By Sara Peters
I met with Max at their house/studio in the west end of Toronto on November 7, 2018, ten days before the opening of their first Canadian solo show. They opened their front door and pulled me into a hug, then promptly announced that we needed to go buy snacks.
“We can say hi to Johnny,” Max told me. Johnny works the cash at the variety store across the street. Max tells me they lived in the neighbourhood two years before finally asking Johnny’s name. “It occurred to me to ask after a few months, but by then I thought it was too late. Then I realized, that’s silly. It’s never too late to learn a name.”
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke is a multimedia artist, born in Mexico City. They began studying art in France and currently live and work in Toronto. Their practice draws on concepts of liminality, duality, and absence in queer settings. Maximilian’s art is characterized by their meticulous and capacious approach—informed by a research process Max describes to me as archaeological. Their work draws you in with its seeming simplicity and reveals itself to you long after you’ve left it behind. Max’s most recent undertaking has been a year a half long endeavour to trace and (re)articulate the colours pink and teal within the 2SLGBTQ community.
Maximilian’s studio is indicative of the immersive quality to their work and practice. Every inch of the room is adorned with pink and teal: fabric, bath salts, children’s toys, clothing, artwork, lamps, candles—even Max’s outfit, pink and teal plaid, blends into the colourful homage.
Sara Peters: What first sparked your interest in pink and teal?
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: A lot of what I’m interested in has to do with loss, memory, and omission. How things are lost and when they’re lost, especially in the context of queerness. When I discovered that pink and teal are the colours that were taken out of the pride flag, I became obsessed.
Max tells me that the pride flag was created by San Francisco based designer, Gilbert Baker, in 1978. Prior to that, the only commonly used symbol for the 2SLGBTQ community was a reclaimed holdover from WWII—the pink triangle—pinned to the chests of thousands of gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women in concentration camps. In 1978, Harvey Milk challenged Baker to create a new symbol for the community and the pride flag was born.
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: The original pride flag was an eight-stripe rainbow. All the colours in the flag have a meaning.
Red = life
Orange = healing
Yellow = sunlight
Green = nature
Blue = serenity / harmony
Purple = Spirit
Pink = sexuality
Teal = magic / art
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: The pink stripe proved too costly. At the time, no flag manufacturers in the U.S. worked with the colour pink. So, in order to include that colour, the community would have had to hand dye every single strip and sew it to the flag, which they actually did for the first pride, for the parade, but then never again. The second colour, teal or turquoise, they cut for consistency, to have an even number [of stripes] I think. So, the concepts removed from pride and from queerness from that point on were magic, art, and sexuality. They are the colours of omission.
It was a pragmatic decision, to be able to mass produce flags, to be more visible. But what is the queer community without magic, art, and sexuality? And pink and teal are also two of the main colours of the trans flag, which is, you know, a big point of tension in pride, as an event. They’re also very gendered colours in children’s fashion. All these concerns are definitely included in my project.
Maximilian’s exhibition at Bunker2, The Sanctuary of the Sex Magick Warriors, culminates their research with performance and video. The video “The Ritual of the Sex Magick Warriors,” follows a covert community of Sex Magick Warriors, who personify Maximilian’s conceptions of pink and teal’s significance in the queer community.
Sara Peters: Can you tell me a bit about the Sex Magick Warriors?
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: They embody the idea of community and resilience. I feel alone when I read the news and when I experience all the other bad things that are happening. As a queer person, finding a small pocket of people who have a sort of mutual interest or connection—for me it’s a lot of nonbinary people who sit outside of normative queerness––and being able to exist in that small pocket has been nice. [This project] is really about being able to find a community so you can survive, and so you can feel like you’re not alone, like you’re part of a society of care, of tenderness.
Sara Peters: Much of your work around queer symbolism depicts a marriage between pink and teal and a specific type of softness—softness as resistance, perhaps? Pink and teal are obviously very soft colours, but what is the significance of this relationship in your project’s conception of queerness and community?
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: I’ve been able to cope with things through softness. Even with all the uncertainties and all the things left unsaid within queerness, there’s still, you know, this communal understanding that like, yes, we’re all here together. I also really like this idea of trying to protect yourself without adding weight or restricting motion.
One of the pieces I showed at Nuit Rose this year, The Fruity Armour, is an 8-foot-tall protective bodysuit made from the wrappings of pears. You know, those mesh protective materials you see wrapped around individual pears at the market? I was interested in this capitalist need to protect the skin of a fruit using an industrial product that never decays. I ravaged all the Chinatown markets, their recycling, and after a year, once I had enough, I made a bodysuit, to translate the idea of trying to protect the skin of a human with the lightest, most fragile armour ever. It’s a way to twist hard set narratives or expectations of strength.
Sara Peters: Do you think there is an inextricable link between the kind of softness you’re describing and invisibility? Do you think a community can be soft but also visible, or is marginality a necessary ingredient in the pink and teal world?
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: I think communities can be soft, vulnerable, open to change, and still visible. Maybe it’s just not the case right now or in this instance, but… well now that I’m saying it, I actually don’t know if it’s possible, but that would be ideal.
On the floor behind Max is a knee-high stack of books. Among them, José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. As Max speaks, I’m reminded of a quote from the first page: “Queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain…we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds… Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality for another world.”
Sara Peters: In the formation of your identity and community, and in imaging queer futures, have you found symbolism to be helpful or limiting?
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke: You know, it gets complicated when you’re talking about symbols or symbolism within queerness and non-binary identities. I like the fact that video art, for me, helps to keep the narrative open-ended, otherwise, it’s hard to have conversations.
Personally, being able to identify with a certain type of humour, even queer memes, or reading parts of my life in relation to queerness that the rest of society doesn’t see—like there’s that clothing brand called Topman (laughs) I laugh every time I see it. That’s just one small example. It’s a nice breath of fresh air to be able to identify with something. It’s a small reminder that like, we’re here.
Maximilian Suillerot Wilke’s show, The Sanctuary of the Sex Magick Warriors, is on view from November 17–December 9 at Bunker 2 Contemporary Art Container. Follow Max’s pink and teal adventures @maxsuillerot