Ottawa 1986 1987 


Moving to Ottawa in the fall of 1986 and working at SAW gallery I started to provide a weekly comic strip called "Gay Banter" to the Arthur, Trent Universities student newspaper. It was a substitute for a column the paper had run for several years, but do to a mass exodus of the usual writers that year nobody was stepping up to the plate. I had been a gay activist while in Peterborough my art, writing and radio show on Trent Radio had brought me many a crank call, not to mention death threats, that neither the University administration or the local police particularly cared about. 

In 1984 an exhibition of mine was first censored by officials of the Canadian Images Film Festival [which started at Trent and is now the Toronto based Images film Festival] until they were reminded of their anti censorship stance for film makers. subsequently the show was pulled off the wall by "persons unknown", it was re-hung and finally completely sliced up by the same "persons Unknown" this incident was brushed aside. Welcome the land of liberal arts and "Cultural" studies.

With the realities of AIDS barely being acknowledge i figured Trent students needed to enjoy the every day horrors young homo's face, like "does my butt look to big in these jeans" and other such earth shattering concerns.

Gay Banter ran weekly for most of the academic year, you do the math. I am currently trying to reconstitute a complete set. (the images of my work prior to 1987 are all from a few sets of slides some galleries and the Canada Council had and roll of film and some gallery, documentation. I was robbed in 1987 of everything I owned, except for some thing I had with me on a Fringe Festival tour in the summer of 1987. while on tour)



GO Info December 1986

Joe Lewis Comes to Town by GARTH BARRIERE

Joe Lewis recently moved to Ottawa. He used to live in Peterborough. Joe is many things: a poet, a cook, an actor, a visual and performance artist. This is about Joe Lewis the visual artist.

For a long time I felt I knew Joe’s art better than I knew him. Then he moved into my apartment in Peterborough, bringing his books, his paints and his ideas. Knowing his art made it a lot easier to get to know Joe. As the canoe becomes part of the canoeist, so too Joe’s objects of art became, or perhaps always were, part of Joe.

What amazed me most in those first few months of roommate life with Joe was that his process of creation seemed to stem from the most banal features of daily survival; getting up in the morning, doing the dishes or being the brunt of a redneck’s homophobic outburst. And yet his work is the antithesis of banal. It jumps off the canvas, the paper or the rescued cardboard box and demands attention — to which some take offence. I remember once someone cut out all the penises from one of his collages, penises I had not noticed, being so subtly integrated into the piece. The work was eventually totally destroyed.

This is not to suggest that Joe’s work is extremely radical, although some of it is. Much of it is actually quite simple, and it is often this simplicity (naïveté?) that attracts so much attention to his work.

Joe explores a seemingly endless number of themes, from fertility jugs to African graphics to Barbie (the doll) to sex — in particular, gay sex. His work is not so much homo erotic as male-erotic, often equally effective with the liberal locker- room crowd as with new-wave trendies or urbanized political gays. He is as comfortable with locker room bonding as with gay male bonding.

Ironically, what makes his work so accessible is it’s thematically unfinished nature, lie forces you to really use your imagination, to complete the picture. Even his frequent use of words of phrases in the paintings does not suggest a clearer interpretation. Yet viewers are able to find their own, working from the cultural symbols and language in the works and from their own world view. His works are almost always rough around the edges, looking as though he got up in the middle of something to answer the door and never returned to finish it. Some times this works; it’s refreshing in our yuppified world of clean, polished straight edges. Sometimes it just gets in the way and is annoying.

If you saw the exhibition of Peter borough artists at SAW Gallery recently, you may have caught a first glimpse of Joe’s work. His first showing as an Ottawa resident is in the current 101 Xmas-Show at Galerie l01 245 ½ Bank Street, until December 23. Boys and sex is what this show is all about for Joe, and it includes an exceptionally striking central painting. Don’t miss it.

