We find out how performance artist CHRISTEENE is reclaiming drag for a new generation of artists and fans
What does 'drag' mean to you? Is drag simply the act of throwing on clothes of the opposite gender and having a good old laugh? Or is drag merely a tawdry form of gender tourism that flies dangerously close to reinforcing negative stereotypes? Is it possible for drag to truly be an act of subversion and reappropriation, twisting, warping and questioning the gender norms under which we live every day?
The last several years have seen a re-awakening of interest in drag, and a renaissance in the art itself, as a whole new generation of Tumblr-literate young folks push at the boundaries of fashion and gender expression. The US TV show RuPaul's Drag Race has become a break-out cult sensation, gaining a huge, non-queer audience and tuning them into the styles, attitudes, language and politics of drag. But this new drag resurgence brings with it its own problems, particularly a smoothing off of some very rough edges to appeal to the mainstream, and a toning down of the social and sexual commentary that drag has always been renowned for.
Fear not, though, because while drag is becoming more popular and accepted by the day, there are still pockets of serious subversion out there; none more so than the Texan sensation CHRISTEENE. The work of Austin-based performance artist Paul Soileau, CHRISTEENE is a self-confessed "skank" (in the same way that Brooke Candy proudly proclaims herself a "slut") who pushes the boundaries of drag, sex, performance, gender and expression further than any queen since The Divine David, or even Divine herself. She does this to a soundtrack of bass-heavy futuristic beats that would make Diplo proud, eschewing the drag cliché of pop hit parodies, and her videos and live shows display a penchant for the über-outré.
The track Bustin' Brown is about the cultural appropriation of anal sex (heterosexual = good vs homosexual = bad), and fittingly features a video set in a giant anus. As part of her live show she is known to wear a butt-plug attached to a helium balloon and to "set it free" during the performance. In an era where almost every artist from Katy Perry to Tyler, The Creator are proclaimed as weird and edgy for simply re-enforcing cliché, CHRISTEENE is the real deal: a blast of dirty, funky, sexy air we've not smelled since Peaches switched to musicals.
"The stew has been stirred and hot sauce has been thrown in" – Paul Soileau
"CHRISTEENE is an electrically charged, dangerous product of our times with a heart of gold, and is used as a very striking yet approachable communicator to the masses," explains Soileau. An artist this genuinely provocative is never without their detractors, of course (even those within the LGBTQ community), and Soileau is no exception. This shouldn't be too surprising, though: CHRISTEENE exists to make us question our own assumptions, to shake us out of smug complacency, regardless of whether we happen to be liberal or conservative.
"I think that the reactions that come from this work are so very important and need to be heard. All of them," says Soileau. "When it all first started with the video for Fix My Dick, there were a ton of negative comments... especially from this one person who I think of as a kind of internet comment bully... This person was so very upset on so many levels. I was called racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and the next Shirley Q. Liquor. Wowee! This is rough. I’m thinking, I’ve never experienced this kind of an attack before and it’s personal. It’s angry. It’s throwing labels at me. But at the same time it’s fuckin' gorgeous and necessary. The stew has been stirred and hot sauce has been thrown in. Good. Very good."
This willingness to listen to her critics is yet another aspect of what sets CHRISTEENE apart from more conventional drag queens, who tend to shrug off criticism as people "not getting it." The discourse CHRISTEENE is engaged in genuinely feels like an ongoing conversation, developing with outside input, as opposed to simply being harangued by a person with a point of view. This ability to shock with genuine substance (and, of course, some brilliant music) is what sets CHRISTEENE apart, and is helping to shape how we define 'drag' at a time when it has never been more popular.
CHRISTEENE makes her debut UK live appearance at Islington Mill on 21 Jun. Presented by Tranarchy and Off With Their Heads, Bummer Camp Pt I also features guests Kurt Dirt, Zsa Zsa Noir and Tranarchy Soundsystem
Tickets are £6 adv., or half price when bought with a ticket for Bummer Camp Pt II, which follows on 26 June with SSIONhttp://skdl.it/17Jqz0g