Three Bad Words

Keith Cole

July 15 - August 13, 2011

Three Bad Words
Three Bad Words
KC text

Three Bad Words

Three Bad Words , 2011

Paul Petro Contemporary Art is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by Toronto-based artist Keith Cole. Cole is currently completing his first year in the graduate programme at the Ontario College of Art & Design University. Three Bad Words is Keith Cole's first solo exhibition at PPCA.

Keith Cole has organized a brochure with short essays by Lisa Pereira and Gregory Nixon and design by Lisa Kiss Design. This publication will be available at the opening.

Keith Cole on Three Bad Words:

"Hello Art World!

"I'd love to talk more about this. It's the aspect of the Colonel Russell Williams case that I find the most interesting: how it was treated by the media. Everyone would say, "This is a shocking crime, all the more shocking because of who he was."... and shit like that. Since when is a position of power and status supposed to be a guarantee that people will behave "normally?"

"It was just like the Bernardo/Homolka crimes when everyone in the media would show their wedding footage/photos and say, "These were shocking crimes, all the more shocking because they were an attractive couple with everything going for them."

"Psychopaths don't fit in with media-reinforced concepts of "Good and Evil." Evil is supposed to look evil. But more often than not, it doesn't "look evil". The Columbine killers were, in fact, quite normal kids. They were not unpopular or excessively bullied. The whole "outsiders" and "trenchcoat mafia" thing was entirely a media invention.

"The Williams case is even more interesting because of the military culture - you know macho, homophobic, no nonsense - and here's this guy prancing around in ladies underwear that he stole from women after breaking into their homes ('Break and Enter' is considered by cops to be the lowest and sleaziest of crimes. Cops, all of whose vehicles have yellow ribbon stickers on them saying "support our military.") Everyone was vexed by the case of Colonel Russell Williams.

"But why should they have been so vexed? Because he had status? Because he was supposed to have "military discipline?" Because he met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs? (the footage that the television stations played every time they talked about the case)

"Trying to impose some kind of moral order on psychopathy - as in, this shouldn't happen when people have status or are attractive - is ridiculous. Psychopathy knows no boundaries. That's precisely why psychopaths are so dangerous. They come from all walks of life; from all social/cultural positions. The psychopath is always the one we least suspect.

"All this wringing or hands and gnashing of teeth in the media because this guy was some high-powered military officer...gimmie a break. Hey media...there is a psychopathy check list. It was created in 1970's be a guy named Robert Hare and it isolates twenty characteristics of the psychopath. Anyone who reads it will see instantly that a position of power is a perfect place for a psychopath to come from. They are often drawn to such positions. All the better for them to carry out their nasty deeds.

"Yet the media has so much trouble with any psychopath that isn't a drooling hunchback.

"Incidentally, Bill Clinton, after the Monica Lewinsky thing, was accused of being a psychopath by some members of the Republican Party.

Here's a link to Hare's check list:

"Why wouldn't it be a military officer, or a cop, or a teacher, a stockbroker or the U.S. President?

"As you can see, this is a topic I could go on about. Anytime you want to get together and jam about this I'll be there."

Keith Cole
June 2010

Keith Cole is a graduate of York University’s Fine Arts Program (BFA). His main interests lie in the interdisciplinary art forms of theatre/dance/film/performance and the intersections that they create. He has been a member of Toronto's critical, rigorous, necessary and vibrant Hardworkin' Homosexuals Collective since 1996. He has appeared in films, television and performance events and is a recipient of a Harold Award (1999) and a Dora Award Nomination for Outstanding Male Performance in a Musical (Arthouse Cabaret, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 2008).

In 2010 Keith Cole was a front-runner in Toronto's Mayoral Election - he received 801 votes for his considerable efforts. He has written for FUSE Magazine, One Hour Empire Magazine and his writing will be included in an anthology about Sky Gilbert and the theme of ‘compulsion’ in Gilbert’s work. Keith Cole is about to start a new choreographic work for Sky Gilbert and his play Dancing Queen premiering in 2012.

Currently, Keith Cole is a MFA candidate at OCAD U in the Art, Media and Design Master's Program with a completion date of (fingers crossed) May 2012. His thesis work and exhibition is centered around the design, build and the performative exploration of The Deep Gay Apparatus Infinity (TDGAI) – the world’s only transient, 100% natural, hyper gay, hyper charged, hyper sexualized, and hyper fun performance vehicle.

Power, Perversion and Keith Cole.

In terms of the number of people he killed, Russell Williams’ case is not that remarkable. What made his case so strange and compelling was that he was a top-ranking commander, a well-respected member of his community who had a distinguished career flying important people around the world. While he was doing that, he was also breaking into people’s homes and taking photos of himself modeling women’s underwear, jerking-off onto their belongings and sometimes sending them anonymous, cryptic emails afterwards.

For some, these two different lives might seem completely antithetic to one another. In every newspaper article about the man, there is a mention of a double life, a separate life, the life of a commander and loving husband by day and at night, the sinister life of a “pervert.” The press loves a good pervert story. But there is only one life, not two. One is no more “true” or “real” than the other. They are two aspects of the same man and neither life operates indecently of the other.

