The Tao of Maceo: An Interview Of Multi-Disciplinary Artist & Behavioral Economist Maceo Paisley

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interview by Summer Bowie

photographs by Dan Johnson

What does it mean to be a twenty-first century renaissance man? For Maceo Paisley, a wide range of disciplines comes together in a positive feedback loop that supports his indefatigable exploration of human behavior. Using embodied inquiry, he investigates his own identity and presents his findings in performance and film. A prolific writer of prose, he just released his first book Tao of Maceo, which takes inventory of his personal beliefs and aims to define his perspective more acutely. Stepping off the stage, he cultivates community through his Chinatown gallery, Nous Tous and a multi-pronged community practice/social innovation agency called Citizens of Culture. When he’s not writing, choreographing, curating, advising, and organizing, you might find him modeling or dancing for the likes of AirBnb or Justin Timberlake, respectively. Or you might find him enjoying a day to himself with a great book in hand. In the following interview, we learned about Maceo’s ever-expanding artistic practice, his time in the Army, and his unique approach to community organizing.

SUMMER BOWIE: Your short film, Dynamite investigates gender and identity, specifically the black, male experience through embodied inquiry. Can you talk a bit about the concept of embodied inquiry and any discoveries you made about your identity through this process?

MACEO PAISLEY: Yes, embodied inquiry, as I see it is a practice that deepens the thinking process by approaching ideas through the body. From the neurological perspective, we tap into kinetic intelligence, and somatics. From the more spiritual or philosophical perspective we tap into the bodies natural, sensual wisdom, as a reference point for our conceptual understanding.  

The most interesting discoveries have been around relationships, in partner dancing, where trust, communication, vulnerability, and boundaries aren’t just metaphorically applied, but fully actualized in the bodies of two dancers.

BOWIE: Speaking of masculine expression, I understand that before your career as an entrepreneurial creative, you earned a Bronze Star for your service with the Army in Iraq. Can you describe your tour in Iraq and do you feel this is a testament to your masculinity, or something else completely?

PAISLEY: I think that my time in the Army, was challenging, but it gave me access to a kind of masculinity that, when untempered appears as violent aggression, but when honed, can actually be useful as clarity and assertion.  It took me going to the extreme to know what limits I was comfortable with, but through that expression and exploration I was able to find a balance point and operate from there.

Iraq was a mixed bag, everyday was different, some days were almost boring, and other days there were mortar rounds blasting over our heads.

BOWIE: Aside from being a multi-disciplinary artist, you’re also a model, behavioral economist, an entrepreneur, a writer/magazine publisher, the president and director of Nous Tous Gallery in Chinatown and you oversee strategy and vision for a nonprofit called Citizens of Culture. That’s a lot to unpack and we’ll come back to these projects in detail, but have you always been such a polymathic person, and how do you manage to wear so many hats?

PAISLEY: It seems to me that my work is actually quite dynamic in practice but almost singular in focus. At core, I am deeply interested in the humanities as a field, so that might be the qualitative measurement of human behavior, or it could be the observational study of a couple arguing in a coffee shop, or the of publishing of works across whichever medium is most suitable for the audience.  

Art & science are often posed as opposites, but I believe that they are like twins separated at birth, who are both often misunderstood, yet each necessary to gain as robust a picture of humanity and it’s surroundings as possible.

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BOWIE: You just had your first book published, Tao of Maceo, a personal inventory of your beliefs in writing. You say that by putting your views on paper, you gain a better understanding of your fallacies and limiting beliefs. What’s the most important thing you learned about yourself through the writing process?

PAISLEY: The most important thing I learned about myself has to be that for as much as I am open and perceived as vulnerable in my work, I am a very private person, who isn’t nearly as open in my relationships as I am in the controlled context of sharing art.

BOWIE: You’re an avid reader and you publish a biannual print magazine called Correspondence. Who are some of the authors and magazines that inspire your writing and publishing, respectively? 

PAISLEY: Well, in 2016 I read about 115 books, both fiction and non-fiction. I really have to say that Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite non-fiction writers because of his range of experience dealing with the human mind. In the fiction realm, Octavia Butler is really a titan, that I keep wanting to go back to. As far as periodicals, I really love the Copenhagen Institute for Cultural Studies magazine SCENARIO, it has the most fabulous images, and deep insights about culture and identity from the individual and macro perspective.

BOWIE: You seem to be on a highly proactive odyssey toward excellence. Are you seeking an arrival point, or are you simply trying to see how much you can accomplish within your lifespan?

PAISLEY: The latter, I don’t know that “excellence” is the goal, it certainly was at one point. Now, I am more focused on finding peace and living in an urban environment, and contemporary society makes that a worthy challenge. My biggest goal at the moment is to understand what “enough” means to me, and how that idea changes accordingly with changes in my environment, and at various stages of life.

BOWIE: I want to talk about Nous Tous (French for all of us). What made you decide to open a gallery/community space and what does the decision process look like when curating artists and hosting events?

PAISLEY: Well, to be frank, we’ve never really said “No.” to anyone who wanted to show at Nous Tous. It would be contradictory to the name if we were to be exclusionary. Instead, I see my role as gallerist to be more of an editor, highlighting the best elements of whatever work is brought my way, and to coach the artist to trust in a shared vision, or in some cases, simply submit to the artist’s vision, and work to support it as best we can within our parameters and resources.

We have a manifesto that we reference, and works that fit naturally within it are usually what we attract, and other times we offer rental agreements to allow works to be shown with more autonomy. We then use that financial support to uplift other programs.

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BOWIE: Can you talk a bit about Citizens of Culture? How it came about and what you guys do.

