See Shawna Dempsey. Video-makers, performance artists. The zany Winnipeg performance art duo caught everyone’s attention in 1990 with We’re Talking Vulva, their rap music film about female genitalia (co-director Tracy Treager), which as part of Studio D’s anthology Five Feminist Minutes brought the clitoris into a lot of unexpected places and is estimated to have reached more than a million viewers worldwide. The most rambunctious of the series’s “implicit” shorts, Vulva came from the spunky Winnipeg arts scene, but tied in well with the NFB’s historical educational mandate as a vernacular work instructing its audience about female genitalia. The throwaway lesbian references in the performance come within the traditional inclusive feminist spectrum, even though such bold and naughty cunt-in-your-face subversiveness left no one guessing.
Fleeing the NFB nest, Dempsey was to follow up, in collaboration with Millan, with a series of irreverent videos that moved rather quickly from the feminist implicit to the dyke explicit. Dempsey and Millan, erstwhile life partners, went on a prize-winning roll of ten video productions, most featuring their own inimitable performances. Each tape is unique but all deployed the women’s famous deadpan wit, their pop postmodern flair for sculptural costume and décor, their genius for pastiching trash narrative forms such as nature documentary, and their delight in sending up the foibles—as well as the pleasures—of identity conformism, community and essentialism. Hyperactive, pixie-like Dempsey was equally evocative in a day-glo Medusa fright wig (Medusa Raw, 1992, 9) and a 1950s cutout housedress (Good Citizen Betty Baker, 1996, 27). Millan’s distinctively solid and earthly body is up front in tattoo and undershirt in Day in the Life of a Bull Dyke (1995, 10) and has also moved through videos by Montreal’s Anne Golden, such as Brothers (1998). Among the most popular and perennial Canadian lesbian voices at queer community festivals around the world, Dempsey and Millan also have had a symbiotic relationship with artist-run spaces from coast to coast, especially their motherhouse, Winnipeg’s Video Pool.