Danielle Deadwyler talks to Hez Stalcup about Performance, Identity and Prince's bathroom habits. [Hez Stalcup]
Danielle and Hez first became friends performing respectively at LadyFest 2014. While they had met years before at a house show, it wasn’t until LadyFest when Hez was pinned under a claustrophobic amount of pillows with Jessica Caldas, and watched Danielle’s performance from the stage that they met again. It was a performance artist meet-cute to say the least. The two artists have been friends ever since. Hez sat down with Danielle at Octane Coffee on Marietta Street to talk about what it is like to make performance art in Atlanta. In particular, they talk about the two artists' mutual interest in under-represented identities. Danielle’s work centers around the identities and work of Women of color, Women who strip, who cook, who clean, who take on the the work of the under-celebrated parts of life. The artists discuss a piece Danielle did that was an iteration of a series called MuhfuckaNeva(Luvd)Uhs. For a full description of the piece, link here. So as to be able to jump into the conversation, the piece ultimately involved Danielle performing publicly, scantily clad and masked, to a very public audience— read street corner, Marta buses going by.
Hz: I read online, where you were talking about your Thesis you did about Strippers. That you
were having this realization as a teen, that there was this really strong narrative as the stripper
as this doomed identity. Like this after-school-special ‘Don’t let this happen to you.’ And then you are meeting the humans, who are doing that as their job and because they want to. The agency is active..
DD: That becomes everything though.
Hz: You mentioned two [alternative takes on the reasons these Women] were stripping. One was maybe they actually wanted to, and then two, was maybe it was just to have the experience of it. They were having an experience. That is never presented with that identity, that is never an option.
DD: Right? It’s like, “She’s stripping, but she’s in school, so she’s working towards something
productive.” It’s still constantly trying to push towards the center, towards the
Hz: Right, It’s still debased in this way. She can have value, but the stripping will never have
value. It only has value in that it’s on it’s way to something conventional, acceptable, and moral.
DD: I always looked upon everything there [ in the community of people stripping], as a
performance, as this glorious thing, whether you are really good at lap dances, whether you are really good on the pole. There’s an art to being in these spaces period. One Woman I talked to, she was really fucking cool man, she said “I just like to be naked, and I love to dance to Prince.”
She liked to be naked and she liked to dance to Prince.
Hz: Oh my God, um, ditto. I totally agree with her!
DD: And that she happened to be able to make money doing it. A lot of the work I do looks at the other side, it’s trying to bring in the — I say domesticity, linking it to motherhood, but It doesn’t even have to be motherhood wholly, because some of the video work I did prior to that was just looking at something everybody might have to do. One video [starts with] me popping my ass, but then cleaning the stove...
Hz: I know this one.
DD: Everybody’s got to clean the stove! You make a quiche, or a roast and it bubbles over, if
you don’t want that shit to stay in there burning and stinking — you’ve got to wash it.
Hz: Everybody’s got to do this at some point.
DD: Everybody’s got to move their ass at some point, too.
DD: Taking the work of that body, or the performance of that body in the home space or in
another space, taking it frame by frame, the way [the video] does — what is that body doing?
Oh it’s not?...ohhh, ok...At each fragment, or in totality, the fluid series of fragments, those
steps and levels to engaging the body in that space, gives it [access to] a whole bigger well of
humanity, and complexity and simplicity. You’re accessible.
And its the stupidest thing, because everyone just wants to know that you do the same thing —
everybody want’s to know that Prince takes a shit, that Prince took shits.
Hz: Yes! Right, It’s thrilling to hear that Prince did anything normal, or pedestrian or
DD: Yeah, yeah..That’s all everybody want’s to know...or they don’t want to know that—
Hz: Right, like you keep this sacred..like you hired someone else to poop for you, somehow.
DD: Haha! There’s like a syringe form your ass to their ass, so no shit has ever passed through
your sacred ass.
Hz: (dying with laughter) That’s right!
DD: (speaking to the microphone) The next performance that Hez and Danielle will be doing is
entitled “Sacred Ass.”
Hz: (in performative voice says) “Someone takes my shits for me.”
It’s the complexity of the pedestrian movement.
DD: That’s why I love what WE do! We both work through a bit of endurance. [The thought
process of] ‘What can we do, what can this body do?’
Hz: Yes! Even if it’s just the exposure of the self on stage, without any form...as a safety, or as a
way to hide.
DD: That shit it scary. Nobody want’s to do that. And I guess there’s complexity in that?
Performance art is supposed to be unsafe, its an experiment.
Hz: That’s it. Staying unsafe is a goal.
DD: Yes. If there is no peril than what am I doing?
Hz: I don’t know about you, but I feel like being an audience member and a performer, that the
consistent thread is that people are just dying to get real. They are just aching to get vulnerable. It doesn’t even have to be ‘Oh, wow you did this thing that’s about my life.’ It doesn’t have to be directly related to the work.
DD: Even if it’s that much (Danielle snaps her fingers, to illustrate quickness), you have that
moment of engagement. I know hella folks who were just driving by (referencing performing on the street for MNLU) doing there nightly duties, going home — and they’re like, ‘There’s a naked mother-fucker with a mask on, dancing.’ That’s what they got.
