JC Fare: Separatist Hero, Queercore Pioneer.    

As is typical in the realm of performance art, very little visual evidence remains of the life and work of JC Fare. Only a few scant details are available: a possibly falsified birth certificate, letters from the Isaacs Gallery denying the artist’s legacy [1] , and a handful of early sculptural prototypes held by Forest Hill Collegiate Institute. [2] But, where the paper trail dead-ends, the apocryphal tales multiply ever more fiercely and the story of John Charles Fare, masochistic practitioner of cybernetic technology and pioneer of robotic amputation, persists. To this perennially favored tale, I wish to add a few clarifying details.  

I begin my investigation with a survey of the existing literature that places our subject geographically and historically. His life begins in 1936 in Toronto, a provincial city that in the interwar period is infected by a stern morality enforced by the white Anglo-Saxon elite. Born to French Canadian parents, a minority population within Ontario, Fare’s story is a tale of cultural resistance against the Anglo-Protestantism of “Toronto the Good.” [3] In a Centre for Experimental Art and Communication bulletin dated 1978, [4] one particularly radical critic goes so far as to interpret Fare’s attempts to sever off body parts as a solidarity offering towards the cause of Quebec separatism. According to this analysis, Fare’s concerted attempts to precision auto-amputation techniques were intended as a symbolic rendering of a process by which the part (Quebec) broken off from the whole (Canada) could achieve liberation.  

While consideration of Fare’s separatist legacy merits further scholarship, the focus of my interest in this brief survey will relate to a heretofore overlooked aspect of Fare’s notoriety: the artist’s sex and sexuality. To pursue this trajectory, I refer to the portrait of Fare that emerges from the passing reflection of one bubbly biographer who names him “a man who, in purely fleshly terms, was so small and faint.” [5] This commentator openly hesitates over Fare’s authenticity as a purely male subject and thus opens the question of Fare’s originating gender. While John Charles Fare is the name that is most often associated with this artist’s public performances, another portrait of the artist emerges under other names. Fare was baptized Jeanne Charlotte Fare and so named by his mother, an early advocate of women’s suffrage and also a catholic strongly devoted to the image of Jeanne d’Arc as a symbol of feminist martyrdom. While Fare’s own performance work resonates with this historical example of self-sacrificial ritual, a strongly iconoclastic bent impelled the artist to reject this given identity.  Whether simply irritated by the Anglophone mispronunciation of the French female name Jeanne or as a subversive assertion of male privilege, Fare resolves to adopt the pseudonym John Charles Fare somewhere around 1954 and throughout the 60s uses the moniker JC Fare among friends and fans.  

By age 28, JC Fare joins forces with biker femme Golni Czervath and the two perform various London leather bars under the band name Conjugal Visit. Czervath is credited with most of the technological innovations in Fare’s performances but it is the costuming in the duo’s early experimental rock shows that is said to have influenced the coming generation of anarchists. While the likes of the Sex Pistols admired Conjugal Visit and tried to emulate their distinctly subversive stage manner, they never managed to match their mentors’ edge. The “conjugal visits,” as their shows were called, remained in the hearts of underground fans the pinnacle of extreme pageantry characterized by heavy onstage bloodshed. An early fanzine from that époque describes a 1964 show:  

“the straining nipples, the cut arms, the sexualized weapons of combat. We get the dangerous possibility of prickly humiliation and the eminent danger that comes with power. JC taunted us with glowering stares, teasing us with kicks inches from our faces. If you were lucky, JC would aim menacing growls at you between songs.” [6]

Of interest in this train of critical response to JC Fare, is the sub-cultural designation of her queer femininity where the official press has always named JC Fare as a male performer. It’s possible that JC willingly straddled both designations, agreeing to be viewed as a male subject for the sake of public performances in art galleries while more in-the-know queer club-goers received Fare simply as a butch woman. Among all the amputations, the one that seemed to key up male critics the most was the purported removal of JC Fare’s testicals in a live show. Given that the use of prosthetics was a central feature of all of Conjugal Visit’s concerts, it’s not a far stretch to imagine that Fare was merely amputating plastic renderings of body parts. JC’s early investment and attachment to plastics, evident in her adolescent sculptural forays made at the art department of Forest Hill C.I., would continue throughout her career. A 1954 yearbook reports that Fare would spend hours crafting plaster moulds of arms and hands to be later cast in rubber. [7]

  As mentioned, costuming was a central aspect to JD Fare’s public persona. One critic describes a particularly renowned outfit: “Fare cuts an eccentric figure. He wears trousers made from zips.” Fifteen years later, the legendary Toronto band The Government paid homage to this outfit in their unforgettable track, “Zippers of Fire,” released on the album How Many Fingers? [8] (a clear reference to the JC Fare’s own digit loss.) Another big contributor to the very early moments of the Toronto queercore scene and the publication that would put queercore on the map was the zine JD put out by Bruce LaBruce and GB Jones. The publication’s title is rumored to have been a testament to the legacy of transgender performer JC Fare. Bruce LaBruce admits: “Sure, the title JD doesn’t just stand for ‘Juvenile Delinquent,’ it’s also a tribute to JC’s legacy. I can imagine that in the future, cybernetic homopunks will eventually publish the zines JE, JF, JG, etc… until they reach JZ and the project will end.” [9]  


Clair West San Francisco, February 2007      

[2] Two images of JC Fare’s earliest prosthetics are still on view today at the high school’s art department. Web photos posted at http://www.fhci.net/departments/art.html#gr12
[3] “Toronto the Good” was the tag given to the city in the early 20th century, testimony to its reputation for sanctimony. Prohibition lasted from 1916 to 1927, and restrictions on Sunday trading were so strict that department stores would even draw curtains across their windows to prevent window-shopping. These puritanical sentiments lasted for many years, with some pubs not opening on Sundays for most of the 20th century.
[4] Centre for Experimental Art and Communication fonds. York University Archives and Special Collections. http://archivesfa.library.yorku.ca/fonds/ON00370-f0000285.htm
[5] “John Fare.” Unsigned biographical outline published online. http://imperium.lenin.ru/EOWN/eown7/fare-fido.html
[6] C. Gaglia, “The Farer Sex,” Vazeeleen. Vol. 1, issue 13.  
[7] Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, The Falconer, 1954 yearbook.
[8] The Government, How Many Fingers? Released 1981, GOV-581.  
[9] “Art Fag interviews Bruce LaBruce.” February 7, 1999. http://www.artfag.ca/