Q&A With Vaginal Davis
“The maladjusted rule, baby! People who are mindlessly happy and adjusted are inert.”
Vaginal Davis is the key proponent of the disruptive performance aesthetic known as terrorist drag. Disrupting the cultural assimilation of gay-oriented and corporate-friendly drag, she positions herself at an uncomfortable tangent to the conservative politics of gay culture, mining its contradictory impulses to interrupt the entrenchment of its assimilatory strategies. A self-labeled “sexual repulsive,” Davis consistently refuses to ease conservative tactics within gay and black politics, employing punk music, invented biography, insults, self-mockery, and repeated incitements to group sexual revolt — all to hilarious and devastating effect.
Q: So, you were living in L.A. for centuries. I understand that you were evicted from your historic 1920s apartment there in 2002. That is so fucked up. And now you have blessed Berlin with your presence. Did you by any chance have a premonition that the U.S. economy would collapse? Do you have a bunker prepared for the apocalypse?
A: Yes I was evicted from my huge, heritage flat in 2002 and being that I am pychic or one of my performance personas is a psychic — The Whoracle et Delphi — it wasn’t completely a surprise. But when one door closes another one opens, sounds cliché and trite but it’s completely true, and getting evicted has led to a better life here on the European continent. It’s funny you should mention it but I had been saying in my performances since the mid-1990s that advanced capitalism or disaster capitalism was on the decline and that the U.S. and the West was heading for a big calamity. I don’t have a bunker in anticipation of the apocalypse, but as a sworn Armageddonist I certainly believe that some cataclysmic event is going to rid the earth of destructive mankind. I’m all ready for a new species to take full control of the planet. I believe it and I fully own in to it. Human beings had their chance now it’s time for something else.
Q: Do audiences in Berlin respond to you differently than audiences in L.A. or the U.S., and if so, how?
A: Berlin audiences are a hard nut to crack. Berlin has so many hierarchies and it’s very patriarchal in Germany in general. In Berlin you either have the “und ja…” spiessig, jaded crowd who hate everything or good time Sally’s or Charlie’s that just wanna have fun and let go of their stifling middle-classisms. Berlin is actually a lot more conservative now than it use to be when I first was coming here to perform in the 1980s. It was really utopia back then with all the freaks of Europe living in Berlin to escape having to do military service and getting a stipend from the government to keep a fake Western presence.
Q: What are your thoughts on the role of the artist in gentrification? How can artists resist their role in this process?
A: Well now that Berlin is becoming gentrified so quickly artists who need cheap rent have to think of new models for living. With my art collective CHEAP we’ve been discussing how we feel that it’s necessary to pool resources and buy an apartment building that we can all live in and draw an income from in our rapidly approaching old age. Either that or I have to sell my ancient ass on the street. There is a fetish for everything in Berlin so I am sure I could find some customers. Considering I am a bit long in the tooth, I still have one mighty phat ass that some men would want to plunder.
Q: You are preparing an arts and performance workshop, “Framing the Freakazoid,” which will take place in London this fall. Can you comment on the role of freaks and outsiders in disrupting cultural norms? How do/can freaks disrupt cultural appropriation?
Oh darling, let’s all get beyond our queer theory damage and start learning more about general human life and its complexities.
A: The maladjusted rule, baby! People who are mindlessly happy and adjusted are inert. They’re slugs. They don’t propel culture and the human race forward. Don’t be passive, take your suffering from feeling left out and develop it into a kind of springboard for self development, creativity and production.
Q: Do you use low/no-budget film technique in pursuit of a specific aesthetic, or is it meant to make your work more accessible?
A: It‘s all about availabism with me. Making use of what is readily and easily available. Lo tech/lo fi/no budget, it’s just one part of my aesthetic output. I’m also so old school, I am new school. Can’t wait to work with the students of Goldsmith College/University of London. Because England is going through their austerity measures and social unrest, I think that my way of dealing with art-making is very much of the moment. Hey, I am a practical girl first and foremost.