One might say his day life was that of a “good’ man. A good man is a man who is successful at his career, who is married to someone of the opposite sex, who leads a “normal” life. But at night, he led the life of a “bad’ man or” evil” man. We, as a society, are obsessed with the idea of good and evil. And someone who isn’t married, who does not have a successful career and does not do normal things, well, they are people that should be regarded with suspicion.

It is this good life, the respected, normal life that possibly allowed Williams to commit nightly crimes undetected. Who would have suspected a commander? Certainly not his wife, nor his close friends and neighbors, whose houses he broke into as well. It is entirely possible that Williams’ drive for success in his career and his life was driven by the sinister urge to be able to commit his crimes virtually undetected.

The discipline he practiced in his public life was evidently not enough to control his sexual appetites in his private life. Or maybe the power he felt in his public life allowed him to act on his impulses privately because he felt invincible. It’s hard to accept that someone good in the eyes of society and the law could do something so bad. The truth is that people in positions of power abuse others all the time, from priests who molest children to cops who remove their nametags and beat people with impunity.

There are similarities to both Williams’ crimes and Keith’s work. Both wear women’s underwear. Both have worked in the medium of bodily fluids. Keith performs in front of an audience, Williams performs in front of himself, carefully preserving his conquests in photos.

Williams kept his urges to himself. He played a character that everyone respected without the suggestion of what he really wanted to do. Maybe he couldn’t reconcile the two and that is what drove him to want to hurt and kill people.

Someone like Keith Cole wears all his urges and predilections on his sleeve. Keith publicly wears women’s clothing. Keith has no shame about wearing no clothing. He is opinionated. He is loud. Despite this, there is something that is still vulnerable and fragile about him because he does put himself out there for ridicule and harm. Anyone who knows Keith knows that every aspect of his life is up for discussion, which is why Keith is such a fascinating person and performer.

Every character Keith “performs” holds a truth about Keith’s life. So when Keith puts on women’s underwear and poses in photographs looking like Russell Williams, the photos remain undeniably “Keith.” Keith’s personality transcends the sinister nature of the photos because Keith’s life is lived honest and noble and loud and unapologetic. Keith’s performances have the ability to terrify people and have on many occasions and that terror may imbue Keith with a sense of power, but the difference is that Keith doesn’t take advantage of it, he uses it as a tool to say something about the culture and society we are a part of.

Lisa Pereira, Toronto, July 2011.

Gregory Nixon on Keith Cole and Three Bad Words

The media reporting surrounding the arrest and prosecution of Colonel Russel Williams reflected the shock and surprise of the public. Television news repeatedly showed us images of the Colonel with high-ranking government ministers while his terrible crimes were counted off on the voice over. The Globe and Mail summed up the incongruity of the case this way: "How is it possible that someone so polished and groomed for leadership could stand accused of such crimes?" How indeed.

It is possible in the same way that it was possible that John Wayne Gacy was a community leader who was once photographed with the president's wife, in the same way was possible for Leopold and Loeb to be wealthy and successful university students, in the same way that the head of the International Monetary Fund stands accused of a vicious sexual assault in a New York Hotel.

Power is not an inoculation against Psychopathy. Quite the contrary, if we regard Dr. Robert Hare's 20-point Psychopathy Check-list, a position of power would be an natural station for a psychopath to seek. And, as the evidence in the Williams case has revealed, the Colonel (again in accordance with Hare's check-list) is a psychopath.

The psychopath is not the drooling, imbecilic social outcast that we want him to be. He (it is usually a "He" - 80 percent of psychopaths are men), is generally of a higher than average intelligence and can be superficially charming. He is also an expert at manipulation with virtually no empathy or compassion - although this last point he hides very well. More than anything he gets gratification from the feeling of fooling everyone. This is precisely what makes the psychopath so dangerous.

Perhaps Colonel Williams is not the aberration he initially appeared to be. Although it is rare for the psychopath to turn to murder, the presence of psychopaths in positions of power is likely more common than most of us care to contemplate.

I've been a good friend of Keith Cole for over two decades and I have never considered him to be a "dark" person. At first glance it might seem strange that Keith has chosen this difficult subject matter for his exhibition: Three Bad Words. Undoubtedly there is a long tradition of queer artists being interested in violent criminals (think Capote or Genet.) And the nature of the double life Williams was leading - the veneer or normalcy verses the secret deviant - is interesting within the context of queer history. It wasn't that long ago that homosexuality was viewed as deviant behaviour forcing gay people to lead double lives and keep big secrets.

But I think there's something else.

Keith is perhaps the most honest human being I've ever known. The idea of telling lies or practicing deception is foreign to his nature. And the honest person is fascinated by the liar. The liar is of a different species. Colonel Williams was a liar. His entire life was a lie. So for Keith to be artistically drawn to this subject matter is, for me, not surprising at all.

Gregory Nixon, Toronto, July 2011