queerness, women’s sexualities, etc. In doing the kinds of anti-stigma work Jordan and I both do in and out of Disclosure Cookbook, we get to flip the script to say: I care enough about managing my health and my partners’ health by knowing my HIV status, in that I went to get an HIV test even though I knew there was a chance I’d get back information that carries a LOT of stigma. I would say that is the epitome of responsible, wouldn’t you?
Both of you are bicultural artists, advocates, and drag performers, how do these diverse roles intersect and play out in your daily lives?
Jordan and I have been dragoons collectively for over 30 years and that started with both of us hosting political fundraisers and cabarets within the radical queer scene. We are a different breed of ‘stunt queen’, hahahaha. We are still very committed to the RealPolitik of drag in the current Ru-niverse, which tries its hardest to suck any of the REAL JOY of political drag from its bleached, boney catwalk. Disclosure Cookbook is a place where we don’t have to check any part of ourselves at the door, whether that be our cultural histories, gender expression(s), sero-status. I went to art-school when I was still a baby anarchist in the late 90’s and took video art and performance classes. There learned of the amazing histories of Indigenous Artists, Queers, POC, and Women taking hold of these new ‘Art’ media without the baggage of centuries of ‘Man Art History’ in their way. So there’s a solid tradition we situate ourselves within.
Privacy is not common in life or in art, yet your performance for the M:ST 9 Biennial is closed to the public, why is this an important factor in this artwork?
Being Queens, we are obviously obsessed with aesthetics, opulence and frivolity, but I think right now is an important time to question that. Late-Stage Capitalism and income disparity are things that we both think a lot about and these are issues that also affect us and our community of HIV+ folks.
So in that regard, we still want to make something so luscious and decadent and over-the-top, but both in terms of economies of scale (teaching some of the cooking techniques to collaborators and learning theirs!) and the desired affect of the experience – it’s so much more meaningful when it is a smaller, closed group. And of course HIV stigma is still real and deleterious – and bringing negative people into our space can be dangerous, and excludes folks who are unable to be out about their status.
This project also treats the participants as collaborators, how do you help create an environment of intimacy and trust in these situations?
We both have work histories in social services, with young people, people who use drugs, are homeless, are LGBT2Q, and through this work we know how to create and hold space, to build a culture of inclusion and consent within a temporary community.
Some of it is as simple as building a framework together for how we expect to treat each other while working, or asking questions and allowing for silence as people think about how to answer, or how much room they can take up with their voice and story.
What writers and thinkers are you invested in?
Claire Bishop who writes beautifully about authorship and autonomy in collaborative and social practice and Grant Kester’s A Critical Framework for Dialogical Practices; Douglas Crimp, D.A. Miller, Susan Sontag and the AIDS Activist History Project for thinking about HIV/AIDS; The Nourishing Arts by Luce Giard, Prune cookbook by Gabrielle Hamilton for talking about domestic and commercial labour within the kitchen respectively and many conversations with the brilliant Mark Clintberg who teaches art history at Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD); and No Future by Lee Edelman in relation to nihilism and queer accountability. Because all we have is each other, right now so let’s eat!
Image: Cloud Ascension, 2014. Photo by Malin Enström.