PAISLEY: Citizens Of Culture is really about creating a place to have all the conversations we find difficulty having otherwise. Whether it be race, sex, politics, death, money, or morality, we support individuals and businesses as they approach cultural challenges in the hopes of providing the kind of clarity that can inform values-based actions. Practically, we are consultants for innovation, diversity and belonging, in companies, and that work supports, free or low-cost programs that are art-based, therapeutic, or support economic empowerment.

We have weekly meetings on Wednesdays, 7pm at Nous Tous in Chinatown if anyone wants to pop in and check it out.

BOWIE: Through Citizens of Culture you conducted a dating social experiment called, No Pressure, No Shame. What do you think are some of the current challenges that single people face in our current dating culture, and do you have any wisdom to impart for those who are currently trying to navigate the dating scene?

PAISLEY: The biggest challenge is that we have only been trying to marry for love for a short while in human history, and we don’t really have stale or universal definitions for what “love” is. So there is this mythology around it that we are trying to live up to, all while the ground shifts beneath us as to how we are supposed to go about achieving a loving relationship.

We first try to encourage people to clarify their intentions in the dating world, and that might mean having a flexible, working definition of what love looks like, and how a romantic partner might fit in to an ideal life. The next thing would be to set up some goals and boundaries that feel appropriate for our stage in life, and realizing that the work is never really done, so having compassion for ourselves and others along the way.

BOWIE: Is this an ongoing project or was it more of a one-time thing?

PAISLEY: No Pressure No Shame, started in 2015 with a 150-person queer, sex-positive, consent-based dating event, and we have been activating different iterations of the program as talks, art events, and parties ever since then. We activate something larger each October.

BOWIE: I’m really interested in a video series you feature on Citizens of Culture called Talking in Circles. Can you talk a bit about the concept of this series and any future topics you plan to cover?

PAISLEY: We believe that every great movement in humanity starts with people coming together to make collective decisions. Every one of our programs has some element of this, in the past we have covered technology, religion, police brutality, gentrification, and other issues, and moving forward I think we should be speaking more to addiction, sex-work, ideas of normalcy, economy, and mental health. As we move forward, we would like to be a go-to place for all of the most important conversations of our time.

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Maceo Paisley will be officially releasing Tao of Maceo and signing books Thursday March 14 from 7:30-9:30pm @ NAVEL 1611 South Hope Street. Please join us for a screening and performance of DYNAMITE, as well as a short Q&A with Maceo Paisley & Summer Bowie.


Bad Woman: An Interview of Katya Grokhovsky

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text by Abbey Meaker

portrait by Katya Grokhovsky

 

Katya Grokhovsky is an interdisciplinary artist, a curator, and an educator whose process-centric art practice combines installation, performance, video, photo, and collage. Through different expressions of each media, Grokhovsky creates immersive environments and captivating characters that assertively bring to fore issues related to gender, labor, alienation, and displacement, often using her own body to create a relationship between the personal and the political. 

Recently, I came across Grokhovsky’s video work titled “Bad Woman” in which an eccentric character wearing an animal-like mask, fur coat, and high-heels struggles with a stuffed parrot affixed to her shoulder, to situate herself comfortably on a wooden chair placed in a rural environment. Watching this, I felt I were witnessing something new, something authentic- an uncanny character whose discomfort was amplified, satirized. Yet I was able to relate to and recognize in her a sense of resolve, a comfort in her own skin, a resilience. According to Grokhovsky, “Bad Woman” is exhausted; she is many of us; she is what we whisper under our breaths, daily. She gladly fails; she is not here to please anybody; she is eccentric, wild, unruly, unmade, remade, deconstructed.

On a snowy Vermont day I connected with Grokhovsky to discuss this work, her curatorial efforts, and her solo exhibition, System Failure at Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College. 

ABBEY MEAKER: At what point in your life did you begin making things? Was there an inherent interest in art, or did life organically pull you in that direction? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Ever since I can remember I was making something with my hands, drawing on all types of surfaces, designing costumes, writing and staging plays, deconstructing and reassembling objects. I have continuously made art in some way and have been interested in many creative disciplines ever since I was very young, including fashion, interior design, literature, theater, dance and all types of decorative and visual arts. My parents encouraged me and took me to drawing classes since I was 5 years old in the former USSR, in Ukraine, where I went on to art school for children from 10 to 14 years of age, and then onto art school in Australia, Europe and USA, and here I am, a fully-fledged adult artist. I guess I have never really stopped or truthfully grown up. Art making is the way I interpret and experience life and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

ABBEY MEAKER: Of the mediums you employ – installation, performance, video, photography – would you say there is one that more holistically translates your ideas and/or an experience you aim to create for a viewer? How do they work together? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I would say installation is the medium that brings it all together for me and creates the desired effect of a totally immersive environment. Video is another vehicle, which can incorporate all of my interests into one format and contain it within itself. I would love to make feature-length films one day, with a cast and a crew. In my installation work, I am able to position, compose and collage many of my works simultaneously and play with the site, size and space. I frequently include performance and video, sound, sculpture and painting, through various experimental propositions of complex situations and worlds within worlds, allowing the viewer to explore and experience a new ground, new system of being, fresh and absurd territories.

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ABBEY MEAKER: Your work has been called feminist - do you identify with this label?

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I truly detest labels of any kind, however it is a label I do accept. In a perfect world, an artist would be an artist, not female artist or woman artist or a feminist artist, simply because she expresses strong opinions about her life experience on this planet. I am an artist, a woman and a feminist. I work with feminist themes and look at the world through this lens, so my work gets positioned as such. It is the way I live my life, the way I view the humankind and how I keep on. My views and the stances I take do affect my work and the leitmotifs I am interested in. That makes it feminist. Labels make it easier to digest, to create boundaries, to identify, to exclude and commercialize and segregate, I understand that. Being feminist lines me up historically with some of my favorite artists, writers and mentors, and that is an honor. I do wish we lived in a post-label world, where artists were simply expressing their views in different ways.