Hz: (laughs) I think about the Marta bus that pulled up, and stopped at the Marta stop [during
Danielle's piece], because that’s where you were at. And you know what? That’s long enough to have an experience. There is no rule that says this has to be this long. And that’s true to life in my daily experience...I’ve tried to plan to have an epiphany, haha! I just was trying so hard, and I was ready for that epiphany and I gave more and more, because I was sure this was the
highest goal I could have...and then when I really looked at life, when I really noticed what was
happening, it wasn’t planned. It was you know... the fucking bird that flew by, that made me
think ‘Yeah. Wow. That bird was so red.’
DD: I’m going to remember that damn bird, for the rest of my life (Hez laughs).
Hz: I reserve the right for that audience member to have their experience. I think everyone
should go to the gallery, or wherever..life as art, nature as art, and have their experience. That's
your business, to get to have your experience. And I love hearing that [from an audience].
DD: It’s like how we are trying to make conservative Mother-Fuckers understand gender issues
or sexuality issues, when someone can get it on their own, to where they don’t have to be
related to the life [of the performer], in order for it to give credence to the life of the artist, or the life being represented...
Hz: Right, it doesn’t have to be ‘You’re already one of my kind, so therefore, I get it.’
DD: You are human already, so let me try to understand this human experience — human to
human rather than some normative notion of family.
Hz: Like that guy I was standing next to [at MNLU], I was sure I knew what he was thinking, like
my narrative about the prejudice that was to come was really strong, but the displacement and
the life that allowed that to be an anomaly, and allowed that to have a different conclusion was
active and was present... if we create an alternate universe where this exists outside of context,
can just a question mark raised? Pulling things from the shadow becomes about this stuckness,
you know, being in a rut, that there are these ideas of certain identities that are so fixed and so
static...that stasis leads to invisibility. Or worse than that, derision. How do you unstick that?
How do you displace it where it’s not in that rut, it’s not in your narrative? Even if all you’re left
with is ‘Well, I sure don’t know what happened?’ (laughs) ...I don’t even need you to feel good!
DD: No, not at all. Feel something.
Hz: Like when the Marta bus drives by [referencing Danielle performing MNLU] , you may never
hear the experience [of the viewers on the bus], you may never see that play out.
DD: I think that’s the coolest shit. That’s the best thing. It’s in their thoughts, it’s in their
conversations, It’s triggering something for somebody else perhaps, in this story-telling, and
they don’t have to affiliate it with anybody, there’s no face to affiliate, there’s a body. There’s a
conversation to be had, and nothing to pedestalize. But there is a conversation about a body,
and what that body looks like, and what does that body mean, so have a conversation about
that body and the value of that body. What have you done to that body? What have you not
done? Have you judged this body, had thoughts about this body? And now that this body is in
this space, where it is not typically...now there is a conversation to be had.
Hz: Yeah, even that I don’t want to plan on what your going to feel, which is a way to create
those questions. You are eliciting the space to have a different feeling, not the trying to elicit the feeling itself.
DD: Yeah, you aren’t editing, you are having this. That’s the value of awkwardness and the
value of tension in that kind of community space. It’s a different liveliness that comes with this
kind of work.
Hz: This is going to sound really dorky, but its un-tamed. There is a wildness to it.
DD: Linear doesn’t make sense. That’s not the way we live, that’s not the way we think. Talking
about the fragment, the flicks and clicks and blinks of the eye...Let me engage humanity like a
real fucking human. It’s like a line popping into your head from a song, it’s not the entirety of the damn song, it’s this little smidget of it — how does this influence me?
Hz: Right. You don’t know what is gonna do it for you. There is this level at which, I feel, It’s not
DD: Strangely enough, it’s really fucking difficult to try to craft a real human experience...
Endurance for us means, I’m in this experience for this long. What does it mean for me to do
this for this amount of time, but then what does it mean for you [the audience] to take it? Or to take it with you? Or to say ‘Fuck it. What time is it, and I wanna leave.’ We are enduring it
together. And I know it’s weird as shit, but that’s ok. In fact, it’s great.
Hz: No, isn't it? That’s what I have to keep reminding myself, you know I think there’s a lot of
societal assimilation, even when I’m trying not to [be subject to it], I still am in a climate...and I’m in a temperature, that is telling me how to feel and what is good and what isn’t good. But in
making work, I am confronting the aspects of myself that there is then nothing I can do about.
So it’s a very short conversation. I become then super interested in why I care less about how I
actually am, and who I am. And what are the other bodies that are cared less about? Actually I
like the shit that’s weird as fuck. That’s what I get excited about, that’s what I want to see.
DD: What excites me is that I know I don’t always understand everything. I’m super comfortable in not understanding. I’m extra comfortable in feeling, though.
Hz: In this setting [of art making] it becomes an apparent skill. I never valued it, this idea of
finding a place of willingness with discomfort, and being willing to feel something for endurance lengths of time.
DD: When we are talking about oppressed people, sitting— you know, just surviving, and
enduring shit. Those are just lives doing that, and is that anything new? This isn’t devaluing it,
this is looking at the difference in what does it mean to endure, what does it mean to take, to
constantly, or professionally — deal with challenges. Challenge is just a great global term, this is a wooden desk school term, for people who are performing endurance and people who are
Hz: Yes! And how do you put on the stage what is important and interesting to you...the chance
to elevate something and recreate it, the two endurances you are talking about..it becomes a
way to create a sense of power around it. Elevated, displaced, on stage. To lend it a voice it
may not have otherwise had.
DD: Did you just gently drop the mic?
Hz: (laughs after uncurling an open palm)
DD: (says into the recorder) Y’all are missing it.