Davis Plett’s (not all men are men); a response

Published by Public Parking, Winnipeg. 28 March 2019.

Full Text below:

805-4821 (Not All Men Are Men)

805-4821 is a trans coming out story.
its also about the 80,000 words of facebook messages
my best friend and i wrote each other one fall.
its also about hamlet and trauma and having a feeling.
its also about my mom.
its mostly performed using an overhead projector
and its mostly performed in silence.
welcome to the movies.

Created and performed by Davis Plett. Edited by Gislina Patterson.

The performance took place in The Ugly, aceartinc., Winnipeg, Treaty One Territory.

15-18 November 2018.

A response by hannah_g

If I were a journalist, I might begin this piece so:

“Davis Plett (23) a petit blonde in pink two-piece with wide, gold, metal choker, black stilettos, and glasses, began their performance in the midst of a rapt audience. Seated in a large 1980’s office chair (emphasising their build), Plett operated an overhead projector/laptop hybrid in silence as acetate after acetate, and digital screen after screen of text and image rolled over the fabric of the old projection screen … ”

The visual description of the subject, once common in tabloids, directs the reader towards assumptions about intelligence, intention, personality, social standing, and availability. A female identified body in a public role was regarded as an available body. This still holds true. With simultaneously greater subtlety and absolute brazenness, female, and increasingly, male identified bodies, are still being overtly included in North American and European neo-liberal economies of sex, fantasy, commodity, personal branding, and power. Plett takes the brutish, vested language of the lowest-common-denominator-highest-yield-gaze and issues a layered and unflinching I would prefer not to. In a counter play to those directives issued by twenty-first century capitalism, Plett enacts increasingly productive complexity in a lexicon of courtesies and frankness that lays bare their rejection of manipulative classifications and decrees to consume and be consumable.

The details of Plett’s appearance and performance I listed are significant, but must go beyond a simple exercise. These details comprise meticulous elements of a meticulous work; meticulous in the way a person who has planned a murder is. In a sense, murder – an act of power and will to destroy another thing – and death are deeply present. Plett uses Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a force within the warrenous structure of their work, as well as a personal signifier. The play within a play strafes 805-4821 (not all men are men), but whereas this device was deployed by Hamlet to reveal his father’s murderer, Plett uses it to flush out that which seeks to murder their self with essentialist labels, expectations, abuse, or trauma.

Through confessional texts —  conversations, messages, self examination — Plett reveals and exposes their familial, romantic, platonic, and undefined relationships as a means of destroying, redeeming, and transcending. Tied in with sex, longing, and discovery, the texts are not all necessarily destructive. Listening to and reading them, it felt at times as if one were witnessing a staccatic series of petit morts, at others, the ecstasies of a mystic. Annihilating the self in order to experience divine revelations is a trope in spiritual journeys, after all. The mystic experiences a double release by disseminating revelations beyond the cloister, situating this as testimony.

On the tired, old, enormous projection screen we read line after line of text for 40 minutes. It is impossible to catch it all. The strange concoction of digital and analogue technology had a self-conscious nostalgia that was very contemporary, but not always legible. The overhead projector’s bulb was dim, Plett’s fingers, manipulating the acetate text, were fleet, making words, including final and first sentences, easily missable. The text — and therefore the act of reading it — was both dense and porous. Since one cannot be sure one has read the entire thing, the porousness and thus the absorbency of the text to hold perception, gap-filling, assumptions, and uncertainties is increased. We see the web but not all of its moorings. The sheer volume, the thickness of the experiences described, our experiences of them, intensified the density of an already dense piece of writing. A metaphor for the difficulty of comprehending another’s experience, perhaps. The lengths required to make that experience comprehensible. To make a person legible, regarded, understood, and not diminished by any of this. Instead becoming imprinted on every surface to counter violent hegemonies that kill.

Plett’s is a tangled revelation; they welcome the weeds and the roots and the intensity of being under the water of searching. Although they share all this with the audience and invite us in, the essential interiority of memory, emotion, relationships, and self-realisation remains intact, facilitated by the audience’s reading of Plett’s words pulled across the over head projector. The act of reading transfers the interiority to us, and we have both Plett’s and our own voice in our heads. It also positions Plett as a kind of handmaid. A secretarial handmaid.

Through careful use of clothing and props, Plett conjured a 1980s secretarial aesthetic: the Janine, the Tess McGill, the Nine-To-Fivers – women whose formidable attitudes are due to incredible latent powers expressed within and outside the office, amplified by flamboyant accessories, ozone destroying hair, and rapturous soundtracks.[1] However, these characters seek freedom and success within the savage capitalist structures that oppress them. Plett critically draws on this aesthetic, associated with mainstream ‘80s neoliberal storytelling, masterfully subverting it. Not least with the unexpected song they sing at the end of 805-4821 (not all men are men). Their vulnerable, unamplified, unaccompanied voice (which is somehow primed for the audience by their microwaving and eating of popcorn amongst us in a preceding scene) makes inescapable the body that is outside of, as well as inside of the texts. We are rapturously confronted with the realization that there is a body within those 80’s clothes, under that make up. That body is queerly present before us. That body can be invisible, disguised, revealed, heightened, subverted, inverted, converted, coveted according to their desires. We want to believe that.