ABBEY MEAKER: What do you think 'feminist' actually means within the present context of contemporary art?  

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I think feminist in the context of contemporary art means inclusive, equal, politically charged, questioning, rebellious, critical and non-compliant. It means not taking it lying down, it is a way of life, so it should translate into art that way as well. I am interested in challenging all notions of societal prejudice, standards, systems, hierarchies, specifically patriarchy and capitalism. Being a feminist and an artist has literally saved my life and continues to help me navigate this man’s world as a woman and a maker, so I firmly believe in both as vehicles of analysis, refusal, rage, protest, as well as acts of radical joy, acceptance and pleasure.

ABBEY MEAKER: Can you talk a little bit about the characters in your performances? I am particularly interested in Bad Woman and Bunny Bad.

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Bad Woman is a character I initially developed for my last solo exhibition in 2017, as a post-election entity, a persona, who truly cannot handle this world anymore, and is gradually unraveling and de-conditioning herself. She is a bad woman, an angry, enraged woman. She is tired, exhausted, she is many of us. Internally, she is what we whisper under our breath daily. She is simply trying too hard, gladly fails, she is not here to please anybody. She is eccentric, wild, unruly, unmade, remade, deconstructed. Through her character, I began a lifelong project of deconditioning, feminine de-stabling, and decentralizing. Bunny Bad followed up, as the next, less gendered character, through which I am able to become a kid again, to play without any results, to explore, to be funny, grotesque, comic, stupid, uncoordinated, ugly. These characters help my own psyche and bring out the hidden creatures that live in me, and all of us, the ones we push away, or oppress, or pretend do not exist.

ABBEY MEAKER: Your installations feature prominently found objects- is the process by which you find these pieces an important part of the work? What are they meant to symbolize? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I am naturally both a collector and a destroyer of objects. These traits come from a childhood in the Soviet Union, where materialism did not yet fully exist - as well as immigration, during which belongings were forever discarded and left behind. I am interested in consumerism, in greed and capitalism, where a surplus of objects of desire is not only the sign of our time, but is killing the planet, as well as personal attachment, longing and memory. Most of the objects that appear in my work come from the street; flea markets, thrift stores and online shopping. I employ both intuition and attraction and pull to a particular object as well as rigorous research, especially on the Internet. Each work requires a different approach and is catered specifically to every site and place, depending on the theme and subject matter, be it a brand-new, extremely large beach ball from Amazon Prime, symbolizing an exceptionally futile, wasteful, yet desirable and alluring object of fun, which is meant to last less than an hour, to giant, 8-foot plush teddy bears, to a discarded, old and broken musical instrument found on the streets of NYC, indicating loneliness, nostalgia and reminiscence.

ABBEY MEAKER: Do you consider your curatorial efforts a part of your art practice?

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Yes, I consider my curatorial work to be an extension and expansion of my own art making studio practice, through which I am able to step out of my own pursuits and explore the community and art being made around me. I really enjoy going out to other artists’ studios, feeling the pulse of my city, envisioning an idea, putting works together, and designing projects. It is all a part of my existing in the world, my attempt at reaching out, at connecting the dots, facilitating for those, whose voices have often been unheard. 

ABBEY MEAKER: What are you hoping to achieve as an organizer supporting other artists?  

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I hope to create a space for the less recognized and commercially viable works, for artists, who have traditionally been excluded and discarded by the art canon. I curate difficult to exhibit works, made by voices that are marginalized in some way. As an immigrant and a woman, I have often been excluded from the discourse myself and I simply try to correct the imbalance, one DIY project at a time. I am not very interested in the accepted, mainstream narrative, which has been fed to me all my life, that of the heterosexual white male artist. There are plenty of platforms for that, globally. I try to create an alternative that must not be alternative. 

ABBEY MEAKER: Are there certain ideas you can engage with as a curator more easily or more successfully than through your art practice?

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Yes, I respond best to works which deal with process and are materially experimental and explore the body, as well as history, place and site. I often have a visceral response to art, including my own, so I need to be engaged not only intellectually, but bodily, somehow. I let my body speak before my head, when I am curating, but also when I make my own work. I trust my gut completely and rely heavily on my art intuition, which has never failed me yet. I am also interested in artists dealing and expressing their life experience autobiographically or through observation and research, as I do in my work. I don't respond well to extremely minimalist, or highly conceptual work without an engaging process involved in the making of it.

ABBEY MEAKER: You have a solo show titled System Failure at Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College that just opened on February 14 (congrats!) What are you showing? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I have been working on-site at the Martin Art Gallery as a visiting artist in residence at the college for the past four weeks and have created a new site-specific installation, comprised of found, collected and bought objects and sculpted assemblages, as well as several recent video performance works. The exhibition deals with the failure of the patriarchal system and society, through exploration of extreme overconsumption, desire and imposed stereotypes. I am interested in investigating gendered standards and structures, as well as particularly capitalist ideas of childhood, through color assignment (pink, blue), teddy bears, beach balls, inflatable unicorns and donuts, as well as plastic shop mannequins manipulated and sculpted with plaster and house paint. It is a complicated exhibition, which has evolved over a year and over the past month on site, through rigorous experimentation with materials, as well as my relationship to the place. I will perform live twice as part of the exhibition, in collaboration with students at Muhlenberg College, cast through the college-wide open all. I am interested in what the atmosphere of an academic institution brings to my work and vice versa, and am grateful to have been very generously supported by the college and the gallery with space, time and materials. 

