Interview with performance artist Kaj-Anne Pepper
Interview with Kaj-Anne Pepper
Tell us about your back round?
I’m a queer child of queer parents who grew up in central and Northern CA. My mom worked at the only gay bar in the tri-county area and because of that I got to see gay nightlife from a very early age. My other mom, a ASL interpreter for differently abled adults and children, so I got to spend a lot of time making friends who communicated in altered and curious and wholly individualistic ways. I was teased and bullied relentlessly because I was exceptionally flamboyant, had long hair and cross-dressed. I was in the gifted and talented program until they realized it was my charm not my IQ that got me in.
In high school I talked my way into a magnet art program for visual arts. I moved out on my own at 16 and went to college while I was in high school and started taking ballet, modern, jazz and judo classes along with other college level coursework.
I stopped painting after I spent a summer at San Francisco Art Institute and realized I wanted to dance. After a problematic house fire I moved to PDX in 2005 and I’ve been living and creating art here ever since.
What brought you to performance art and how would you describe what you are doing?
I think my early training in visual arts set me up to engage dance and performance as conceptual art instead of pure entertainment. I was living in a queer punk squat in CA when I came across Karen Finley’s “A Different Kind of Intimacy” I read it 3x that week and was completely inspired and destroyed.
Once I moved to PDX I immediately started to hang out and join up with the notorious SISSYBOY’S.
Sissyboy was a radical, genderfuk art party and theatre troupe that pretty much owned the queer PDX scene for a while, before queer parties in straight bars and RuPauls Drag Race.
I was one of the youngest members at the time and I was obsessed with Courtney Love, Leigh Bowery, and Tori Amos. Sissyboy is where I cut my teeth as a performer and as a drag creature. I have also engaged the PDX dance scene and have got to work with many great dancers and choreographers over the last couple years, Linda Austin, Tahni Holt, Mizu Desierto all come to mind.
I was brought to performance art through punk rock drag queens, women who rage and a predisposition for glamour.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by gay communes, hidden queer histories, reclaiming of covered myths and magick. I’m inspired by kindness in the face of greed and dominion. I’m inspired by decomposition and failure and secrets and fictions that become non-fictions and non-fictions that are proven to become fictions. I’m inspired by science and proving what you see. I’m inspired by pop culture, kinda in the way your tongue is inspired by poprocks.
What confronts you?
Capitalism and cultural programming that what I have to offer as an artist or a queer will never be enough. The looming economic collapse and how violent I see people who’ve had everything will become to hold onto something that was never theirs. HIV, the economy, technology.
Who are your idols and why?
Idols is too loaded, I’d say hero’s or guides— Leigh Bowery, Quentin Crisp, Frida Kahlo, William S. Bourroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Claude Cahun, James Baldwin, Jackie Curtis, Marsha P Johnson, Harry Hay and John Burnside, Hijikata and Ohno, Wovoka, DIVINE my uncle Chuckie, and my dead friends, and many many more of the named and un-named queer artists who have lit the path.
Because without them, and without their friends and allies we’d still be living in an even more narrow box with graffiti on the wall to tell us how to tear the wall down.
What is CRACKS IN THE IVORY TOWER : Evolve all about an dhow did it come into being?
Cracks is a underground dance performance series a friend made up. I’m excited to get to participate.
Who or what is hiding on the depth of your psyche?
Some light, some shadow, some monsters, and dreams… just like everybody else.
photo credit Wayne Bund
What was Ordo Virtutum about and what did you take away from it?
Ordo Virtutum was a play I co-directed and choreographed with Steven Marc Beaudoin and Ben Landsverk. Ordo Virtutum is an old morality play written by the genius brilliant and arguably Sapphic visionary Hildegard Von Bingen.
I took away a profound respect for singers and musicians, a love for medieval music and the good feeling you get when you make it through something way over your head alive.
What does masculinity mean to you and what is the ideal?
This is a loaded question that you wont get an easy sentence from me about.
Do you feel grown up?
Yes and no. I’ve always been an adult in my head.
How important is youth in the gay community?
I don’t understand. I think youth of today are questioning what gay and community are to a very specific and necessary degree.
How do you feel about nudity on stage physically and otherwise?
Nudity is not the same as nakedness. The performance of naked can happen regardless of the clothing you’re wearing. Just like being nude on stage can easily be a costume. It’s a complex thing to play with because you run the risk of being “that naked guy” and god forbid if you’re a naked woman! Gasp! I find myself dressing and undressing myself in my performances often.
At first it was a shock tactic because of the cognitive dissonance you get from having a guys body and genitalia with a drag queen face. Lately it’s about accessibility.
I’ve been experimenting with how I become an object as a performer. Costuming and clothing can get in the way of the energy I’m trying to inhabit. I think there is a relationship between the performers exhibitionism juxtaposed with audiences cultural inhibitions around nudity.
Now I’m still interested in shocking people but not as the be all end all, but shocking people as a gateway… an introduction to something bigger going on.
photo credit Wayne Bund
What is beautiful to you and what is humanity evolving into?
I think people’s kindness and heartfelt sincerity and good will are beautiful to me. I think humanity is evolving into a brilliant and tragic mess. I get to live in a liberal bubble in a wealthy country.
It’s hard to say what humanity is evolving into because there are so many mixed messages from the media, from the gov’t, from personal stories. I guess… all we can say is that we are in fact evolving…
Why are people afraid of drag or are they?
Are people afraid of drag? Or are they afraid of being rejected for playing outside their prescribed sandbox? Or are they afraid of being rejected, ridiculed, violated or killed for playing outside their gender roles?
What are your thoughts on gender?
What are YOUR thoughts on power, sexuality, economy and status? I mean to say that again is super loaded. Most of my work involves gender in someway. I did a show called GENDERFANTASY… which turned out to be about power, and pop culture and desire more than about gender.
You were awarded a residency explain what we can expect from that?
I am happy to say 3 other artists and I get to take part of Zoomtopia’s StudioTwo N.E.W (New Expressive Works) residency in spring 2013. I get 5-6 months of studio time and eventually there will be a showing of the work. Right now I’m exploring how dance can be an object in our memory, on stage and physically. I don’t know what you can expect but if you keep updated on my blog I will be writing about it regularly.
Any other projects you want to talk about?
I’m excited about my collaboration with drag monster and superstar Carla Rossi for our band The DECEPTiCONS. We have much in store for you in 2013!
Please check out my blog Faggotry In Motion or Kajannepepper.wordpress.com for more updates