nedjelja, 24. lipnja 2012.

Vaginal Davis - terrorist drag

Legenda underground performansa, punk rocka, indie filma i radikalnih zinova. Kazalište okrutnosti, tračanje iz dijafragme, psiho-vaginalni terorizam, tijelo kao automobilski sudar ekscesivnih značenja. 
Golim rukama čupa struju iz upaljene žarulje. 
Protiv konzervativnosti i u heteroseksualnoj i u queer kulturi.

"There are certain artists the stage cannot contain, and Vaginal Davis is one of them. Attending a Davis show—they’re generally solo, but she’s always up for audience participation—may bring to mind Truman Capote’s remark about Tallulah Bankhead: her vitality was so great she needed an auditorium to absorb it. In monologues that alternately touch on queerness, race, and other hot-button issues, Davis’s style might best be described as theatre of cruelty, in solo form. The Davis persona is confrontational, and shrieks what the superego would rather keep buried, including sexual (and thus mental) fetishes we’re afraid to admit, even to ourselves. In her latest piece, “Vaginal Davis Is Speaking from the Diaphragm” (at P.S. 122 through May 27), a takeoff on the seventies talk show, Davis brings guests, live and Skyped, into the mix. She promises to blow our minds with the specificity of her speech and anger and humor, which, when combined, can wound and amuse simultaneously—if only because of Davis’s deep commitment to metaphor, and the truth. - Hilton Als


"The students love my whimsical approach to learning," artist Vaginal Davis says of her recent incarnation as professor. We caught at the end of a month of teaching a performance seminars about Josephine Baker and Jean Harlow at the Malmö Art Academy in Malmö, Sweden. Davis has always been a painter and filmmaker and she's appeared in the films of Bruce Labruce and a singer in a variety of pop groups, beginning with the Afro Sisters. She's perhaps best known for her riotous queercore zines, particularly Fertile La Toyah Jackson, which was named for a friend who stood in for her boss at LA boutique Retail Slut while she was on vacation. You see, the beauty is in the details. The hero Fertile was always preganant, and loved to gossip about sleeping with Eddie Murphy. Davis would probably cringe at the pretension being called a "performance artist," but she is indisputably a performer and it's an act of generosity that she lets the humorless art world occasionally host her. She calls everyone "doll."
Every few years the establishment and the academy recognize once again that Davis, who lives in Berlin, has been making art all along, and invites her to tour the United States. She's doing "performative artist talks" at Princeton, Vasser, Columbia, NYU and Hampshire College, and last night headlined "Stereoscope," a performance series at New York's PS122 curated by Davis' former student, Mashinka Firunts. Teaching is part of a political act about gender and class and the ways people choose to have fun. And as with the semester, tonight Davis's run in New York ends with a party, cohosted with Labruce, who has been in town privately screening his latest film.
We ask Davis for more details:
ALEX GARTENFELD: You've lived in Berlin for what seems like an eternity. How did you end up there?
VAGINAL DAVIS:I have lived in Berlin for only three-and-a-half years.  It may seem longer to many because of my relationship with the Berlin based art, music,  film and action collective CHEAP which goes back to 2001. My grandfather is German, born in Wannsee the black sheep of the von Hohenzollern clan. Lots of scandal concerning my grandfather and also my father who was born in Mexico and now lives in Argentina. There are a lot of Germans in Mexico, Central and South America.
GARTENFELD: Do you like all the traveling you've been doing?
DAVIS: I have always hated flying. I mainly pass the time writing letters. I am very old school and I still keep many correspondences the old-fashioned way, via post, and I also draw and sketch. I also obsess and fantasize about whatever attractive men may be on the flight. Though these days the pickings are lean. No one flies regularly anymore but fugly, bland businessmen, and hideous families with no-neck monsters for children.
GARTENFELD: We haven't seen much from you in the last few years in New York, although last year you participated in Performa. Is this a return for you?
DAVIS: I have never lived in New York City, but a lot of people think that I am a New Yorker, because I was embraced by the Downtown scene since the 1980s. For the record I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. And only Los Angeles could produce a creature such as myself. New York is a boutique city. You have to be wealthy and of privilege to be able to live comfortably there.  My cute flat in the Rote Insel section of Berlin is only 200 euros a month. Can't beat that.
GARTENFELD: What is your favorite city?
DAVIS: Paris is my favorite city in the world. The men are so beyond gorgeous, especially the humpy Arab men. I could never live in Paris, as it's also a boutique city.
GARTENFELD: Your tour this time around is really being endorsed by universities. Do you feel like you have something to teach the United States?
DAVIS: Having been around for so long I go in and out of vogue every few years. Currently I am experiencing a resurgence. I believe its because of advanced capitalism's collapse. The ruling class thinks that the economy is improving—well, this is just the first stage of things getting worse.  The young students are now gravitating toward outsider artists who haven't been corrupted by institutional forces and consumerist whims.
GARTENFELD: Do you identify with the term performance art?
DAVIS: When it comes to performance art, I am more interested in the failures then the so-called successes.  I have never cared for entertaining anyone.  My performances may have elements that some may find entertaining, but  that's not my main purpose.  If you want pure entertainment value just go and see something like Stomp or Blue Man Group.
GARTENFELD: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
DAVIS: I am not a sentimental or superstitious person, so I don't have any pre-performance rituals. I am a very practical woman. After a performance I am always hopeful that I will lure someone home for a ritual of a more personal nature.
GARTENFELD: What's the best advice another performer has ever given you?
DAVIS: The best performance advice I have ever been given was to "Know where your light is, onstage." That is why I am a great admirer of the fabulous Kembra Pfahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. She is a perfect, consumate artist, and she always knows where her light is.
GARTENFELD: What are you currently reading?
DAVIS: I found a copy of Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, and I have been reading it. I loved the 1970s film version of the novel that starred Tuesday Weld. Bruce LaBruce's 1994 film Super 8 ½—which I make a cameo appearance in—is a semi-remake of Play It As It Lays. How's that for a little bit of trivia, eh?

