:: Article

Pleasure Pusher

Interview by Jana Astanov.

My aim is to articulate truthfully what it means to inhabit my body. Rawness, pleasure, and deviant behavior are what excite me most. Currently, my studio practice is taking me on a search for a new kind of sexual imagery, one where lines are blurred between gender constructs. The work crosses into various fields from painting to digital media. Installation and performance are also appropriate platforms. Food and pleasure are a consistent theme throughout. My images allow me the freedom to embrace my sexual body anyway I please. I do not seek to establish a barrier between the work and explicit imagery. Nor do I seek to align my work with a grand aesthetic scheme. At this time, my images speak to sexual desires and fetishes outside of a normative framework surrounding sex. It is within this framework where I express my queerness, my vulnerability, and my need to constantly question.’

Trish Nixon recently earned an MFA from the University of Kansas and a BFA in Photography (with an emphasis in Art History) from Memphis College of Art. She has performed her action, “Food and the Visceral Body” for Flesh Crisis at Arts Dojo (Kansas City) and at Last Frontier (Brooklyn). Her proposed presentation, Body/ Pleasure/ Power: Locating Queerness Through Transgressive Self-Expression has been selected to be included in the Transgender Spectrum Conference in November at Washington State University (St. Louis). Within her studio practice, she investigates aspects of queer theory, gender, and art. She questions the normative framework relating to the body and sexual behavior by often times producing explicit gestures through various visual platforms.

All images by Trish Nixon.

3:AM: What made you a performance artist?

Trish Nixon: I use “performance artist” loosely when it comes to my studio practice. I prefer to call myself an artist who pulls from all of these different modes of expression whether it’s through performing an action, photography, or painting.

I feel like I started performing as I was taking pictures of my naked body while in graduate school. I felt incredibly vulnerable and awkward since I had never done anything like it before. In the beginning, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I mean I knew how to use a camera but to use my own body as subject matter in such an intimate way was a new experience entirely. Experimenting with various gestures, gazes, props, and lighting helped shift my practice into a new direction. It was when I began documenting myself eating fruit and “acting out” sexual fetishes of pouring syrup and other liquids over my body in the privacy of my own apartment, that the performance aspect started to emerge (again, all of this was happening in graduate school). I was so wrapped up in the photography aspect of what I was doing, it wasn’t something I identified as “performance art” at the time. I’d say it was through photography, that I found myself crossing into the territory of performance.

3:AM: Where there any people who influenced you?

TN: Carolee Schneemann and her Interior Scroll 1975 performance. I love Bossy Burger by Paul McCarthy. How he engaged with food in that piece is very similar to the visceral actions in my own work. Renaissance fruit still life paintings, especially works with open melons are of particular interest. Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” was and still is incredibly influential within my studio practice.

3:AM: What are some themes that you explore?

TN: I explore the sexual body, body positivity, queerness, and what it means to be a trans masculine individual. These themes are at the root of my work.

3:AM: How does painting practice influences your performance work? Can you please tell us about your action painting?   

TN: The way I paint is very physical and visceral which is an extension of the actions that I do for a live audience. It’s basically impossible to describe the process of my painting without exposing a personal side of who I am. I’ve recently acknowledged my trans masculine identity which means I identify strongly with masculinity more so than femininity. I have felt this way my entire life. I’ve only recently accepted and embraced this wonderful quality about myself. For me, it comes naturally to express and explore my transness in a physical/ sexual way. The idea behind the “Cock Paintings” series came about when I began to ask myself, How can I best express what it feels like to actually wear a “cock”? What is my perspective? I’m referring to the packer (a soft cock) that I wear at times. Action painting is such an awesome mode of expression which is often described as aggressive and masculine (we can see evidence of this with the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and 50s). It is immediate as well as unapologetic and circles back to the idea of performance where my body’s gestures are expressed in similar ways. Before I start painting I decide the appropriate length of paper I need (working from roll paper) typically between five and six feet in height. Since this is a very spontaneous process, I typically work on two, sometimes four paintings at a time. Also, because of the confines of my space, I work on the floor. I cover my naked body (at times the cock that I wear for packing might be taped to my groin area) with paint and use it like a paint brush stroking or leaving an impression on the super large sheet of paper. At times, I’m wielding my paint covered cock in my hand and smacking it against the paper so that’s fun. The way I approach action painting is indeed extremely physical much like sex. Both are sensual, messy, and animalistic all at once.

3:AM: What are some of your notable past projects?

TN: I’m still in the early stages of my professional career. One project that immediately comes to mind is the action piece, “Food and the Visceral Body” I did at Last Frontier in Brooklyn this summer. It was a memorable experience as it allowed me to really flourish as an artist. I also did a version of the same piece for Flesh Crisis, a performance art series curated by Jessica Borusky in Kansas City, Mo. I’m really thankful for being able to engage with idea of performance in such a raw and meditative way. These projects have also allowed me to share my experience with the viewer who automatically becomes a participant when I allow them to interact with my body in such a personal way.

3:AM: In what ways does queer theory translate into your work?

TN: Queer theory is incredibly complex and a relatively new field of study. I’d like to think there are some aspects of queer theory in what I’m doing. Theory is certainly of interest and always will be. For me, I think it translates when the naked body is explored outside of hetero sex, the possibilities to investigate non normative behavior regarding sex are very exciting and becomes queer automatically. In my work particularly in the photographs, I aim to question gender and desire. It is the contesting of gender and sexuality which seems to transition seamlessly into my studio practice. So, in a nut shell, I’m pulling apart all of these things and expressing visually my own interpretation of queerness.

3:AM: Who are some of the most interesting artists within the queer agenda?

TN: Oh, my! There are so many! I’d say some of the most interesting working today are: Heather Cassils, Wu Tsang, Amos Mac, Zanele Muholi, Nicole Goodwin, Seyi Adebanjo, Mickalene Thomas, K8 Hardy, and Brian Kenny are a few examples.

3:AM: What is your current reading list?

TN:

I’m reading a couple of essays from “The Transgender Studies Reader” Vol. 1 edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle. Some others on my list:

Giovanni’s Room” James Baldwin,

Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire”, Jennifer Doyle,

The Queer Encyclopedia of Art” edited by Claude J. Summers,

Camera Lucida”, Roland Barthes.

3:AM: If you were to come up with once sentence or a piece of wisdom for other women to include in their lives what that would be?

TN: Be bold, be daring, be fierce. But most importantly, ask the tough questions.

3:AM: What are you working on at the moment?

TN: I have a few projects on the burner. The “Cock Paintings” series. Some examples from this series are currently on view at Plenum Space in Kansas City, Mo. I’m currently in the middle of a photo shoot for “The Picnic” which is part of the “Q” portfolio. This series of images has been a year in the making.

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

TN: Well, I think it’s too early to tell. I’m not sure that my character belongs in art history, maybe in art herstory or art queerstory. I’d like to think that the work I’m doing now and as I continue onward will challenge stereotypical views of sex and gender within the art historical canon. In doing so, I will undoubtedly make some people uncomfortable which is fantastic cause that’s how we start conversations and change attitudes! The way people view and experience art is changing at such a rapid pace. I hope I’m able to present to my audience a different way of seeing and experiencing from what they are accustomed to. I think it’s about stepping up and saying, “Hey, there are many expressive interpretations to being a sexual human being.” My job as an artist, as a scholar is to investigate and to ask questions. I believe that artists make incredible progress when they embrace their vulnerability and take risks. Art is about the process. It is about the experience.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, August 27th, 2017.