During your performances you throw yourself with an outrageous, almost maniacal energy into the audience. In a wild and untamed fury you climb trees, cars, fences, waste containers, traffic signs, furniture, stairways and other obstacles you encounter on your way. How would you describe this urge to blur, stretch, reshape or redefine the borders of the performative area?
Performance is a renegotiation of the social contract. A huge issue for me is the way in which we experience art is unfortunate. The music world particularly has become just a backdrop for people drinking and flirting. My performance practice has been following any impulse I have to create the unexpected. A lot of what I do has to do with following my impulses even when they take me to dangerous places both for myself and for the audience. By taking performances to an unexpected place, I hope it can disrupt the mechanics of partying and actually make people engage with the work.
How should we read these excessive physical confrontations you evoke in your performances? Is it part of the show, an artistic emergency call, a desire to connect or maybe disconnect with the audience, a rejection of self-preservation?
I wanted my performances to be a free zone and challenge to the audience to see what they would put up with without revolting. There’s a certain petty authoritarianism to it, which is both intended to be satirical and also an act of revenge, dating to when I performed for mostly straight audiences.
Audiences are fortunately changing, I’m no longer the only trans woman in the space so this kind of me vs. them dynamic is no longer possible. And the consequence of being in a space that is more queer is that this space is also where there are more clear rules which you transgress at your peril.
So as a result, I’ve had to adapt to changing norms. I have decided that it’s not worth it to be as confrontational physically because doing so puts one on the “wrong side” of a debate going on in D. I. Y. communities. Now I’m focused more on the sonic and lyrical content being more confrontational and trying to see if there are other ways to playfully antagonize an audience.
Would you say that changing norms or tendencies in the art world demand a certain adaptive attitude from an artist or that art itself can be considered a ‘carte blanche’ that invites you to reinvent yourself?
In Punk and D. I. Y. scenes, there has been a radical shift in the politics around consent. This has been a positive thing for the safety of audience members. However from my perspective, the underground has adopted the ideas of safety without thinking critically about the assumptions within. For me the point of art is to make people uncomfortable, to think and feel more strongly.
The problem is that the standards put in place to stop predators in the scene, are applied in a blanket repression of performance and art. For a while, I tried using trigger warnings and negotiating consent, but ultimately I realized that certain people just want to be angry because a work of art upsets them and they consider that politically wrong.
Another problem is the way that these things are negotiated on social media. I don’t have a problem doing a performance that infuriates a lot of people but it’s entirely another thing when there’s a social media callout on Facebook. I try to and engage with critiques of my work and respond to them.
But, I’ve also had experiences where people take things I did out of context and distort aspects to create an entirely different meaning than what I have intended. I personally wish that a lot of people would just talk things over with people rather than using the nuclear option of a public callout. At the same time, artists have to adapt to changing norms to keep art interesting and relevant. I think adapting from the excess of some of my past performances has been positive. It’s tempting to adopt a “épater le bourgeois” attitude but these days that tends to blend with the alt-right and trollism.
Forced Into Femininity seems to blend disfigured queerness, body horror, mosh pit noise and nihilist exorcism into an art space performance. Yet there are also humoristic layers to be found. Would you consider humor to be a driving force in your work or is it something that pops up spontaneously?
It does tend to pop up spontaneously because a lot of what I do is based in improvisation and I tend to be a person who expresses themselves with a lot of humor. There is a deflationary strategy to it as well, because I think the kind of grandiose and theatrical statement my work makes would be quite bombastic without some humor. The difficulty that I encounter is that contemporary art practice and the music world (particularly experimental) tend to be quite humorless so if there is any aspect of humor in your work, it tends to be regarded as just a joke or a novelty act. While I do like to sabotage the pretension in performance, I think there is an underlying sadness and anxiety to my work and I worry that too much humor can detract from that or be misunderstood. But I also want Forced to be true to who I am as a person.
On the album 'Erase Your Grave' there is a song called Lana Del Ray while on the previous 'I don’t exist therefore I can do whatever I want' album there is a song called The Applicant after a poem by Sylvia Plath. Del Rey is a nowadays a pop star known for her melancholic style, referring to the glory and glamour days of the 50s and 60s. Whereas The Applicant by Plath is actually written in the 60s, addressing the role of the woman in conventional marriage, exploring the meaning of gender stereotype and social pressures. How do you relate to the work and identity of these female artists, born to die in different millennia?
In the case of the Lana Del Rey song, that was less about Del Rey and more about these roommates I had at the time, that they were constantly binging on coke and listening to the same burned cd over and over. For me, Plath is a really powerful visionary writer whose work is often diminished by her suicide. The Bell Jar is a really great book but I feel people reduce her to a sad white girl that you read in high school. Plath’s work has a nightmarish allegorical feel similar to another favorite of mine, W.S. Merwin. I particularly liked The Applicant, because it reminds me of Harold Pinter particularly of the interrogation sequence in The Birthday Party. I do relate a bit to Plath, and the way she uses language is very affecting. I would love to write a lyric as devastating as anything in Ariel.