Of Dada and Dr. Davis
By Hilary E. Macgregor 
May 02, 2004
Los Angeles Times

He starts the day at 6:30 a.m. in boy drag -- khakis, a black T-shirt -- standing at a bus stop on Hollywood Boulevard like a veteran commuter, a newspaper tucked neatly under his arm.
He finishes the day at 3 a.m. in flapper drag -- white drop-waist dress, an auburn bob -- standing on a tiny stage in West Hollywood, spinning jazz records, singing and spewing subversive social critique.
This latest persona, the flapper, is Bricktop. Over the years he has also been Clarence, the white supremacist militiaman; Graciela Grejalba, a 13 1/2-year-old cholita; Cicciolina, the Italian porn star turned parliamentarian; and the Rt. Rev. St. Salicia Tate, itinerant preacher woman. He is way beyond "drag queen." He is a one-man psycho-socio-sexual revolution. As one academic who studies him has put it, this is "terrorist drag."
Who is he? For the purposes of everyday life, for this story, he is Vaginal Creme Davis. Ms. Davis. Dr. Davis. (His friends call him Vag, but refer to him as "her.") Performance artist, painter, writer, singer, filmmaker, poet, conversationalist.
Who is Vaginal Davis?
"Who is Vaginal Davis?" he says. "I don't know."
IN THE PAST 25 YEARS VAGINAL DAVIS HAS produced an astounding body of work that few outside the demi-monde, or academia, will ever see. He is what an artist used to be, before the '80s made them market stars and the '90s made them eternal grad students: He lives for his art. He is incapable of selling out. And he is all but unknown.
Davis came of artistic age in the L.A. punk scene of the '70s. He appeared in Bruce LaBruce and Rick Castro's "Hustler White" and has made his own socially blasphemous films, such as "The White To Be Angry," which is studied by art students across the country. He has started rock bands such as the Afro Sisters, ¡Cholita! the Female Menudo, and Pedro, Muriel & Esther (P.M.E.). He has produced a series of 'zines, including his most well-known, Fertile La Toyah Jackson, which chronicled scandalous celebrity gossip in a manner reminiscent of Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon." One of his short stories, whose title cannot be printed here, was included in "Best American Erotica 2003." And for the past year he has performed every Friday at the Parlour in West Hollywood, where he plays Ada "Bricktop" Smith, the real-life redheaded African American vaudevillian and jazz impresario who owned eponymous nightclubs from Paris to Harlem to Mexico City.
Occasionally Davis pokes through into mainstream cultural consciousness, as when he appeared in PBS' "Tales of the City" or as a Santa in drag on the short-lived ABC series "Gideon's Crossing." Or, more recently, when he opened for Margaret Cho on her "The Notorious C.H.O." tour. Sometimes his name slips into gossip columns alongside bona fide celebrities, as when "drag queen Dr. Vaginal Davis" appeared in the New York Times and New York Daily News after he grabbed Gwyneth Paltrow at the Roxy, kissed her on the lips and squealed repeatedly, "You are a beautiful white woman!" Earlier this year several of his paintings were included in "Fade (1990-2003)," the Craft and Folk Art Museum's survey of African American artists in Los Angeles.
