Position

This manifesto, or my position in the world of art practice, will continually be edited & reimagined as I discover & experience different (fresher) potentialities & trajectories.


 

Over the last six years, I’ve collaboratively devised theatre, developed narrative solo performances and experimented with drag. These works usually dealt with observations or questions I had about identity, sexuality, celebrity, spectatorship and persona. I’ve chosen a practice with an ephemeral product, but one with a promising potentiality. It provides me with a different sense of the world; performance is a structure without set rules. If I need or want rules, I can apply them. In Unmarked, Peggy Phelan writes “without a copy, live performance plunges into visibility—in a maniacally charged present—and disappears into memory, into the realm of invisibility and the unconscious where it eludes regulation and control. Performance resists the balanced calculations of finance. It saves nothing. It only spends.”[1] Performance is powerful and transformative. This energy it possesses comes from its lack of permanence. If it only spends though, how can both my (past) process and (present) enactments exist together as the (future) art? “Queerness’s ecstatic and horizontal temporality is a path and a movement to a greater openness to the world.”[2] In Cruising Utopia, José Esteban Muñoz writes of a potentiality that exists more openly in queer time, whereas normative time, a straight time, acclimates itself to the present only. This openness, as Butler suggested in Undoing Gender, could institute new modes of reality.[3] A reality, for example, that is based on fantasy being a platform for the fluidity of identity, its expressions, and its performativities.

If life, social life, is a constantly renegotiated performance, then when and how does it become art? I think context and intention must be explicit, and then even the most mundane or static of performances can be resonant. I’ve realized that my practice can be pared down to one concept: visibility. Perhaps more than any other moment in our shared histories, our world is driven by consumption. We are addicted to voyeurism and exhibition; and, some of us can’t let a day go by without engaging in both functions. And, I’m no different. I want to play around with visibility and invisibility; I want to explore how the gaze marks or un-marks my identity and the actual performance. I believe the work of artists who are on the fringes of society, who stand outside the normative, who are queer, who are other, who cross borders as Gómez-Peña would say, should be to offer our visions of the world we share but somehow inhabit differently. And, in regards to my practice as a queer drag artist, it is important for me to educate my own community, as well. As in the work of Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra, I hope to pay homage to and create new embodiments of societies subcultural citizens, to cross borders within and outside of my own queer communities. I want to terrorize but play nice as in the work of Vaginal Davis; I’m a drag queen but I don’t want to need the costume all the time.

Adrian Piper wrote, “One reason for making or exhibiting a work is to induce a reaction or change in the viewer.”[4] I’ve committed to divulging secrets and sharing stories. I’ve exposed my experiments and selves on stages, both traditional and alternative. But, my work has been quite safe. I suspect this is because I had been familiar with the locations and audiences of my past performances. I do not want to be safe anymore. Like Piper, I want my work to engender an honest response from the viewer. I’m encouraged to silence my self-consciousness and adherence to custom or etiquette by Piper’s Catalysis and The Mythic Being projects and Oreet Ashery’s public interventions as Marcus Fisher. When Piper rode the D train in a smelly, soiled shirt during Catalysis I, she wasn’t concerned with her own ego or appearance; the process and project were more important. In Dancing with Men, Ashery participated in a dance celebration atop a mountain in Israel. Only men are permitted to attend, so Ashery danced as Marcus, her orthodox Jewish male persona. The dangers are obvious. Ashery could have been physically harmed or perhaps imprisoned. Again, here, the project was more important; its potentiality outweighs the individual.

For the most part, my work over the last six years has been presented in excepted contexts. The performances were staged in gallery or theatre spaces, and my drag was usually performed in bars or nightclubs. As a result, the audiences were always accepting or open to the work; most of the viewers were likely creative, queer, or both. I’d like to extend the borders of my current practice. I wish to create performance installations and explore site-specific public interventions. As an artist who is most comfortable performing, I want to push myself to engage with a range of other visual practices. These would be project-appropriate, and may mean utilizing film and photography beyond mere documentation of my work. Or, it may mean manipulating digital media or sound to further distribute or enhance the work. As an attempt to expose my process and not put limitations on my practice, I’m hoping to better understand how these performances can be “re-presented” and what, if any, product is left. “For queers, the gesture and its aftermath, the ephemeral trace, matter more than many traditional modes of evidencing lives and politics.”[5]

The goal is to arrive at answers to some of the following questions: In an installation, when does the performance begin or end? Who are the viewers during a public intervention? Is the product or artifact of these installations and interventions only photographic stills and video? How is meaning attributed and by whom? My expectations are limited, but I feel that my work can have two lives: the performance and its “re-presentation”. And, in dealing with these questions upfront, I can confront my own duality; I can perform two halves of the same identity. My work can have multiple trajectories as I have had multiple histories, too. In this respect, my practice can still interrogate those personal issues of identity and sexuality while pursuing larger issues that I have about art and society: to blur the lines between the visible and invisible, the artist and the personas, the process and the performance, and the performance and the production.


[1] Peggy Phelan. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993) 148.

[2] José Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University, 2009) 25.

[3] Judith Butler. Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004) 214.

[4] Adrian Piper. Talking to Myself: The Autobiography of an Art Object. Rpt. in Adrian Piper, OUT OF ORDER, OUT OF SIGHT: Selected Writings in Meta-Art and Art Criticism 1967-1992. Excerpt from Mara Witzling ed. Voicing Today’s Visions: Writing by Contemporary Women Artists (London: Women’s Press Ltd., 1994) 294.

[5] José Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University, 2009) 81.

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