Rhubarb Featurette (pt. II)

A snowy January afternoon, a small group of Rhubarb artists met in the Buddies cabaret. Working in pairs, they interviewed each other on a range of topics from their artistic practices, to their obsessions and rituals. There were some moments with plush animals too. This is part II of that day, featuring Esther Splett of Jilted X and R. Flex.


Esther Splett (Jilted X)

Jilted X is a femmegore performance duo featuring Esther Splett and Tiffany Paige. They use a haunted harp, crackling synth vibrations, punishing drums beats, textural samples and grotesque physicality as arsenal in performing a collection of lovesick songs about murder, misandry, being dumb as resistance, perpetual pubescence as resistance and resistance as resistance.

The duo created “Toxic People” for Rhubarb Festival’s second week of general programming. This piece takes the audience through an exorcism ritual to show us just how easy it is to rid ourselves of toxic energy and turn that frown upside down.

What are you obsessed with right now?

I’ve been obsessed with the Harvard Professor scam. These two women who are best friends or lovers were going around trying to pick up all these men then faking pregnancies and trying to extort money, threaten, blackmail and just generally torture them. They targeted a Harvard professor who they became lovers and friends with and then systematically set out to torture him and destroy his life for years. At one point they actually stole his house and kicked out his wife and children! He came home and they’d moved in and moved out all his furniture and had signed the house over to themselves using his internet passwords. The scariest part of the scam is how bewildered the professor was by their motives. At one point he received a bunch of threatening anonymous messages telling him not to try to guess at a motive, that he would never know, and that they just hate men. I can see how their behaviour is an inversion of the way men have been treating women for years, as horrible as I feel for the professor. The scam also challenges the way we think about gender – women can be sexual predators too.

A couple years ago, I was the victim of a really weird dungeons and dragons scam. Recently, I had an extremely disturbing experience trying to do something weird and funny to make someone I liked laugh that got interpreted as malevolent and me trying to fuck with his head. I don’t know what I’m more afraid of, imagining how everyone sees me as being like these two women or being hurt or targeted by people like them. I guess, like a lot of people who’ve been abused, I’m both afraid of monsters and feel like a monster myself. I must have been burned at the stake as a witch in at least three of my past lives. My obsession is with making art where I’m honest about my own violence, so that it doesn’t end up repressed and coming out in worse ways. I want to be able to get into the shit and the trauma with people and be able to laugh about it and feel less alone, so we’re not just thrashing around alone in the dark. I heard John Waters say in an interview once that sometimes everything is just so horrible that all you can do is laugh.

Do you have any rituals or processes of self-care that you engage in, in order to make publicly sharing your work more possible?

Some of my personal rituals involve eating trashy food, binge watching reality TV like the Bachelor, self-medicating and crying while taking selfies. I also play a lot of video games, mostly fantasy and RPGS.

Recently I’ve been bingeing various kinds of self help and psychology related material in a desperate and hopeless attempt to slightly conform to late stage capitalism and continue to exist, even though a lot of the time I don’t really want to be here. Some examples include a podcast called Beyond Bitchy, reading a book about attachment theory called Attached, a Jungian book on BPD which compares borderline personality disorder to Egyptian Gods and I also speed read three quarters of a DBT manual before having a difficult telephone conversation.

Can you speak about 1-2 artists/artistic movements that you see as part of your lineage, that have shaped your thinking?

The queer camp movement and artists/directors such as John Waters and The Kuchar Brothers have shaped my thinking, especially their celebration of anti-social behaviour, rejection of polite, conventional society and transgressive vision of queerness. Artists like Marnie Weber and Cindy Sherman and the way they use clown costumes and imagery. Marnie Weber has described clowns as, “Happy and sad clowns are the extension of us. It is a cathartic release of our pain to watch the humiliation of a clown.” Also, underground bad girl icons from the 90s like Lisa Caver (Suckdog) and Courtney Love. Courtney Love because everyone thinks we’re scary and wants us to go away but we won’t!

R. Flex

R. Flex is an emerging black queer voice In Toronto. Their debut EP “In & Out” featured three singles including the beloved “Thursday”. Their frank approach to songwriting makes for memorable R&B melodies over electronic soundscapes.

R. Flex performs in Art Party, a queer-art-party-performance cabaret celebrating madness, sex, intimacy and the grotesque through sound-art, dance and performance on February 21.

Can you speak about an artist that you see as a part of your lineage, that have shaped your thinking?

Kelela, who’s been projecting self into afro-future, complete with 60s harmony, R&B and done over club tracks. Queer folx fuck with that. It’s edgy. And Tinashe, hands down, for their production and looks. These female artists are constructing themselves rather than being constructed. 

What feels urgent to you?

Having Queer, Trans, POC, and Disabled folx infiltrate pop culture. Like Lil Nas Z, Lizzo: seeing the queerest come out of hip hop. In Trump’s world — this is the work that needs to be done. 

Why pop? People really fuck with it. Pop music is a reflection of our current culture. Pop is music that goes in our cars and living rooms.

What do people never ask about your work?

People never ask about songwriting. And the playful balance of how to do that and get my message across. Like exposing power and showing how it can be re-directed, but still make it a bop.

And folx aren’t used to hearing a masc person say some of these things and that surprises them.