But Davis is far better known among his global cult following, the sort of people who might know he's the singer on the club hit "I Could Have Sex" by Technova and is featured on the group's coming album "Electrosexual."
"Vag is the most famous not-famous person in L.A.," says Susan Matheson, a.k.a. Crepe Suzette, a friend and costume designer for films. "I think Vag is aware of popular culture before it is popular. I feel like she is the Annie Warhol of our time."
Jose Esteban Munoz, a professor in the department of performance studies at New York University, has studied Vaginal Davis, written papers on him and put him on the cover of his book "Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics." He considers Davis a "conceptual artist" in the Dada tradition.
"It's all about concept," Munoz says. "The execution is fine, but the concepts are great. She is all concept, all the time, starting with her answering machine. I could give you a history of performance art that would start with Dada and Surrealism and end with Vag. Her 'zines are like the manifestos associated with Dada and the Surrealists."--
''Who am I and where do I come from?'' Mr. Davis said as he made himself up on a recent Friday before his show. Chugging the first of many beers at the Hollywood house of one of the Parlour Club's owners, he referred to himself as an ''alcoholica,'' and offhandedly claimed to be the offspring of a half-Creole, half-Choctaw New Orleans woman and a Mexican-born Jew, allegedly conceived during an assignation beneath a table at a Ray Charles concert in the Hollywood Palladium. ''Doll, there is no biography of me,'' he said.
''I was hatched a half-breed drag baby out of the primordial ooze of L.A.,'' he added later, as the bar filled up and patrons thronged around to hear him speak in tongues. ''I was a Vagisaurus rex who popped out of a leathery egg in a welfare hovel in South Central, perfect as you now find me, complete with high heels.''

Ready to Fade Into Obscurity. Wait, He's Already There

IF one wanted to get a quick reading on the bedrock cultural life of this city, it might pay to skip the sad, strained drinks scene at the Chateau Marmont and the hustle for Jennifer Aniston sightings at Orso and head directly to a scruffy little bar in West Hollywood where a legendarily obscure drag queen holds court every Friday night.
To call Vaginal Davis a drag queen hardly does credit to a figure whose career has spanned the worlds of punk rock, indie film, performance art and radical zines, whose oeuvre is studied in academia and whose persona is formed from the often gaga but densely literate ravings of a man whose pseudonym is a kooky homage to his hero, Angela Davis, the radical academic with the criminal past and luxuriant head of hair.
The inspiration for Mr. Davis's most recent creation is another famous black woman, Ada Smith, better known as Bricktop, a red-haired bisexual impresario whose 1920's nightclub in Paris set the stage for the Lost Generation's gin-soaked escapades. Every Friday for the past year, Mr. Davis has brought Bricktops night to the Parlour Club in West Hollywood for a startlingly heterogeneous crowd made up of straight couples dressed in Gatsby-era clothing, young lesbians in G-Star jeans and cowboy hats, and young men from that generation of homosexuals for whom terms like postgay seem old hat. A number of them are even celebrities.

