Interview by Michael Bullock
Image courtesy of NCJP
Published in Modern Weekly
Why were you drawn to performing as a medium?
I grew up performing in church and for family. As a child I would sit on of my father’s porch and sing all the time. In middle school I started watching soap operas. They nurtured my desire to perform. In high school I did theatre but by the time I got to college I was burnt out. I started playing the piano again, seriously in 2006, when I started doing Taiwan.
The character, you know. I started making videos in college and I created all these characters. Eventually, I wanted to take them outside of the videos.
What were your first few video’s about?
I just wanted to make something my friends could laugh at. I made one called Roman and Juliana. In it the white characters lip-synched to my black dialect and I lip-synched to their white dialect. Another from that period was The Young and the Men. At that time I had just starting to deal with my sexuality. It was about this guy proposing to his boyfriend. He is turned down because he’s afraid to bring his partner into the religious setting of his family.
Where did you show those videos?
I sent them to film festivals but they never fit because they were too low tech. I also applied to one art program: Skowhegan. At the time I didn’t really even know what it was but they ended up accepting me. They said I was dealing with race and language in a new way and they were curious. In the art world people were interested and I started to get shows.
When was the first time you took a character into a live setting?
My birthday party at PS1 in 2006. I sang 'Asshole', and people said I should do a dance remix. That was the moment that I started to consider it seriously. My video’s had never been about me exploring the medium of video. They were always about taking on different personas, always rooted in performance.
You recently started collaborating with Hollywood star James Franco?
He was crashing a lecture at Columbia and saw me talk. He had just finished shooting General Hospital and I was talking about my love of Soap Operas and he had an epiphany and invited me to play a performance artist on the show with him. On the show my character collaborates with his character which lead to us collaborating in real life.
This is a great question for you since you work in both worlds. What is the difference between performance art and entertainment based performance?
At the top level Hollywood actors are performance artist. It’s about embodying the character, owning your emotions and allowing yourself to be completely in it. It’s also about the context you put yourself in. I’m not making Hollywood film. It’s obvious that there videos, the dialogue is sometimes entertaining and sometimes critical. It starts turning something on its ear. That’s where the performance art come in. It starts to change expected systems.