boychild

boychild, 'Untitled Lip Sync #225', 2016, performance presented at Cockatoo Island, 18 March 2016, 60 mins. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photograph: Document Photography
boychild, Untitled Lip Sync #225, 2016, performance presented at Cockatoo Island, 18 March 2016, 60 mins. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photograph: Document Photography

Born in USA
Lives and works in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, USA

boychild is a performance artist known for mind-bending movements and a fluid, non-binary gender presentation. Born on stage, this alter ego was inspired, she says, by research into ‘shamans and the role they played as the healer, knower, medicineman, jester. I found in various cultures … a person who used knowledge, cunning, humour, and wisdom to heal; whether through medicine, psychic insight, comedic performances, rituals or a combination of all these things.’[1] Connecting this figure with the function of drag, boychild used San Francisco’s thriving club scene as a place to experiment. And it was in these spaces, where nothing is quite what it seems – gender, time, pop culture – that boychild discovered ‘infinite possibilities to create the world that is my queer cyborg body’.[2]

In this equation, the character and body of the artist acts as a vessel for the work: flesh is treated as canvas, and an ever-evolving palette of makeup provides a tool for communication. Intuitive and often improvised, boy child’s hypnotic gestures and contortions recall the anarchic energy of Butoh, a form of experimental Japanese dance theatre that emerged after the Second World
War. As with Butoh, boychild’s physical vocabulary involves violent twisting and jerking, conveying bodily torment. Yet, these gestures also reference the digital era and, within the time and space of performance, the physical body is recast as cyborg, or visual glitch.

For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, boychild stages a one-off performance, Untitled Lip Sync #225, 2016, in collaboration with Korakrit Arunanondchai, and presented within his denim-clad video installation on Cockatoo Island. While it is impossible to predict her precise physical vocabulary, here boy child embodies the character of the Naga, a mythical serpent that plays a central role in Arunanondchai’s video, Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3, 2015.

boychild describes the performance as ‘a journey from the screen into three-dimensional space and time; into the live body and into live sound’.[3] Accompanied by an evocative percussive score, the performance is simultaneously recorded and projected on-screen behind her as an endless footage loop: ‘like a double mirror’ of ‘infinite self-reflection’.4 While boy child’s performances subvert and transform mainstream notions about gender, race and sexuality, they also reflect on the ephemerality of internet experience. She is interested in the idea of a post-human world, where body and identity are no longer automatically linked, and where distinctions between online avatars and real-life encounters are increasingly blurred.

Over the course of an hour, boychild ‘un-dresses’ Arunanondchai’s denim runway, flipping the relationship between performance and its afterlife, and reimagining video as gesture, all in real time. In the process, she reflects on the imprints that the digital age is leaving on the body, on modes of bodily spectatorship, and on the visual consumption of the human form.

boychild’s solo and collaborative performances have included ‘Wu Tsang ft. boychild: Untouchable’, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015); ‘Sunday Sessions’, Spring Open House at MoMA PS1, New York (2014); ‘ICA Off-Site: Korakrit Arunanondchai with boychild and AJGvojic: The Last 3 Years and the Future’, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2014); and ‘Celebration of Manhood: The Show’, Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, Stockholm (2013). boychild has toured with Mykki Blanco, and collaborated with Korakrit Arunanondchai, Wu Tsang, and the streetwear label Hood By Air.

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[1] Email to the author, 4 January 2016.
[2] ibid.
[3] Conversation with the author, November 2015.
[4] ibid.

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