The sign, poking out from a storefront in Kensington market, is hard to miss: white block letters spell “Videofag” on a hot pink background. Depending on when you visit, if you peek through the window, you might see a stack of old CRT televisions, a ceiling covered with glowing glass bottles or some experimental work of performance art in progress. Videofag is Toronto’s latest gallery, cinema and performance venue, and it is unapologetically carving out a space for innovative, boundary-pushing and queer-positive artists in the city.
Videofag opened this past October by couple Jordan Tannahill, a playwright, theatre director and filmmaker, and William Ellis, an actor who also works in non-profits. The pair curates the events in the gallery space and lives in the apartment behind the storefront. Tannahill says, “Since Will and I met, we’ve been fascinated by people who fashion their homes into artistic hubs… [We’ve] found lots of examples of people converting old storefronts into theatres or abandoned homes into art projects – and that really helped us imagine our home as something that could foster community and art making.”
The two were struggling to find a live/work space that would meet their needs, until Tannahill happened upon a sign in a barbershop window on Augusta Avenue. “Kensington Market has turned out to be the perfect neighbourhood for us. It has an eclectic, devil-may-care attitude that really fits with what we’re doing.” They moved in and immediately got to work transforming the storefront for their first event. Ellis says, “We had less than three weeks to renovate the space from a barbershop into a gallery, which involved cleaning up the years of hair that had accumulated.”
Since opening, Videofag has hosted a wide array of events: new play readings, live music, screenings, performance installations and spoken word nights. The space is constantly booked, with short runs that allow many artists to reimagine and reinvent the space. Especially memorable events have included trans performance artist Nina Arsenault’s Ophelia/Machine, a 72-hour live installation inspired by her involuntary three-day stay in a mental institution, and Henri Fabergé’s Feint of Hart, a steamy two-part punk-rock opera that mixed film, theatre, music and comedy.
When selecting the works to present, Tannahill and Ellis are looking for new and transgressive pieces by artists wanting to take risks and experiment. Videofag has opened up room in Toronto for projects that some of the older or bigger institutions in town might not be able to take a chance on. Says Tannahill, “What we lack in resources we make up for in a willingness to try anything. Also, I think queer-centric and multidisciplinary art spaces are still quite rare and necessary.” The in-your-face name they chose captures the spirit of the work they have been putting up. Ellis explains, “It’s representative of our aesthetic, our community and the work we wanted to see. I think we were excited by the possible reactions to it, and also interested in the way that a connotation attached to a word can change.”
Upcoming events at Videofag include a queer video arcade, a play about a wizard on a psycho-sexual rampage, an installation that will see the space turned into a tea shop, and a “Grinder-powered thriller” – in other words, something for everyone. Check out www.videofag.com for event listings and ticket info.
WORDS: RONIT RUBINSTEIN
PHOTOS: ADAM ZIVO
HAIR & MUA: CHRISTINA RUFINO