Zackary Drucker and Manuel Vason,
excerpt from Don’t Look At Me Like That, 2010
1. When did you begin to identify yourself as a performance artist?
I do consider myself a performance artist, though it’s only one of a few mediums I work with. My performance of gender and sexuality is the common denominator in all of my film, video, photographic, and performative works. My performance mode is continuous and fully-integrated into my everyday life; as a gender variant person my physicality in this world is always on the line, always under review and scrutiny to the audience of greater culture. My performative works attempt to reclaim some of that power and to simultaneously communicate the vulnerability I feel as a transperson; and to make it engaging, complicated, funny, disturbing. Though, I’ve been working on this meta-narrative for the duration of my life (starting with a collection of polaroids from my formative years, 3-5, of me in my mom’s old go-go costumes from the 1960’s), I probably didn’t consider myself a performance artist until 2 or 3 years ago, when I started to forge a relationship with Ron Athey, who has been a mentor/inspiration/father figure to me. I created what I consider my first live performance while at a performance art bootcamp in the Mojave desert, lead by Ron and Julie Tolentino; after that experience I felt that I had been properly initiated into the performance art realm.
2. What was the first performance art you ever encountered in your life?
Watching my mother dance on stage when I was young, as early as I can remember. Louise, a former Syracuse University quarterback, who was a big beautiful bohemian transwoman who worked at Boom Babies, the local vintage store I shopped at when I was 13. My friend Meira who dropped out of high school and danced to support herself, I remember seeing god watching her spin furiously naked upside down, legs split in 8-inch Lucite mules. The first time I saw Flawless Mother Sabrina walking through Spa nightclub in full Victorian regalia, when I was 18 and had just moved to New York. Those are all visions that come to mind as important moments in my development.
3. Do you make distinctions between performance art and other forms of performance, like theater?
I don’t think it affects much of anything beyond context. Maybe performance artists follow less rules than other genres of performance, they’re sloppier though too.
4. What makes a performance successful, in your opinion?
If I feel like I accomplished my own personal goals, which usually center around doing something I’m afraid of. Also, If I hear from someone that my work resonated with them and they tell me why in a meaningful and reflective way; when my work takes on new meaning with someone else.
5. Who is your ideal audience, or, rather, how do you construct your public?
My ideal audience is the future.
6. Have you found support in the art world, or other worlds, for the development and presentation of your work?
I’ve definitely found support in the art world, and the performance art world, and I hope to one day soon have a talk show on a major mainstream network.
7. What did you study in school?
I got my BFA at School of Visual Arts in Photography where my mentors were Amanda Lear, Ricki Lake, and Princess Diana. Also, I got a MFA from Cal Arts in the Conceptual Exhaustion department.
Zackary Drucker, Marriana Marroquin and Wu Tsang, "PIG" (Politically Involved Girls), NOW Festival, REDCAT, Los Angeles 2009, Photo: Holly Wilder
8. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?
My latest piece, which I’m premiering at Movement Research Festival in NYC in 2 days, is inspired by tropes of drag performance and spectacle. Using the classic power reversal of drag queen humiliating audience members, sexual obscenity, self-depricating jokes, and lip-synching, I’ve created a really fucked-up piece that subverts the drag-puppet convention and transcends humor to reach a more profound message which hovers between the lines and diatribes. The piece has a persistent laugh track that continues to assault me even when the jokes stop being funny and the real audience is no-longer laughing.
9. How important is your body to your work? What do you want the viewer to feel/think in relation to that body?
My body is my work. I’d like viewers to feel desire, repulsion, identification, judgement, confusion, guilt; and then I want to make them laugh and feel like they are in on the joke.
10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance art? Discouraged?
I think the Marina Abramovic show is a major landmark for performance art in terms of institutional and popular support, though I hope she’s not being tokenized. Broader interest in performance work always happens in times of economic turmoil, and I hope that this current movement, if we can call it that yet, is inclusive, radical, fantastic and extreme. I do think, however, that “performance art,” has been diluted with a lot of filler. I don’t think Lady Gaga is a performance artist, because her ultimate message comes in the form of predictable pop music caught in the undertow, a self-referential vacuum of vapid celebrity bullshit. I do however think that she’s a fantastic pop star, and I’d rather call it what it is. I think it’s a little weird the way “performance artist” as a catch phrase identity has been co-opted as of late, but I’m glad it’s that and not “serial killing” or “skull fucking,” or something of a less celebratory nature.
11. What does your family think about your work?
I feel really privileged to have come from a progressive family who has always supported and accepted me in all of my evolutions. Even though I have an instinct to protect them from the more explicit, darker aspects of my work, I think they can understand it from an intellectual position. After some explaining, of course. An example: One of the things I address in my work is sexual exploitation and the ways in which transwomen are fetishized sexually. I do this by appropriating the graphic language of sex-ads. When I talked to my mother about this one piece, I realized that she didn’t know that transwomen are often times relegated to loveless lives of objectification and sex work. I function in circles where this kind of translating isn’t necessary, because I’m speaking a generational and sub-cultural language, so I really appreciate this kind of dialogue with my mom who as a staunch feminist gets it on a deep level, because it makes me rethink my positions and assumptions.
12. What is the purpose of performance art?
I think that performance art has enormous potential for real-life manifestation, if you invite the critique and consider it as such. I think that all transpeople are performance artists because we are acutely aware of how we construct our gender presentation and identity and enormous amount of creativity to achieve it.
Zackary Drucker Performance Videos:
You have one fist in my mouth and one fist in my ass; your arms are trapped inside me like a Chinese finger trap
Jerome Zodo Contemporary
The Inability to be Looked At and the Horror of Nothing To See
Steve Turner Contemporary
Los Angeles, 2009