Transformation: from Place to Face

In my continuing exploration of the issues that I find of interest I have recently been focusing on a new incarnation of my practice. Some years ago before I went to art school I was a professional drag queen. I was part of Manchester based drag duo ‘Angel and Coco’ together we hosted club nights, made occasional TV appearances, featured in the odd pop video and generally spread glamour across the region and beyond. Our main uniqueness was that we both loved women and fashion and made every effort to compliment femininity in our appearances. We didn’t want to perpetuate the misogyny that drag was and is associated with and enjoyed paying homage to the super models of the mid-nineties.

After about five years of this ‘career’ we both went our separate ways and I entered art school. There I embarked on pursuing my creativity through art work, I did a degree in painting where I explored the qualities of paint, it is with some hindsight that I realise I was using paint to ‘make-up’ the canvas, with high definition blending my preferred technique. My MA in fine art revealed an interest in the domestic uncanny and continued to focus on the notion of location more generally. Shortly after the MA I devised The Pansy Project and my interest in the politics of location came to the fore. The Pansy Project has continued as an ongoing exploration of homophobia and place and still maintains my interest in its many incarnations.

I recently began recalling the years of my drag ‘career’ and wondered what and how it would manifest in my current context as an artist. As with my other artworks Facebook and blogging seemed a convenient way to explore this previously vivacious personification. I set up a Facebook profile for Coco LaVerne, there ‘she’ reacquainted with long lost friends of club land and made new friends who began to have an online relationship of sorts with this virtual alter ego. I also began writing a blog; this context enabled me to embody the qualities that Coco LaVerne had visually, my intention was to create a cultural critique from the perspective of a haughty glamorous woman whose disdainful attitude to humanity reflected my own perspective as a relative cultural outsider.

With this alter-ego I was able to explore the issues that as myself I may shy away from and as a result I have developed a particular style which has to my surprise had some success. The blog was recently shortlisted in ‘The Best New Blog’ category of the Manchester Blog Awards, despite not winning in my category Coco LaVerne has received some praise on line recently being described as “an acid tongued glamazon” by City Life. I regularly post articles on issues as varied as knife crime, the economic crisis, Barrack Obama and Sarah Palin in an attempt to critique the media and its attitude to the notion of the outsider.

This satirical tool has enabled me to invigorate an identity I had felt was long gone and as a result this has broadened my practice as an artist. Before art school I felt that drag was a creative process but was unaware of its context and significance, I now continue to see drag as a creative process though have manufactured a location for it outside of a social situation where the thoughts and opinions of this mythical construct can be revealed. I intend to continue to explore the peculiarities of this alter ego and examine its potential.

I have already noted similarities between The Pansy Project and Coco LaVerne as both tools act as brands or guises that ‘protect’ my own identity, both projects have a bizarre ability to be seen independently from my own artistic practice and it is for this reason I write about it here, to make coherent my processes and help an audience understand my motivations.

My research continues….


Seán said…
Say it ain't so! Coco isn't male under that glamorous make-up, or human even. She's an all-but untouchable goddess in the form of a weblog.

I think it's very unfair of you to to take away the cosy luxury of my self-imposed illusions like this! I refuse to believe a word - especially since I quite fancy Coco (don't tell her, it'll ruin our professional blog relationship!).

Will she continue to exist? Will I be able, still, to worship from afar? Well, at least until she says something I disagree with.

That's it! I'm off to sulk!

The Pansy Project is a highly disturbing work of absolute genius, by the way.

Anduhrew said…
I think the Pansy Project is great. I've been going to university at Cal Poly Pomona studying landscape architecture I've encountered many gays and lesbians in my major (and throughout the university). I happened on your project by chance and found it intriguing since I am constantly studying place and space. I love the empowerment it represents and am interested in the stewardship of an ephemeral memorial.
Awesome project.
Marguerite said…
Love this! Love that you have created this identity and developed such a fully-formed, three-dimensional personality for her. How many of us are brave enough to so thoroughly explore the dichotomy of male/female that exists in all of us. I am a huge fan of Drag and I only wish I had been able to see you perform!

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