ABBEY MEAKER: Any curatorial projects coming up you'd like to discuss? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I have been appointed as lead curator of the Art in Odd Places festival and exhibition in 2018, taking place in October, the theme of which will be BODY and will be open for the first time to women, female identifying and non binary artists only. The festival is 14 years old this year and traditionally takes place along 14th street in Manhattan over four days, with performances, installations, sculptures and sound works in the public domain. This year I have also included a group exhibition at Westbeth gallery in the West Village as an extension of the festival and dialogue. I am very excited about this, as I was an artist who participated in the festival three times prior and not only do I know it well, but it is the first time an artist will curate this festival. The theme BODY stems from my own practice and curatorial pursuits and I am especially interested in the body of “other” taking up much needed space in the pubic imagination.


Katya Grokhovsky's SYSTEM FAILURE is on view through April 10th at Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg College 2400 Chew Street Allentown, PA 18104. The artist will be performing live in the gallery on March 14th at 5pm and at the closing ceremony on April 10th. She will also be conducting a lecture in the space on March 21st. Follow Katya on Instagram @KATYAGROKHOVSKY. Follow Autre on Instagram @AUTREMAGAZINE.


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The Art of Gendercide: An Interview with Christeene

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Text by Oliver Kupper

Photographs by Matt Lambert

Drag terrorist or gendercidal maniac, Christeene is a fucking sensation. The first time I saw her play was out of the Printed Matter Book Fair at the MoCA in Los Angeles. Convulsing, screaming, genital grabbing, torrents and torrents of sweat – the experience was both horrifying and tantric. Knowing where her hands had gone and been during the performance, I was slightly reluctant to offer my hand for a mutual greeting after she stepped off stage. But that reluctance quickly dissolved, much like my expectations and preconceived notions about the fearlessness one can have as an entertainer, and the electric connection a performer can have with the audience. In our interview, Christeene talks about her connection to the audience – I use the word ‘tantric’ because of its sexual connotation, but also because it’s a Sanskrit word that can loosely be transcribed as the stretching and weaving of shared energies. Her connection to the audience also extends to micturating directly on them, but apparently that only happened once. In her new music video for the track Butt Muscle, produced by designer Rick Owens, and directed by Matt Lambert, Christeene can be seen offering a steady, arched jet unswervingly into Owens’ welcoming mouth with steam drifting, angelically upward. I got a chance to speak to Christeene from Austin, Texas – her home turf  – about Rick Owens and the making of the Butt Muscle music video, which premiered during Paris Fashion Week, and the chrysalis-like transformation of Christeene. 

OLIVER KUPPER: How are you?

CHRISTEENE: I’m good.

Thank you for taking the time to chat.

Thank you for calling on time.

I try to be punctual.

Oh good, sometimes they don’t call for days. [giggles]

Oh yeah, or ever.

Or ever, sometimes they never call - which is nice sometimes.

Sometimes it is nice, I am actually really happy when people don’t get back to me.

Yeah, I agree, especially in this day and age, I have no brain capacity for it all.

Yeah.

How are you doing?

I am good.

We met at that book fair!

Yes, we met at the book fair after your performance.

It’s a haze for me!

Yeah, you were completely drenched in sweat and we shook hands afterwards. I think Mel introduced us - how do you know Mel?

I met Mel at the book fair! I was running around the stage and Mel was running around the stage, we kind of made eye contact and I think we had met before, but again, the hazy brain, you know. We just kind of knew that we should talk to each other and we did and we discovered that we had other people in the orbit of our lives, so it was a very nice meeting in Los Angeles with Mel.

It’s funny how a lot of our orbits connect.

Yeah, there’s a lot and it’s fun when the planets get closer and closer and then you get that super-nova bang, it’s really good.

Yeah, it’s kind of magical.

Yeah I’m believing in that these days.

So, what are you up to these days? Are you performing? Where are you? What part of the world are you in?

Well right now I am in Austin and I am hanging out, listening to some John Grant and eating some pineapples, and I have a new collection of work, it’s coming out soon. So now I am speaking with lots of other planets and we are getting lots of things aligned to start setting out this fine new collection that I’ve been carrying in a little backpack on my back.

Do you feel like you are getting a lot of attention after that music video came out?

There’s a lot more conversation going on and it’s kind of been a wonderful way of being able to plug in with a lot more people out there who have possibly the same feelings or who have great fears about the whole thing. It has definitely brought about a lot more to the table in terms of sharing this work with more and more people which is what I very much, very much love to do.

Yeah, absolutely, it seems like it’s reaching a lot of people.

Yeah, it’s all due to the respect of the platforms that I was able to kind of ride up on, which was Rick and Matt and those wonderful people. They have wonderful homes and it’s nice to visit those places. When they let the monster in we all get to sit at the table and make a lot of food to share.

I feel like Rick Owen’s house in Paris is incredible. I have never been there, but it looks incredible. 

It’s like a piece of work. It’s never the same and Michele is always running around changing it. It’s like a very dark Auntie Mame house.  It’s always changing, but it’s not extravagant. It’s as bare bones as a piece of stone. It’s always got life inside of it and it’s very calming and soothing and it’s a wonderful place to rest within. 

So how did that video come about? Did Rick Owens reach out to you? Did you know Rick already?

