Alexis O’Hara tends to an interdisciplinary practice that exploits allegories of the human voice via vocal & electronic improvisation, sound installation and text-based performance. She has released one book of poetry, two music CDs and a number of experimental mini-CDs. With Subject to Change and The Sorrow Sponge - two projects involving wearable electronics, direct audience interaction live performance using field recordings - she flirted with interactive documentary performance. Her sound installation, SQUEEEEQUE, an igloo built of recycled speakerboxes, has toured many exhibits and festivals including Club Transmediale in Berlin and Elektra in Montreal. She has shared the stage with amazing artists including Diamanda Galàs, Ursula Rucker, Henri Chopin and TV on the Radio. Her eclectic performances have been presented in diverse contexts in Slovenia, Austria, Mexico, Germany, Spain, The United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium and across Canada and the US. Alexis and her drag king alter-ego, Guizo LaNuit are mainstays of the Montreal cabaret scene.
RUSTY TALK WITH ALEXIS O'HARA
Sara Jane Strickland: What is your first memory of being creative (writing, art making, etc.)?
Alexis O'Hara: When I was four years old, my family lived in a small town outside of Geneva in a one room apartment. My parents' bed was surrounded by a curtain that my little sister and I would use as a stage. We tucked the corners of kleenexes into our tights to make "tutus" and danced on our tippy toes for Mom & Dad. Later, every Easter/Christmas/Thanksgiving, I would boss around cousins and force them to do nativity plays/fashion shows/skits for our parents.
SJS: When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
AO: After I realized that Charlie's Angel was not a real job, I wanted to be an actress. Around age 20, I got really disheartened by the business of show business, possibly having a crisis of confidence that I was not thin/pretty enough to be an actress. I've written poetry since I was a kid, and made things too, but I always considered my collages, jewelry, sculptures...to be "arts & crafts". I can't say I felt comfortable calling myself an artist until I was about 30. But I've never actually "wanted" to be anything else than someone who is involved in artistic projects.
SJS: How would you describe your own personal process of making art?
AO: I'm terribly undisciplined so I tend to seek out external deadlines to motivate myself. Sometimes an idea just shows up and nags and yanks at my subconscious until I make it real. But usually I create in preparation for public presentation. This past summer, I made a lot of work just for the sake of making it. I was so unaccustomed to this idea of failure, making something that is just an experiment. But of course, I've had a lot of failures and experiments when it comes to live performance. A good ten years worth of my public performances were entirely improvised and therefore very subject to the whims of circumstance – some soaring successes and some horrible failures. I have to thank all the known and unknown audience members who witnessed this very public "personal process of making art".
SJS: What influences your art the most?
AO: Stuff that makes me angry, stuff that makes me swoon, heartbreak, my niece, Olivia, the desire to make a mark, the desire to make people laugh and talk to each other.
SJS: What artists/writers/poets would you recommended to someone aspiring to be an artist or writer?
AO: Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and be a better pupil. For years I closed my eyes and ears, thinking that everything I created had to come from deep inside an innocent, almost ignorant place. And then you make something that you think came just from you and someone says: "Oh that's just like *name of someone you've never heard of*". Ah, and who am I to say what ended up being good for me would be good for anyone else? I can list my favorite artists and writers, but will they be helpful to aspiring artists? Who knows? What I recommend to aspiring artists and writers is just that they do it! Work on it! Ignore what is trendy or cool. Believe in your own voice, even if you don't see it reflected out there.
I know I will forget some but off the top of my head, here are some artists who have resonated with me: Lynda Barry, Pipilotti Rist, Ai Wei Wei, Gerhardt Richter, Katherine Dunn, Laurie Anderson, e.e. cummings, Takashi Murakami, the Mad Magazine artists, Dr. Seuss, Janet Cardiff & George Bures, Beat Takeshi Kitano, Lydia Lunch, Rebecca Horn, Buckminster Fuller, Marcus Aurelius, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Andy Warhol, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Miranda July (the recordings), Theo Jansen, Frida Kahlo, Ivor Cutler.
SJS: What is it about audio installations/performance art that appeals to you as a medium for expression?
AO: It's cheaper than making movies but can provide the same sort of multi-sensorial, immersive experience.
SJS: Your piece Squeeeeque – The Improbable Igloo is a particularly interesting audio installation/sculpture. What inspired you to build an igloo made of speakers?
AO: It came from a dream I had. My head was a microphone and I lived in a house made of speakers. Every time I went by the walls, a wailing screech erupted. When I woke up, I thought about this idea of a house made of speakers. Since the speakers are blocks, it seemed like an igloo was a perfect structure. At first I thought the project was about feedback and recycling rejected technology, but then it turned out that it was really about collective vocal improvisation.
SJS: What are you working on now?
AO: As usual, I'm juggling a bunch of projects at once. I just got back from Serbia where I built a speakerbox igloo and premiered a performance where I use helium balloons to get my dress caught in a chandelier. I'm working with my friends 2boys.tv on their new performance work, Tesseract. I'm getting ready for a residency at Recto-Verso in Quebec City where I'll continue work on an installation called La Couvée, that simulates the experience of being in a giant egg sac. I have two new musical projects. One is very tender, with a lot of sad songs. The other one involves my alter-ego Guizo LaNuit and Stephen Lawson's alter-ego, Gigi Lamour. I believe I can claim that it's the world's only drag king / drag queen party medley duo. We're called GuiGi and we're going to be huge. We're playing a retirement party in December and I'm hoping we can book a bunch of gay weddings in 2014.
Alexis O'Hara's sound installation, SQUEEEEQUE, an igloo built of recycled speakerboxes, has toured many exhibits and festivals including Club Transmediale in Berlin and Elektra in Montreal.
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