''We put the call out to all the floozies, inverts, hot uncles, flappers and vamps,'' said Vaginal Davis last week at Bricktops, as Selene Luna, a burlesque producer who stands about four feet tall, parked herself and her cash box at the Parlour Club door.
''Kissy kisstata, all you handsome bulldaggers and thrombones, the password tonight is H. L. Mencken,'' said Mr. Davis, his hair a neat blond bob, his drop-waisted dress scaled for the matron in a prison noir. A man dressed as a doughboy set up a typewriter by a tiny stage in order to tap out ''Letters From an Unknown Soldier.'' Another stripped naked to sit in a galvanized tub of gin. Some Fridays at Bricktops, the code word might be Zelda or Brecht or, seriously (very seriously), Schopenhauer.
With its fetish for the perfected surface, Los Angeles may have more need than most towns for a personality like Mr. Davis's, a performance artist of underground legend whose yeasty existence tends to serve as a corrective to the city's fame worship and a reminder that its cultural scene remains vital enough to produce something with more intellectual wit than the Olsen twins.
Vaginal Davis, in other words, is an essential component of the city's texture, which is why it pains one to note that he is leaving Los Angeles. Not tomorrow, but someday very soon, he intends to get on his funky green bicycle, the one with the broken pedal, and ride into the sunset (well, Berlin, by way of LAX).
''Doll, this town is insane,'' explained the artist, who was born Clarence Dennis Sanders roughly 42 years ago, in the shadow, he sometimes asserts in the stream-of-consciousness orations that pass for conversation, of Simon Rodia's famous towers in Watts.
''After all this time, it's always, 'Vaginal Davis? Who's she?' '' said Mr. Davis, whose impending defection can be explained, in part, by the homelessness that was forced on him when he was evicted from his Koreatown apartment last year.
Two decades or more on the local scene has mysteriously failed to elevate Mr. Davis above his cult status as a deliriously funny writer-singer-filmmaker-poet-performer, to cite just a few of his hyphenates. In a career that almost no one outside the cognoscenti knows of, Mr. Davis has formed briefly celebrated rock groups like the Afro Sisters; Cholita the Female Menudo; and Pedro, Muriel & Esther, who once opened for Dogstar, the band fronted by Keanu Reeves. He has sung on electroclash club hits, participated in museum shows and appeared as the opening act for the comedian Margaret Cho on her 40-city tour, ''The Notorious C.H.O.''
For some years in the early 1990's, he published a zine called Fertile LaToyah Jackson, which the filmmaker Bruce LaBruce neatly described as ''an underground rag that featured SoCal punk scene gossip, photos of hot Huntington Beach surfers and wistful musings by Miss Davis herself, gregarious gossipeuse and poetess extraordinaire.'' Still, the closest brush he has yet had with mainstream attention came when he grabbed Gwyneth Paltrow during a show at the Roxy theater and treated her to a wet kiss. ''You are a beautiful white woman!'' Vaginal Davis squealed. Or so the columnists said.
''Vaginal Davis is a utopian artist,'' said José Esteban Muñoz, a professor in the department of performance studies at New York University, whose writings on the artist tend to place him somewhere on a continuum that encompasses both Dada and the Surrealists. ''Vaginal comes out of the L.A. punk scene, and she surpasses that scene, building on it and incorporating what is called outsider art,'' Mr. Muñoz said.
It is no stretch to liken Mr. Davis to Rodia, the outsider-artist who spent decades constructing a monument to an inscrutable inner vision, erecting an implausible but durable fantasy of spires pieced from wire mesh, steel reinforcing rods, crockery shards, seashells and shattered glass.
Mr. Davis's monument, of course, is his persona: 6-foot-6 and with linebacker shoulders, sometimes clad in khakis and thrift-shop shirts, sometimes in dresses with portrait collars and shoes the size of rowing sculls, no costume quite large enough to contain a personality that shreds categories like race and gender as casually as it does the pronouns he chooses for himself.
''Vag is like this amazing collage,'' said Bibbe Hansen, the daughter of the Fluxus pioneer, Al Hansen, and the mother of the singer Beck. ''He's got this genius at pulling stuff from everywhere and using it in his art.''
''Available-ism'' is the word Mr. Davis uses to describe his artistic philosophy, a form of scavenging that mines both the pop culture scrapheap and the compost of the subconscious to assemble characters that use aspects of his impoverished childhood in South Central Los Angeles, his years on the punk scene and his close involvement with an influential group of transgressive Los Angeles artists. Most of them, like the performance artist Ron Athey and the photographer Catherine Opie, and like Mr. Davis himself, are gay.
Among Mr. Davis's inspired theatrical creations are a teenaged Latina gang girl called Graciela Grejalba; a white supremacist militiaman named Clarence; an itinerant street preacher called the Rev. St. Salicia Tate; and a Katherine Dunham-style diva called Voodoo Williams, styled the doña of dance.
''Who am I and where do I come from?'' Mr. Davis said as he made himself up on a recent Friday before his show. Chugging the first of many beers at the Hollywood house of one of the Parlour Club's owners, he referred to himself as an ''alcohòlica,'' and offhandedly claimed to be the offspring of a half-Creole, half-Choctaw New Orleans woman and a Mexican-born Jew, allegedly conceived during an assignation beneath a table at a Ray Charles concert in the Hollywood Palladium. ''Doll, there is no biography of me,'' he said.
''I was hatched a half-breed drag baby out of the primordial ooze of L.A.,'' he added later, as the bar filled up and patrons thronged around to hear him speak in tongues. ''I was a Vagisaurus rex who popped out of a leathery egg in a welfare hovel in South Central, perfect as you now find me, complete with high heels.''