Yeah, I met Rick a long time ago in 2011, I think. He brought me and my boys to Paris to perform at his Spotlight Club party. It was a fine affair and we kind of fell into each other’s lives and maintained a nice conversation over the years and kept seeing each other when I had the fortune of jumping over the ocean and going there for tour. So, you know, we got to a stage in our relationship where I said: “Hey Rick, why don’t we make a baby?” I was very  curious to see what our baby would look like and he was, of course, all about it. Then he mentioned that Matt Lambert was also talking to him about doing some work together because Matt had been to their home and Matt saw a picture of me on the wall - some terrible picture, I can’t remember - and then the planets crashed and we all decided that it would be lots of fun to use all our efforts to make one hell of a baby. It coincided with me being ready to release my first song from the collection and so we decided that it was a good time to fuck. 

I feel like the world needs that right now.

I do too and I did and I do and I continue to. That wasn’t my plan, I want to continue to build and share and work with people I love and try to put a dent in this shit we are dealing with. Not intentionally, but I know it most probably will, especially with the way it looks out there right now. I am glad that many people have let us know that the work has inspired them and let them find a hole to lay inside. 

I want to talk about Paul. Do you like talking about that or is that something.... 

I don’t usually talk much about that. I don’t know man, not really, I don’t really associate with that one over there.

Well my question is: Do you avoid questions about Paul?

I do. I came to life, I remember, about nine years ago and there’s some sort of life force that brought me here and I just remember dark places and dirt. I feel some sort of life force coming from some sun and if we are going to stick on this out of space conversation, I think there is a bit of a sun that I am revolving around. I do hear mention of Paul and I do believe that whatever that Paul essence is, it’s definitely keeping me alive. 

I have been watching interviews and stuff like that and over the years you have been becoming who you are now. It seems there’s a very chrysalis-like ring to the name Christeene. Does that make sense?

You know, nine years is not a long time but a lot can happen in nine years and I have found myself in ways of meeting other people and listening to the bird in my throat that sings to me and expressing those songs. I have watched my hair grow long, I have watched my eyes turn a brighter blue and I have watched the things I wrap myself up in take new shapes and forms. It feels empowering and it feels like something I can believe in. I just want to continue to follow those changes and let the bird keep singing inside of me.    

You have a lot of amazing attributes that make you Christeene. When you are getting ready for the day or a show, is there one definitive thing that defines Christeene?

My hair. 

Your hair?

It’s my hair. It’s got life. I take on lots of objects, I like to see life get thrown into these objects, these symbols that we have and wear and draw on ourselves and surround ourselves with. I have seen many things that I personally like to put on me or that have somehow, slowly become their own organism or their own life force. One thing that never seems to change on me, except for the length, is my hair. It has lots of life and it gives me strength.

You and Rick Owens have amazing hair. 

(Laughs) He’s got some hair on him! That’s what I liked when I met him because me, him and even Michele was like, “this is a nice little circle of power here.”

And it makes a pretty good cameo in the Butt Muscle music video.

It makes a great dick up my butt. 

Yeah, exactly.

Cameo if you will, to be polite.

I was reading the Dazed interview and they say something amazing: that you are this generation’s Divine, but they censored parts of the video, how do you feel about that?

I was unhappy with it. They didn’t remove parts, they just put a little bit of square of blurry over ass or [Ashley] Ryder putting his hand up the butt. I don’t subscribe to that kind of shit. Rick and I both were talking that we do not like to compromise and it was a situation where the compromise was very small. Then we were very happy just to know that once that first compromised piece of work was sent out you could immediately reroute yourself to the original form and see it for yourself. I don’t feel super happy about that because I don’t think anything like that needs to be compromised. But we had to sit back and understand, or they had to explain to me this wild animal, what was going on. At the end of the day we agreed that it was okay.

It’s like Japanese porn - in Japanese porn they blur out all the exciting parts. 

Exactly, and what’s so much fun about that? Nothing.

You really want to make sure that people see everything.

There’s beauty in all of that and there’s so much beauty. That’s why I asked Ashley Ryder to be in the video because I find what he does and his personality and his heart are so pure and sweet. I think that the actions that he does upon his butt are very reminiscent of the feeling that I have right now, that’s all.

Was it you who called yourself a drag terrorist or was that a journalist who called you that?

That was a long time ago. I make most of my videos with P.J. Raval in Austin. He’s a filmmaker and many times he was bombarded by people trying to compartmentalize what the fuck I was and what the fuck we were doing. We were always inspired by Vaginal Davis, who was always the drag terrorist and that was the title that Vaginal walked around with – with a lot of pride. It was the only thing we could find that made any sense, and just told people to fuck off.

It’s perfect, it sort of encapsulates a lot. 

I have a friend in San Francisco named Chloe and this past week she said that I was committing gendercide on all fronts. Gendercide I thought was a good word to just smack drag terrorist out of the way. 

That is pretty great, we’ll have to credit Chloe with that term. Do you think that queer communities need to take a more active role in demystifying the stigma to gain an equal playing field or do you sort of enjoy the fringeness in queer culture?

Do you mean like demystify the mystery of us all? 

Yeah, I mean...

I don’t like demystifying things. I don’t like when queers go on the television machine and break it all down. I think that we need mystery and we need our secrets and we need our gallery spaces - be it a bar or a cemetery or a parking lot at night in a dark car. I think those places are sacred to us and I am not so keen or excited to demystify our mysterious lives. I think that they need to stay in their own magical place. I think they obtain and hold onto a lot more power that way. 

A couple of years ago I was talking to Bruce La Bruce about this - who is very extreme. His view is that he wanted to exist on the edge because the edge has opened all these avenues for creativity. 

They always will and if you’re on the edge you’re going to be the first to see something out in the darkness that no one else can see.

That’s a really good way to put it. 