[this article was bumped from the paper for a reprint about gay suffers in California]



the Fringe and beyond: Where you Goin' the Mall?

in 1986 Artspace in Peterborough put out a call for submissions for a regional performance festival. "Where You Goin' The Mall", solo muti media performance, with slides produce by Laurie Daugherty, soundtrack, "Pusfolk and Drippings" complied and mixed by Colin McWhaerther with samplings provided by Joe M,  
Multi Cab 5 regional performance festival,
Arstspace, The Market Hall, Peterborough, On.



the Edmonton Sun Thursday August 20. 1987


["Monika Manly" employee of  "Colour your World Cosmetics]

Joe Lewis in costume as one of his four “Where You Goin’, The Mall?” characters. However, only the changes in attire distinguished their personalities. [Photo by Robert Taylor]

Musings left crowd baffled

By NEAL WATSON Staff Writer

Although billed as a multi-media performance, Where You Goin The Mall? does not entertain or provoke — or provide even remotely interesting viewing on any level.

With slides blinking random newspaper clippings about shopping malls on three different screens, writer/actor Joe Lewis engages in a monotonous, seemingly off-the-cuff, monologue. The common thread is his erratic lecture-style musings about the sociological significance of mall shopping. It is not worth taking notes.

During the course of the performance, Lewis disappears behind the screens for what seems an eternity, eventually returning as one of the four characters be plays in the Fringe production. The characters are essentially interchangeable, with only costumes to distinguish them. Lewis then continues his lecture to a totally baffled crowd. Most of the audience couldn’t fathom this one and made for the exit when Lewis conveniently disappeared behind his screens to change.


"Zap the Clown" aka the Janitor 

The Edmonton Journal Friday August 21, 1987

— James Adams

Where You Goin’, The Mall? (Stage 8)

You’ve heard of performances? Well, how about an anti-performance? That’s what Ottawa actor- writer Joe Lewis delivers in this intentionally atrocious 40-minute mixed-media one-hander that may or may not be  “a quasi- examination of information and how it’s presented

Lewis plays four characters — Monica Manly, a beautician; Bill C-54, “a comic-book character;” John Cruising, a businessman; Zap, a janitor turn clown. They each deliver utterly banal, seemingly off-the-cuff monologues while sitting before three running TV sets and three screens backlit with slides of paintings, newspaper clippings about shopping malls, a picture of Marxist theorist Walter Benjamin, slogans and a photo of a brick wall, among others. At one point, Lewis scatters balloons among the audience. Later he hands out advertising flyers. There’s talk about sex in mall washrooms and being videotaped by the police.

Actually, to say that Lewis “plays” these characters is to over state the case. About the only thing that distinguishes each character is the costumes Lewis changes into behind-screen. Throughout all this, Lewis’s rambling delivery remains flat, un- involving, off-hand; it’s as if he’s perversely determined to give the audience the worst possible experience of the Fringe, to tread that line between “boring” and “intriguing.”

You won’t enjoy Where You Goin’, the Mall? But it’s awfully interesting, and interestingly awful, in its wilful refusal to entertain.

— James Adams





Performance Artist on tour promo photograph by Phillip Hannah

THE  VANCOUVER SUN, Thursday, September 17, 1987

Split Skits: some funny, some flat By LLOYD DYKK

At the Western Front, Ottawa’s Joe Lewis has a piece of performance art called Where Ya Goin’ — the Mall? It’s bland, vague and unstructured and that may be the point, considering the subject. The one thing it’s not that malls are is disorienting. You’re always aware that this is performance art.

There weren’t many shoppers there on Wednesday night — maybe eight people — but Louis was valiant. While slide project ions of malls in various states of activity flashed on three screens and videos played on two TVs, he portrayed four mall denizens:

Monica Manley, a salesclerk at a “color your life” cosmetics counter; Bill C52, a cartoon boy born at age 20; a straight man in the habit of frequenting wash- rooms for illicit purposes; and a janitor/part-time clown. None of these is as developed as you might hope.

The commentary was as rambling and flat-toned as mall life and seemed largely improvised. It’s a very loose show. Maybe the funniest and loosest thing Lewis does is hand each member of the audience a copy of Plain Truth magazine to riffle through while he goes behind the screen to get into another costume.

He’s likable despite everything. And he’s done some homework apropos of malls. One of the throw-away passages quoted on the screen is from the anthropologist Abrams: “The human animal has always required a central area to which others of his species can gravitate to exchange glances, boasts, confidences or protests.”



the tour was canceled due to lack of money, so the appearance at he LA fringe did not happen, but it was in print.


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