"So what's in the Queer Guide to Everyday Life, according to Vaginal Davis?
My queer guide to everyday life includes plenty of scandalous gossip.  Gossip is far from trivial as gossip is a powerful productive instrument out of which relationships and reputations are made or unmade and new possibilities for difference are envisioned.
My talkshow/installation will also feature plenty of important gossip and beauty moments.  From all my years of working with CHEAP I've realized one can never be too beautiful, and that the right accessory is just what one needs to feel good, look good, and get people talking.
So expect some planned and spontaneous beauty moments to allow for that added dose of unexpected loveliness that makes every day shimmer and sparkle.  Looking good and thinking imaginatively: that's what its all about with CHEAP, and with Speaking from the Diaphragm.
What are you looking forward to at the festival?
I am really looking forward to seeing living legends like Miss Holly Woodlawn and Jayne County, two wo-men who are big influences to me and other gender queers.  The art band Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black is also a festival coup, and it is a rare treat for Berlin audiences to be able to take in the wonder of Ms. Kembra Pfahler & Co.
Your piece at the Getty museum last year was called My Pussy is Still in LA (I Just Live in Berlin). Explain!
Well, that title was very tongue planted firmly in butt cheek.  I have been coming to Berlin on and off since the early 1990s, but I didn't move here till 2006.  I feel fortunate that I live in the old working class/leftist neighborhood Rote Insel in Schöneberg.  It's a part of Berlin that not many people know about, but is quite well known in certain circles. Marlene Dietrich, Hildegarde Knef and Albert Einstein all grew up in my neighborhood.  Blixa Bargeld still has a home here so I am in good company.
How have you liked working at Hebbel am Ufer, as opposed to theaters and museums in the States?
I have had a long, loving relationship working with Hebbel am Ufer right from the very beginning.  The theatre's director Matthias Lilienthal's international focus is sharp and smart.  I will really miss him when he leaves at the end of the year.  He surrounds himself with a bevy of amazing women curators, programmers and managers, and that's what makes HAU different from the ickyness of other patriarchal institutions in Europe and in the States.
Describe one of your top Berlin moments.
Ending a tawdry sex affair with a tall, muscular 35-year-old German ginger man from Charlottenburg who had one of the largest penises I have ever chowed down on – at least 26 centimeters in length and as fat as a beer can, but although he was more than well-endowed he was still awful in bed and was obsessed with antique furniture that cluttered his huge split level flat that he inherited from his great aunt.  He was actually stunned that I didn’t want to give up my art career to become his Hausfrau.
 And what's the story with Gwyneth? What's happened since your affair?
My lesbianic moment with Ms. Paltrow happened over a decade ago.  She's gotten way too heteronormative with her rock star husband and domesticity with giving birth to children.  We rarely see each other, though she did come to my performance  "Memory Island" in 2011 at the Tate Modern with her brother Jake, who I want as my new lesbian husband.- by Summer Banks