You have to be brave enough to stand on that beautiful point. You have to be brave enough to stand close to that darkness. 

I think artists in general should be standing on that edge, no matter who they are. 

I think many of the ones we like, do. 

Yeah, exactly. Some get crucified for it but...

Absolutely, some of them fall into the darkness and we never see them again. 

But at least they did go that far. 

Yeah, and hopefully they tied a rope around their leg and we can hold on. 

Or some kind of anchor, to find their work later or something. 

Exactly. 

Going back a little bit, growing up, where did you find your creative outlet?

I found it a lot in aggression and I found it a lot in sexual situations that I was curious about, or that were unattainable, or that were just swimming through my atmosphere. I found it in a great curiosity of who I was. I kind of landed in the middle of this madness and images thrown at me. This pop culture madness, and these strange people all around me. I just felt the need to devour everything at once and let it go to my bowels, shit it out and serve it back and see what these things around me would feel about looking and smelling and tasting their own shit. It was a very mechanical, monstrous kind of beginning for me. I just devoured everything. 

There are a lot of punk vibrations to your music. How would you describe your music?

I think the music represents a bit of what I just said in that the music is many layers of shit that reverberate different sounds from different styles of music. It is the digestion that I did with things that were in front of me. The sounds that came out were just the product of all of these different things that were bombarding me. I don’t like to find myself in a particular boat for all time’s sake, listening to the same sounds. I don’t think we have one sound within us and I don’t think it’s possible. So I try to find the song inside of me and I try to find a producer around me who can tap into all the different sounds but create a family of it - a body of work for it. But I don’t know how to classify my sound. I do hear punk and when I sound punk, I felt punk and it made sense to me. So I slept with and I let it take over me and that’s the sound that came out of me. 

And performance is a really big part of who you are. Is it more cathartic to perform than it is to make music in the studio?

I much prefer to perform. I want to plug into people, I want to be up on that stage and I want people to continue to bombard me with everything they brought in that room. I want to take it in and I want to explode with it or die with it or turn into a fucking rainbow with it. I don’t know, I just want to be a vessel for it and the stage is the most real, pure, raw, fuck you can have with people and it gives me the most pleasure and it strengthens me.

Do you have a ritual before you go on stage?

Well, I always take a piss in a cup because I always gotta piss unless I want to hold it and pee on stage which I like to do sometimes. I peed on Jonny Woo in London and that was fun. I always give my boys a strong hug and we look each other in the face and a kiss on the lips and we pat each other on the ass. I always take a sip of Jack Daniel’s and I like to do some push ups sometimes too.  

To amp you up. 

Yeah, to turn on my guns. 

My last question: So Christeene is here to stay?

I don’t know! I am here to stay but I like the idea that I can die right now. I am here right now and I am thrilled right now and I am ready to fuck stages right now. I have no intention of disappearing right now.

 

• 

The Girl In The Picture: An Interview Of Performance Artist Martine Gutierrez

Martine Gutierrez - a name that fits the glamour.  I met Martine about ten years ago during a MICA pre-college program.  We were both sixteen and as I remember, she beamed.  Tall, colorful clothes and gender-ambiguous, us suburban kids were pleasantly perplexed.  She had supermodel looks and a bright and bouncy personality; it’s almost as if she had a gravitational pull, her particular brand of sexiness notwithstanding.  When you’re that age, it’s hard to know why you’re interested in something.  You mostly go off of feeling or intuition to guide you but you know when something is good and right.  Martine seemed to possess both a deep sincerity and gentleness combined with the ability to laugh at oneself and be direct.  She embodied the human spirit, thoughtful and kind, goddess that was both retro and future. To my young mind, this was what was good and right in the world.  Seeing her recent work, this still rings true and it comes as no surprise that others have been just as enchanted.  Martine has been featured in numerous magazines including Interview, i-D, PAPER, and Vogue.  She is represented by Ryan Lee Gallery and recently opened her solo show WE & THEM & ME at CAM Raleigh. She continues to be herself against a world that can be damning, slow on the uptake, and the results, like herself, are flexible in context and challenge ideas of what it means to be a woman today.

AUDRA WIST: I see you using your body in a positive way that's both direct and sensitive, which is something I feel like doesn't happen so much. I see a lot of pain and suffering being expressed, but I wondered if you think about circumventing that pain and suffering instead of just reflecting it back.

MARTINE GUTIERREZ: The fear of stigma and labels is definitely still an underpinning of mainstream media, affecting all of us since we’re all constantly surrounded by it. I put added effort into looking hyper feminine in my work, but for someone like me that’s also a process of my everyday life. It’s easier and safer to “pass” in public than to go to the grocery store with scruff and breasts. But fem pressure really affects all women.  Hair styling, uncomfortable shoes, makeup, objectifying ourselves…but for who?  If we’re aware of the male gaze, who are we dressing for and why?  These are some of the questions I feel affect my choices when performing characters.  

I think one of the recurrent personas my work’s been spiraling around is that of the ‘Supermodel’. She physically embodies ethnographic ideals through the eyes of the oppressive culture on a hyperbolic level.  The Supermodel isn’t just skinny and tall—she's epitomized as perfection.  It’s all so ingrained within cis culture that anyone who is Trans or non-gender binary is forced to maneuver though the Supermodel propaganda as well.  No matter the trends or decades, “feminine” or “masculine”, its all just drag— accentuating features that are culturally assigned as female or male.

WIST: Yeah I’ve always thought that way about how contouring has been appropriated by mainstream entities like Kim Kardashian. That’s drag. Contouring is drag.