I was working the double bill and was right at the back of The Ugly for both performances. I watched two audiences enter, mill, watch, mill again, and leave. People were quiet and, I think it fair to say, expectant. Of what? Of connection? Revelation? To receive a queer sacrament? Plett did speak in tongues, with tongue, a serpent’s seeking, and a human’s interior rearing. Transcending and immersing and rejecting the clinging, incendiary spectacle of a body that is silent and that speaks: a distinctly queer phenomenon. And yes, a sacred thing. The messy, uncomfortable kind.

[1] Janine was the secretary in the first Ghostbusters movie. Tess McGill was a secretary in the movie Working Girl, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlinson were secretaries in the movie 9 to 5.

An Apartment In Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

By hannah_g

With thanks to Derek Dunlop and Bossy & Jayme Spinks and Helah.


Last month I found myself in a dim café off Platform 1 of Stroud railway station. After getting my coffee, I stood by a window that repelled light, and idly listened to the chatter of the other passengers waiting for the 9.04 to London, Paddington. I soon realised that the woman who ran the place had quite a few regulars: “Going to the dentist again, John?”, “… you’ll enjoy looking out the window, Barb.” It’s a cosy though chilly nook, with old railway memorabilia on the walls, and newspapers presented on a table. The woman (flyaway hair escaping from a grey-white topknot) dispensed coffee, tea, and bacon sandwiches. Framed cartoons depicting rail service scenes from the 1930s lined one wall, romances and mysteries lined the shelf beneath them. The stuff in this place looked like it had been accrued over time, its purpose only becoming apparent when this café was acquired by the current owner. Or perhaps not its purpose; simply an opportunity.

A partial meaning

Being near strangers and also apart meant that we imagined each other’s company. A new space was formed by the act of communicating. Exchanging thoughts, memories, opinions, snippets of ourselves we furnished this apart space and dwelled in/used it for moments of consecutive days. Like any private place, you have to be there to know, but your there and my there will remain separate. If we should share a space it will simply be another space, related to, perhaps informed by, that which we previously created in our respective minds.

An apartment- a place to shelter from the weather and other people. A place to share an incomplete praecie of who you are, what you know and value, and sometimes who you love and have loved. A home. Above, below, or beside other apartments containing other people using the space in ways most likely similar to you. A place to fulfil the private necessities and luxuries of life in comfort.

Exhibition / exposition / exposure

The original properties of the word ‘curate’ such as caring for, stewarding, sharing thoughtfully and knowledgeably I hold in regard. And I love looking at art objects and object objects and visiting places in which they have been collected and presented with intention. It will not be surprising that, for the most part, I rather like contemporary art galleries and believe in their purpose as places to encounter objects, experiences, texts, bodies, and ideas. They are places to think intimately and usually solitarily, despite the presence of other visitors. Seeing art and objects in a person’s home is a kindred experience though different in important ways. Depending on one’s relationship with the home one is in, one might cast surreptitious glances at things or confidently ask after them. One is exposing one’s level of interest.

A few days ago I asked an artist, “Where would you like people to see your work?” And via the tumble of conversation, I wondered about the setting up of circumstances for people to see art in a home without them realising that that was what was happening. Using cruising apps was my initial thought because of the nature of the artist’s work. The moments of being in unfamiliar domestic settings that precede sex, what would one see in that heightened state? What would one remember? And what about the act of cruising the art itself? The artist described doing this when he visits a gallery. Looking within the mists of intention when anything is possible.

Abigail’s Agenda

Strangers, acquaintances, neighbours, pals, friends are the components of a certain kind of community, usually one defined by geography. How do we get to know one another and when do we want to do this? How can we see what each other does? What if it isn’t on neutral ground? What if we become a guest as well as an acquaintance? What if we become a guest as well as an old friend? What if we become a host as well as an artist?

Let’s find out.

Typesetting and design by Jayme Spinks.

Where and How: a composition for Kristin Nelson’s Sydney/Sidney

Kristin Nelson (Canada) commissioned me and other artists to create new work using the sounds of winches as recorded in the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House by Sound Designer Emma Duggan during a Canada Council for the Arts International Residency at Artspace in Sydney, Australia. More info at her website here.

The album is currently available for $40 USD and was produced in an edition of 100. Cost includes shipping within Canada and the US.

The project was made possible by The Winnipeg Arts Council.

Sounds of Curtains (now destroyed) Sydney Opera House, 2020; vinyl, screen print, risograph, duralar, offset printing, book binding; 12.25 x 12.875.

Available for purchase on this discogs page. You can also hear samples there.

Sounds of Curtains (now destroyed) Sydney Opera House vinyl* release date was March 6, 2020, at Garry Street Coffee in Winnipeg (CA) and contains works by crys cole (DE), Christine Fellows (CA), hannah_g (CA), Casey Mecija (CA), Gail Priest (AU), Judith Rice (CA), Kelly Ruth (CA), Andrea Roberts (CA), Süss (CA), and Roger White (CA). Includes a bonus written response in the form of a ficto-criticism by artist and cultural theorist Jeanne Randolph (CA), and a visual response to Jeanne Randolph’s text by artist Kelly Campbell (CA).

Below is the text explaining my composition.

Book design by Kristin Nelson.