Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale

Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World


Killjoy’s Kastle at the Icebox Project Space

Killjoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House, envisioned and conceived by artists (and lesbian-feminist couple) Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue, takes on its third iteration in Philadelphia in 2019. The multi-station installation, which found its home at Icebox Project Space in Fishtown, is at once campy, immersive, and educational.

The experience begins as visitors, divided into groups of ten to twelve people, are introduced to an undead Valerie Solanas, who screams at the audience about the ethos of the installation and the meaning of “lesbian feminism.” She shouts and shrieks, demanding to be heard over the loud punk-rock music playing in the waiting room adjacent to the lobby and the soft rumble of all the dozens of actors shuffling into place in-between performances. “Don’t look too excited!” she warns us, “And be ready to get your tits scared off.”

After Solanas initiates the visitors into the performance, the audience is taken to a separate waiting room, where bands–also dressed as the undead with their pale skin and heavy, smoky undereyes–alternate between dreamy covers of Britney Spears classics to thudding beats of angry noise punk. In the waiting room is also the gift shop, lovingly termed “Ye Old Lesbian Gift Shop,” where visitors can procure candles shaped like the Willendorf Venus and chapbooks full of love chants and spells.

The actual haunted house itself is divided into different stations, each responding to a specific part of Philadelphia LGBTQ history or general misconceptions and stereotypes of lesbianism. There is, for instance, a “carpet muncher” who is wrapped in layers of wool carpets and who is insatiable in gnawing at their hems; next to her is a woman dressed in a skin-tight catsuit who lazes and lounges at the center of the floor, invoking the legendary Sisters lesbian bar in Philadelphia, which was famous for its framed photos of cats. In the middle of the tour, visitors are also led to a side room, ostensibly for a “gender reveal party.” What is “revealed” however, systematically resists the gender binary which most gender reveal parties necessitate: local Philadelphia mascot Gritty jumps out, in an iteration named “itty bitty gritty committee,” reminding the audience of the fluidity of gender and the mutability of the labels which we are so familiar with. The ceiling is decorated with not only spiderwebs but also a giant clam, which slowly opens and closes sporadically and leaks onto unsuspected visitors.

Beyond the campy and the absurd, however, Killjoy’s Kastle is also an educational site that at once plays on the stereotype of a feminist killjoy, a women’s studies scholar–someone who refuses to play by the patriarchy’s rules by waving feminist texts and quoting Simone de Beauvoir–but also cherishes them and take them seriously. At the end of the tour is a “Processing Room,” in which three actual queer scholars or gender studies scholars sit with the visitors from each tour to answer any question they may have, and to process the experience together. For all of its proclamations to “kill joy,” the Kastle inspires joy and generates spaces of healing and community-building.

Cecily Chen

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