GUTIERREZ: Oh yeah, the Kardashians are like nude drag queens.  Kim has had more surgeries than most of the T girls I know.  That family is pumped, beat, and woven just to sit in the kitchen—there's no separation between home glam and the red carpet.  It's like a lifestyle of perpetual photo shoots and it’s amazing.  I mean I personally don’t have the stamina; I don’t like wearing makeup or the feeling of it.  But I think that also comes from the pressure to feminize, more now than ever—to pass when I'm on the street.  I began hormone replacement therapy on New Year’s of last year and my beard still grows, so I will wear makeup if I'm really trying to pass, and even then when people look at me I feel like they’re examining the makeup and what its covering.  Even with cis women who have a lot of makeup on riding the train, I’m guilty of studying.

WIST: The question I have that pertains to this is because you are beautiful and modelesque, it does feel like you have a keen awareness of that position or role that you take up of looking a particular way.  What do you think the relationship is between fashion and art?

GUTIERREZ: First off, thank you for calling me beautiful! I think I'm connected to fashion media and merchandising media subconsciously, in part because it was at one point an avenue I really wanted to be celebrated in. I remember being a teenager and watching ANTM and wanting to be on the show so badly, and studying—taking notes. I was 18 and printed the paperwork on my mom’s printer with a friend and she was like, “Do it, you could win!” and we’d scream and giggle like dreams were coming true; but listed at the bottom of the application was a requirement that you were female, so I never sent it in.

And at the same time, I would do photo shoots by myself at home, or in the woods, or in parking lots, trying to master what exactly made this look legit and glossy. I wanted the budget and the lifestyle—the whole fantasy. I wanted to be Richard Avedon and Nastassja Kinski with a boa constrictor coiled around her naked body.  I had a brief stint with the fashion world right out of college and realized the glam was just merchandising.  For the major houses it's all just clothing that’s being shown to us with a halo of light around it.

WIST: I don't want to put words in your mouth but it seems like you’re concerned with the mechanisms behind what we want in that context instead of just saying oh, this is cool, this is trendy, boop.  Also you’re an autonomous person in the world as opposed to Gucci.

GUTIERREZ: In the beginning, as I began to call performative actions art, the work became more than just self-portraits—my aspirations began to build the rhetoric behind it.  I also simultaneously started going into the world with a much louder appearance.  I was introduced to queer theory and ‘gender-fuck’ and started sporting face paint, red and turquoise hair and bright mismatched patterns—teen gender rebellion antics.  I wasn’t comfortable with other people taking my portrait for a really long time, which is in part why I started developing the skills to execute all the aspects of image making—hair and makeup, setting and lighting.  It took a long time for me just to be comfortable and trust other people behind the lens, to allow someone else to take my picture.  

WIST: What do you think the line is between narcissism and self-reflection or productive use of your body and self-aggrandizing?  Or is there a line/does there need to be a line?

GUTIERREZ: I think it’s just perception, unless the artist themselves has made a statement that they’re a narcissist or the artwork is about being obsessed with themselves.  I don't think about narcissism when I'm making my work and maybe it's partly because on numerous occasions I have been right next to gallery goers at my own show who talk about the “girl in the picture,” with no idea that she is me, or that I was born male. That person in real life and this person in the image are rarely the same person, and that degree of separation is crucial when I hear them chatting about my “very flat chest”, or asking “why does she have a mustache drawn on?” I’ll be standing beside someone visual probing my body, and I'm just like, This is insane!  I don't even have to wear sunglasses and they don’t recognize me! So at the end of the day I'm not even taking pictures of myself—I’m taking pictures of another woman.

WIST: I feel the same way in terms of the artworks I’ve made.  I don't feel like myself totally - it’s like projections of myself or people or things that we might all experience, or I hope that these are things that are others people’s experiences and feelings of the way they look or they act. I don’t know where I came up with this hypothesis, but I want to say that your parents were pretty accepting from an early age. Is that true? Or am I making that up?

GUTIERREZ: Yeah. Well – my mom was and my dad is still an ongoing conversation.

WIST: So do you think that has affected your self-perception?  Again, I’ve gone through the same thing of having to tell them that I'm a sex worker and it ended up with my dad being more supportive than my mom at first.

GUTIERREZ: I think it was crucial in feeling supported at a young age, because it took a long time for me to meet people that I felt expressed themselves in the same way that I did, or in parallel ways with diverse pronouns and greater self-awareness, or people who had already been on hormones for years. It’s not just Avril Lavigne, Misunderstood syndrome. It’s like, on top of trying to navigate my own self-awareness, anyone who is of Trans experience is simultaneously dealing with the binaries of sexual orientation. The reality is that the same cis guys who used to call me a faggot on the street now slap me on the ass. I have no way of knowing if the guy who is attracted to me, that I meet randomly on the street or in the club, will turn around and hurt me once we’re feeling each other up. It’s so much easier for me to interact with other women. With men I need to be forthcoming from the start in a way, and it should not be my problem that some rando is insecure about his own sexuality, but he could turn around and kill me and throw me in a dumpster. It’s real, and it’s terrifying. Cis men are terrifying—cis white men have been the worst.


"I’d love it if gender could be seen outside of the LGBTQ community as a possibility, not just assigned or borrowing from the binary.  Club kids have been living that ideal for years, punks and drag queens mainstreamed it, today’s queer community embraces it, and the fashion world always appropriates the philosophy as a fad or style inspiration."


WIST: How do you see the role of Trans artists changing in the context of history i.e. Vaginal Davis, Greer Lankton, and even somebody like Orlan who isn't a transgender woman but has been changing her looks for years now?