A segment from the Live Film collaboration Teddy´s Bestiary between young German feminist filmmaker Evelyn Russeler and Vaginal Davis, the outsider art & music icon.
La Davis portrays Theodore Adorno´s mother through a series of letters where they share their love for the Hippos at the Berlin Zoo. In the fantasia universe of Vaginal Davis -- Adorno´s writings become a launching pad for a whimsically poetic music cantata, spirited along via Eric Satie as channeled through high note Suzi, Grace Moore, the film opera diva of the early 1930s.
"The oeuvre of Vaginal Davis represents a one-person pageant of perpetually shifting plural personae. She holds the titles of Ph.D., impresario, queercore crooner, Ethyl Eichelberger award winning performance artist, and as Jennie Klein remarks, "ultimate postmodern persona: a trickster whose shape shifting resists easy identification with any single minority group."
Her extensive repertoire of assumed roles and musical ensembles includes ¡Cholita!, Madame Bricktop, Rev’rend Saint Salicia Tate, and Buster Butone. Each of these is accompanied by its own highly particularized patois, be it that of anachronistic Jazz Age jargon or evangelical Christian sermonizing. As José Muñoz observes, Davis disidentifies with the verbal and visual signifying systems that surround these figures, never attempting to execute them with accuracy or realism in mind, exposing them as exaggeratively stylized fictions. In doing so, she offers a contemporary, text-based reinterpretation of what Daphne Brooks refers to as the 19th-century strategy of a "spectacular opacity" that "confound[s] and disrupt[s] conventional constructions of the racialized and gendered body". The spectacular opacity of Vaginal Davis’s verbal constructions impersonates that of a vaudeville theater marquee. Employing amplified wattage, Davis wields words as though they were neon bulbs, ever in the act of announcing that she is Appearing Live Onstage."
- Mashinka Firunts

"[She] is the key proponent of the disruptive performance aesthetic known as terrorist drag...Her body a car-crash of excessive significations, Vaginal Davis stages a clash of identifications within and against both heterosexual and queer cultures, and Black and Hispanic identities...By renewing uncertainties within alternative cultures and identities, Vaginal Davis opens up spaces for their continual struggle towards renewed and greater challenges"
- Dominic Johnson, Frieze Magazine


  • The Lollipop Generation, directed by G.B. Jones (2008)
  • The White To be Angry, directed by Vaginal Davis (1999)
  • Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please, directed by Rosa von Praunheim (1999)
  • Hustler White, directed by Rick Castro and Bruce LaBruce (1998)
  • Designy living, directed by Vaginal Davis (1994)
  • Super 81/2, directed by Bruce LaBruce (1994)
  • Three Faces of Woman, directed by Vaginal Davis (1994)

 Blog Vaginal Davis

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