“This character has been brewing my whole life,” says performance artist boychild of her haunting stage persona. “It’s not an alternate personality—it’s an outlet for expression. I go somewhere else when I’m performing.” And she’s getting there fast. The California native got her start less than two years ago in San Francisco’s thriving drag scene, though labeling her performance as simply drag doesn’t do it justice. On stage, boychild transforms into a raw, powerful, and genderless alien entity whose muscular body shudders and contorts as if operated by a hidden puppeteer. Her eyes are often disguised by colored contact lenses; her mouth glows from the inside as she dances to dark electronic tracks or lip-synchs to remixes of Beyoncé and Rihanna. It’s no wonder Shayne Oliver, the designer of streetwear label Hood By Air, approached her to model for the brand. Fast forward to February 2013, during New York Fashion Week, when Hood By Air made serious waves with a collection titled “Boychild,” in which the eponymous muse walked the runway, even outshining fellow celebrity model A$AP Rocky. But nothing, not even the glamour of fashion, speaks to her like performance. “The act of performing feels like when you’re coming off mushrooms: you’re burned-out, but also very at peace,” she says. “You’re somewhere outside yourself. It’s like exhaling.”
How’d you start performing?
I actually started in the drag scene in San Francisco. I started performing in drag spaces about a year and a half ago. I was terribly nervous. I was like, “There’s no way I’m getting on a stage”. There’s no fucking way because I get so nervous.
Are you a naturally nervous person?
I don’t think I’m a nervous person by nature, but I realize the older I get the less I feel comfortable around large groups of people. What happened is I actually felt very inspired by Dia Dear, a performance artist in San Francisco, to just do it. I also have another friend in Berlin who’s a dancer who wanted me to perform in Berlin with him that he choreographed, and I started developing this character for that last May. I realize that that’s kind of the thing that boychild is now.
Were you involved in the art world beforehand?
I’m a photographer but I was never involved in the art world. It’s really hard to be involved in the art world in San Francisco, actually. There’s not much of an art world there—it’s basically nonexistent. Just a few people trying to do stuff out there but it’s very difficult.
Tell me about the boychild character.
I’ve been brewing on this character my whole life. I realized that my paintings were always of this character—it’s basically the way I do my make-up now. I was looking at some of my older work and realized that recently. It’s called boychild, but it expresses itself in different ways. I’m actually still figuring it out. The character is part of me, but it’s also something separate from myself. It’s not an alternate personality—it’s an outlet of expression. I go somewhere else when I’m performing. It’s not really a character, it’s like an entity—a vessel for work that is my performance art.
Can you describe what it feels like to perform?
I definitely go somewhere when I perform. The act of performing feels like the feeling you get when you’re coming off mushrooms. It feels like channeling something. It’s definitely burned out, but it’s also very at peace and right here, somewhere outside yourself. It’s like exhaling. Sometimes people misconstrue my performances as being scary, but it’s not supposed to be scary or shock value at all. Looking as crazy as I do sometimes, it feels casual. I put it on the make up, but I can also just take it off.
How would you describe your art?
I find it very interesting to hear the ways in which people describe what I do, but I try not to. Words are constraining for me. Using my body and performing is so much easier for me to explain something.
How much time do you spend planning your performances?
I’m always thinking about it. I don’t sleep—sometimes I wish I could stop.
How’d you start working with Hood By Air?
I did a video with Hood By Air. Shayden saw me out once at a party and said I want to work with you and they got in touch with me. And then I went to his presentation—this was his first runway show—and I was supposed to be covering it for V Files. But then Shayne said, “Oh, no, you’re walking.” I was like, what?
Would you want to work as a model?
I don’t want to model, no fucking way. I don’t like that kind of attention actually. It has nothing to do with my work. That kind of attention just feels like you’re putting yourself up for consumption. That is not fulfilling to me in any way. Attention itself does nothing for me—not for modeling. Attention does something, but it’s not what I do it for. I perform to perform. I have to, basically. What I do now is a focused version of what I’ve been doing my whole life. I’ve articulated it in a different way. I’m a very performative person, but this is a harnessed version of it.
Do you have a vision of what your performances should look like to the audience?
I have no idea what my performances look like. I know what they feel like. A lot of people get that feeling of an exorcism, a wildness. But a lot of times people have come to me and they’re very moved. People have come to me several times and told me that they cried. Sometimes there’s something very tender about it. It’s emotional. I did a performance in January in New York, it was a three hour performance—basically an installation. It was 30 degrees outside and I was in the front room of the gallery and the door was open. I was in so much pain. I cry a lot when I perform. I feel flipped inside out and very vulnerable in front people.
Do you watch your audience?
I can’t see them but I feel them. I feel their presence. I feel turned out, like literally my flesh is open.
What’s your dream?
What I’m doing.
What are your greatest fears?
My top 5 biggest phobias are writing, ghosts, sharks, large bodies of water, and the dark.
Can you explain your Bliss tattoo?
It’s where I try to be, and it’s also where I am. I’m very lucky. I live a blissful life.
Photography by James Orlando. Styling by Nicole Vitagliano.
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