GUTIERREZ: I think it’s really important for the younger generation. It would be amazing to see artists of gay and Trans experience be referenced within the context of history and art history; it just doesn’t happen unless you pursue something like Gender Studies, specifically in higher education. Trans women still face violence and fetishism, manifested physically on the street or quietly in the workplace. This is especially true for Trans women of color, who are cast outside the norm as a concentrated minority within their own minority. But I’d hope that with time the work of Trans and non-binary artists will stand to represent much more than the identity of the maker. Academia and media needs to stop othering artists as ‘gay’, ‘trans’, ‘black’, ‘Latino’, ‘Asian’ etc.– it’s like, they’re also people of broad subcultural experiences. We’re definitely not there yet.

WIST: Yeah, I feel like the people I listed too I think are considered to be playthings?  They’re always shown in the context of some lightness, when the actual experience is pretty serious.  You go through shit when you’re a person working with your own body and it seems to be shown in this light teehee way.

GUTIERREZ: I’d love it if gender could be seen outside of the LGBTQ community as a possibility, not just assigned or borrowing from the binary.  Club kids have been living that ideal for years, punks and drag queens mainstreamed it, today’s queer community embraces it, and the fashion world always appropriates the philosophy as a fad or style inspiration. That appropriation is a huge disservice, and makes me skeptical of all the “progress” people keep yammering on about. I naively thought transitioning would be easy or seamless but I was so wrong. I mean, the concept being simple as an individual I think is true, but the reality of living in our world in a body that is beginning to reflect “feminine” versus “masculine” in a binary way…. I'm being treated completely differently.  It’s definitely a new awareness—of everything.  It's the treatment of women's bodies that is so different.  I mean, it’s not difficult to literally be a woman because I have always been one. I’m just not used to being groped and stalked and catcalled to this extent.

WIST: Yeah, that must be a total trip. Welcome!

GUTIERREZ: It’s crazy, and I'm not even dressed in a provocative way when it happens.

WIST: I think it's because a lot of straight men do not know what it’s like to be penetrated. The gaze is penetration. It’s funny; a lot of the men that I have been with aren’t necessarily kinky or BDSM-minded. I think they recognize that after meeting me they are “safe” or safe to let their guard down a bit since they know I won’t judge based on their sexual interests. All of a sudden a switch goes off and I get a flood of interesting texts. The tables are turned and even the sounds that they’re making in bed, sheesh. I feel like if more straight men could give in—

GUTIERREZ: If anal stimulation or getting pegged were socially celebrated as being really masculine and manly, we’d be living in a different world.

WIST: I think that too! It would create a different, more balanced vibe.

GUTIERREZ: It’d be like ancient Greece where they didn’t use the label gay. Men had sex with men and women.  Men could be each other’s lovers—and they were! That’s why the 300 soldiers fought so hard in battle, because they loved each other.

WIST: Because there was a real emotional bond and vulnerability!

GUTIERREZ: It didn't make any of them less of a man. I mean, you would think two really masculine guys, whatever that means… I guess really hairy, buff, and…I'm going into bear territory. Like, who are the manly dudes everyone has a crush on? Zac Efron and…

WIST: Zayn!

GUTIERREZ: Omg yes! You would think that these two men Zac Efron and Zayn…

WIST: Could get each other off!

GUTIERREZ: Yeah, you would think two dudes, dude-ing each other around all ruff, pounding one another other all night would be manly! But no, culturally somehow that makes them feminine and by default weak?

WIST: I know it’s crazy. Not one, but two dicks!

GUTIERREZ: Isn't the phallus manly? Wouldn't adding more testosterone be more manly?

WIST: Oh man, I totally agree. More men need to be fucked. Or be okay with being in the grey area. But like you said, things take time. We need more public figure examples of different types of “other” because then it just becomes more varied and people can realize there’s more than just one type or two types or whatever the fuck of an idea they have.

GUTIERREZ: Laverne Cox is amazing. Thank god her voice is out there. She's so smart and beautiful.

WIST: Yeah I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head besides her, but maybe it’s gonna be you. I could see it, I would love it! You’d be great; it’d be a full circle for you.

GUTIERREZ: I am definitely captivated by celebrity and the media that surrounds people who are spectacles, but truthfully, I don't really like performing live and anytime I do (which has become more and more rare) I end up hiding from people who compliment me. I don’t know if they are necessarily fans, but if I don’t know them it just makes me so uncomfortable! I would much rather release things onto the Internet and send them into the ether like a message in a bottle.  

WIST: What excites you the most about making work today in 2016?

GUTIERREZ: That I'm older. I'm only twenty-seven years old but I feel like I’ve purged a lot of idealism out already. For a long time I have been living fluid concepts of gender with an awareness that the space between the binaries is the only place to find complete freedom. I didn’t want to necessarily hit people over the head with these themes. I wanted the viewer to walk away with some new awareness about their own perceptions of gender and sexual reality—and I still feel this way. People need to question themselves and be confused. That’s how we grow and evolve. Confusion is good, and so much more self-reflective than giving someone a summary of what it is that they’re supposed to be taking away from the work. When you’re left confused, you have to keep thinking.

I feel like I was using a lot of cis mechanisms and like I said before, the Supermodel was very much an influence. I didn’t fully understand when I was still going by Martín that my fem aspirations were so controlled by social aspirations. Society’s importance for women to look a certain way built the Supermodel, not me. I knew this and still I wanted to be seen as her. I know now that she’s begging to be rebuilt. I wish I had this awareness years ago, but I know now. Today is better.


Martine Gutierrez's exhibition "True Story" will be on view until December 11, 2016 at Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. text and interview by Audra Wist. photographs by Martine Gutierrez. You can explore more of Martine's work on her website or follow her on Instagram: @MARTINE.TVFollow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE