If you don't think a dance party can be an extension of an artistic practice, let Maddie Alexander convince you. Hair tumbling over their shoulders and arms unfurled over a tiny table, they explain how a dearth of spaces for queer femmes fuels so much of their work.
"I was given this residency in Toronto and at the time, there was three queer bars focused on lesbian or femme-identified people—and they back-to-back shut down. There was this displacement, and I was having this residency with an obligation to have a reception at the end. I was like 'I'm gonna use this space to throw a queer femme dance party instead and I'm gonna talk about the lack of space for lesbian, femme-identified people while doing it.'—and I'm gonna do one in Halifax soon," says Alexander. "I had to explain to these academics [from NSCAD] on the phone about how these queer dance parties are a part of my practice and why it's important."
The MFA candidate tucks a strand of lavender hair behind their ear, talking about how the theme of representation seeps into every corner of their work. It's in Alexander's early, film-based pieces, exploring the presence of queer characters (or lack thereof) in the TV they consumed as a teen: "When I was younger I used to think I was only into women or femme people because of porn, so I thought it was just a fetish and not a real part of who I am as a person. And that made me really start to break down 'Well what does that representation mean?' So that's where I started to pull away into television shows," they explain. "How I was really in love with this character from The OC named Alex who had a lesbian tryst with Marissa, and when I watched that show I was so obsessed with her and never knew why. That still ties back into this idea of representation: Every time I see myself represented in a space or a place it lets me feel like I can be there and do that."
This ability to mirror, to make room, has Alexander planning on pursuing teaching art one day. "I was thinking a lot about how when I was in school, I had a very small amount of queer or trans faculty and they were so, so formative to my practice and growing and seeing myself represented. I was thinking a lot about how to continue that."
In the meantime, though, they're delving into research about Halifax's queer history and, on this cold and sunny morning, learning the basics of sculpture. "I've been sitting in my Masters studio, trying to figure out how to make molds for the first time. But, that's really exciting to me because I don't consider myself one to make clean work, so that's part of it—making a big mess," Alexander says laughing.
"I'm really interested in finding ways for people to come into the gallery space that isn't just this tense experience of looking at the work and then leaving," they add. "It just became critical to me that the spaces I was in felt welcoming to the people I'm making the work for and about. It's really hard to will yourself into a reality that isn't shown to you."