If you would have to quote a sentence or piece from Ariel to illustrate your recent work. What would it be?
I had to dig up my copy of Sylvia Plath’s work for this:
“And my Child-look at her face down on the floor
little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear
why she is schizophrenic
you have stuck her kittens outside your window
in a sort of cement well”
The ambiguity in your work reminds me of the work of visual artists Pipilotti Rist, Tracey Emin, Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin, in which the (media) image of the female subject is subverted and the spectator is confronted with a painful yet powerful intimacy. Are you familiar with the works of these artists? How does intimacy or maybe the violation of intimacy play a role in your work?
I’m familiar with the works of Nan Goldin and Tracey Emin. But I think Sherman’s work, especially her later still lives of rotting food and dismembered mannequins had a huge impact on my work. Yes, definitely intimacy and the violation of it has been a big part of my practice. I like one-on-one performances. I once took an audience member and performed a neurological exam on her. I also did a performance where I was an Irish grandmother with dementia and got people to eat out of a bag of flour. I think a lot of it is about creating a transitory special moment between me and an audience member. All performance is fleeting and transitory, especially if you remove one spectator from the rest of the crowd so only one person remembers it. I also think that I like to frighten people and there’s something about being singled out that lowers the guard of the spectator.
How did your transgender identity evolve during your personal life and artistic career? How is it of influence on your aesthetic practice and music?
I first came out in my early 20s and have since then grappled with my gender. Obviously having the inner life of a woman but not living that reality and then having it collide with society’s view of you as male is a very frustrating experience. Coming out as trans, I was very vulnerable in a painful way and had to develop a thick skin in order to exist in the world as a woman, although a majority of people still don’t accept me as such. Things have improved somewhat, but it remains a constant battle. This rage against oppression tends to come out in my music. Forced has been a space for me to express my rage and despair and desires. Initially, Forced was a place where I could dress up and feel beautiful when I didn’t feel that way in my everyday life. As I transitioned I started to feel more confident and occasionally pretty so that dressing up wasn’t as much of an issue. This lead to my interest in how I could look bizarre and grotesque. I want to express the reality of my dysphoria and the way trans women are treated as monstrous or dangerous by a lot of people. In addition, I want to evoke a kind of dark goddess figure that is both fearful and beautiful.
I am fascinated by the escapist runaway gestures during your performances in which the crowd is forced to follow you. It triggers the classic image of the girl on the run haunted by an evil pursuer. Being hunted or feeling hunted is a very intense experience though. Do you feel hunted or chased (by something)? To what extent is the act of being hunted significant in your work?
The performance space can be kind of sterile and for me it’s always a sense of how do I reinvigorate or move outside of that space. Especially as a lot of spaces women are made to perform in are very male dominated. To me it’s more interesting to move the show to a parking lot or a terrible metal bar or a construction site. I also really enjoy climbing things. One time a friend described my set as “noise parkour”, which was funny, if kind of insulting.
You grew up in Chicago, hometown of Chicago Hardcore and The Oprah Winfrey Show. How has the city been an input for your artistic practice and musical evolution?
I saw Los Crudos play in high school, as well as forgotten bands such as My Lai and others. My old band Coughs was initially very interested in being involved in the punk scene, but at the time it was pretty conservative and hostile to anything experimental. Forced as well has played a lot of punk shows and recently here, there’s been a real takeover of the scene by queer and female centric bands in the punk scene. However musically, punk and hardcore always tends to be a bit conservative about other kinds of music, which becomes increasingly absurd in the day and age we live in. Chicago is a city I love and hate with equal measure. It has a lot of grit and eccentricity, however, it also has a heavy streak of midwestern class consciousness and is constantly attempting to become another NYC. As a result, a lot of things that made this a welcoming place for artists are disappearing, as the city tries to create bogus entertainment districts for silicon valley types.
Can you tell a bit about your latest tape release 'Erraticism' that came out recently on print zine and cassette label Popnihil. Besides “an act of resistance against Real Music and Real Art”, 'Erraticism' can also be interpreted as a statement or an intention to reflect on the state of female and trans art today. Can you elaborate on that?
Erraticism is a phrase I encountered in the batty writings of Mary Daly, the terfy (TERF is short for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) feminist author from the 70s. I like a lot of her word play and ideas, but hate the way she applies them. I thought it would be especially ironic if one of the people she most despised (a trans woman) started using her ideas as their own. I think the way it applies is that a lot of the art made by women and trans people is seen as not serious. Especially if it doesn’t conform to masculine notions of “good art.” I think the way in which I approach a lot of things that frustrate me is by embracing them and showing how what other people define as negative is actually a source of power. If trans women are considered erratic and not worthy of being taken seriously, then we should make a discipline out of being inconsistent. Art that is predictable is what’s rewarded in our society but there’s a more winding path.
Last, but not least. Soon I will give birth to my first child. What music would you recommend to chase the demons out of the delivery room?
Congratulations! Flowers Of Evil by Ruth White.
The latest release of Forced Into Femininity 'Erraticism' can be found on: https://popnihil.bandcamp.com/...