'Inside Killjoy's Kastle' a grandiose presentation of queer feminist theory

Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) associate professor Allyson Mitchell takes great pride in blending her knowledge of feminist issues with her knack for producing thought-provoking pieces.

Allyson Mitchell

Both in and out of the classroom setting, Mitchell explores gender politics in creative ways that never fail to inspire. As an artist and activist, Mitchell continues to push critical dialogue on subjects such as sexuality and queer feminist theory. Through video, film and large-scale installations, she examines historical and contemporary ideas about gender – putting a unique spin on them and urging her audience to ask questions not just about her work, but also about culture at large.

“It’s very important to challenge today’s accepted norms when it comes to gender and sexuality,” Mitchell says. “When you experience an artwork that challenges norms it can offer an opportunity to reflect on your own views and how they may have been shaped. I want my work to inspire these thoughts.”

Killjoy's Kastle entrance

Mitchell’s production, Killjoy's Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House, is a travelling exhibit that exemplifies these notions, juxtaposing queer feminist ideologies with the methodological strategies of Evangelical Christian hell houses. Inspired by a documentary covering the nature of these elaborate settings, Mitchell and her partner Deirdre Logue worked together to find engaging ways to combine the architectural, fear-based methodology of hell houses with a bevy of lesbian and queer/trans feminist viewpoints.

Killjoy's Kastle performers

Like many of Mitchell’s previous projects, Killjoy’s Kastle transforms a cultural phenomenon to open conversations aligned with her activism. Supported by the Art Gallery of York University when it was first exhibited in 2013 in Toronto, this large-scale art display finds its identity by playing with various haunted house caricatures and reveling in dark themes polished with feminist revisions.

In collaboration with groups of academics and artists, Mitchell merges theory and theatricality – critiquing the flaws of patriarchy, capitalism, homophobia, racism, ableism and other power structures. Throughout the 45-minute cost-free experience, the exhibition embraces sexuality and showcases a satirical vibe, all while educating visitors.

From costumed undead lesbian zombie folk singers and demented women’s studies professors to polyamorous vampiric grannies, Killjoy’s Kastle offers an immersive experience that includes sound, sculpture and scent. During each tour, the Kastle combines these parodies with clever and humorous displays to explore the ways in which women, trans and non-binary individuals are at times viewed as frightening “feminist killjoys” who refuse to accept the gender-based status quos established by society.

Killjoy's Kastle performers

The project has been exhibited in Toronto, London, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. At each location, Mitchell and Logue have invited local groups to provide input on its setup, collaborated with community members, and aligned the exhibit with location based LGBTQIA+ themes. In fact, individuals from the hosting cities have participated in the exhibit, contributing as artists and performers (more than 40 in each performance) to bring the kastle to “life.”

“Killjoy’s Kastle isn’t a static art exhibit. The project relies on community stakeholders to collaborate in the making and performance of it. The experience that we’re trying to showcase is one that shifts, moves and grows based on local history,” Mitchell explains.

Now, more than six years since being introduced, the clever camp humour of Killjoy’s Kastle is presented in book format. Edited by Mitchell, Simon Fraser, assistant professor, and York University Communication and Culture graduate, Cait McKinney, Inside Killjoy’s Kastle: Dykey Ghosts, Feminist Monsters, and Other Lesbian Hauntings is available for inclusion in courses. The new publication from UBC Press features more than 80 stunning photographs that bring Killjoy’s Kastle to life, in addition to several chapters of written work from queer and feminist scholars – exploring the manner in which political art productions can transform our understanding of underrepresented communities.

Learn more about Inside Killjoy’s Kastle here.

For more York University news, photos and videos, visit the YFile homepage