‘When I drove up to Zackary Drucker’s home off San Fernando Road, the front door was wide open—a startling sight since most of the surrounding houses have metal bars over the windows and doors. The Los Angeles video and performance artist lives in Glassell Park, an industrial strip in Northeast Los Angeles. Besides the open door, the house also stood apart with its manicured lawn and the polished wood floors I glimpsed through the doorway. It was as if Drucker’s house was in color, and the rest of the neighborhood in black and white.
‘Drucker welcomed me with open arms. We’ve only met a few times socially at art functions, but that’s just how she is. The house is immaculate, though she explains—as if apologizing—she has recently moved in and the decorating was not quite finished. The empty walls are freshly painted in dark grays, browns and puce. Drucker also is dressed in neutral colors wearing a white T-shirt with snug pants, showing off her slim figure. Drucker is a natural beauty, with blond hair and a devilish smile—like she’s got something up her sleeve, but in a harmless way. Her deep-set eyes are so blue they practically sparkle.
‘Drucker is a dynamo, who, at the young age of 29, has created an insightful body of films, photographs and performances challenging gender normativity. Her work, which always intersects with her own transsexual identity, postulates queer alternatives to the status quo. She has staged performances inviting audience members to perform depilatory actions on her body. She has created gorgeous and inquisitive photographs and films that document her life, her personality and image, but also interrogate larger questions of gendered performance, fashion, class, historical lineage, and bodies that resist codification. Recently she was invited to take part in the 2012 Hammer Biennial, presenting SHE GONE ROGUE, an opulent and fractured narrative film with existential leanings.
‘Drucker is an artist who breaks down the way we think about gender, sexuality and seeing. Her participatory art works complicate established binaries of viewer and subject, insider and outsider, and male and female in order to create a complex image of the self. The disciple of a silenced, ghettoized community, Drucker uses a range of creative devices that all strive towards the portrayal of bodily identity, her own and that of others, obsessively infusing visual media—photographs, videos and performance art—with acute, masochistic emotional compulsions.
‘Conceiving, discovering, and manifesting herself as “a woman in the wrong world,” her work is rooted in cultivating and investigating under-recognized aspects of transgender history. Interested in obliterating language obstacles, pulverizing identity disorders and revealing dark subconscious layers of outsider agency, Drucker disarms audiences and uses her body to illicit desire, judgment, and voyeuristic shame from her viewer.
‘Drucker, whose work often celebrates and amplifies the viewer’s inability to affix easy norms and codes, is one of the leading participants in a new generation that is rediscovering performance as a space for revolt, expression, and creative bedlam. “We’re preparing for a future generation and also laying the foundation the same way that our predecessors have laid the foundation for us,” Drucker says. “A lot of what I’m interested in is my own history, my own kind of counterculture history, or the history of transwomen, drag queens, gender outlaws. I think that we’re doing necessary work. And we’re contributing to that rich history of perseverance, of determination, or creating our own narrative.”‘ — collaged
Zachary Drucker Website
Zachary Drucker @ Twitter
Zachary Drucker @ Facebook
‘The Growing Transgender Presence in Pop Culture’
Zachary Drucker @ Lus De Jesus Gallery
ZACKARHYS @ tumblr
‘Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, from many angles’
Photos: ZACKARY DRUCKER: DOCUMENT JOURNAL
‘Until Now: Zackary Drucker Retrospective’
‘Zackary Drucker wants to archive Flawless Sabrina’s lifework’
‘INTERVIEW WITH ZACKARY DRUCKER AND RHYS ERNST: SIX YEARS’
‘Relative Truths: Zackary Drucker interviews Flawless Sabrina’
Q&A; with Multimedia Artist and SVA Alumnus Zackary Drucker
Photos: ZACKARY DRUCKER @ Volta NY
‘How Zackary Drucker Photographs Trans People’
‘zackary drucker | made in god’
Buy the Zackary Drucker Doormat
YouTube curated by Zackary Drucker
Destabilizing a Destabilized Existence, Panelists: Zackary Drucker and A.L. Steiner
Trailer: ‘Irma Vep, the last breath’, starring Zackary Drucker and Flawless Sabrina
from Art Pulse
Your most recent work is an experimental film titled SHE GONE ROGUE, which you made with director Rhys Ernst for the Made In LA 2012 Hammer Biennial. I know that the film features queer legends such as Vaginal Davis and Holly Woodlawn. Can you say a little about this film? What inspired it, and how do you see it relating to past work?
Zackary Drucker: Though the film is abstract and is situated in a fantasy/dream world, it is also autobiographical. I have relationships with all of the people in the film, whom, disparately assembled, represent my chosen family. All of the spaces we shot were on location, in the actor’s home’s, including my parent’s cottage in Crystal Lake, Pennsylvania, and the hundred-year-old house in Silverlake that Rhys and I live in. We also shot with Vaginal Davis in Berlin, Flawless Sabrina in New York City, Holly Woodlawn in Los Angeles, and there was an additional shoot in the Mojave Desert. Rhys and I were taking a break from our relationship, and he had moved out when the piece (that became SHE GONE ROGUE) started to form. I was alone in this house and the walls were literally falling down around me, the ancient plaster crumbling. I fixated on this for months, and it began to fuse with my psychological state-it somehow seemed symbolic or an actualization of my internal world. Rhys and I never actually split, and the film was made as a reconciliation of sorts; we wrote and produced it together. Over the year it took to make the film, he had moved back in, and it felt as though it was an afterlife of a relationship; restored, rebuilt, and we fixed the walls, too.
My character, who is only ever referred to as ‘Darling,’ has a break with reality that leads her to her parents and archetypes, but as they may exist in the future or in a parallel dimension-reality as it’s reprocessed in dream state. It’s about so many things, and honestly is so fresh, I think we need some time and distance to adequately unpack what we did. Speaking for myself, I was thinking about how our bodies age and we go through time existing in any number of spaces and as constantly morphing forms. I think it’s also about mortality, about disappearing into one’s mind, about locating and reconciling my history (personal/cultural), while situating myself, now, within it. I think it’s a pretty deep Saturn Returns existential question mark-who am I, and how did I arrive here? Where am I going? What does my future look like? The people I look to in real life are the people I find in the film, even if their characters are, at times, nebulous and confounding, providing more questions than answers. It was exciting to have an excuse to make art with these brilliant performers and loved ones that I have always looked to as monuments of strength and perseverance.
The film itself is quite beautiful, with decadent set decoration and some fantastic costuming. Did you style your actors, specifically Vaginal Davis and Flawless Sabrina, or was the construction of these characters more of a collaboration between you and these legendary performers?
ZD: There was a lot of collaboration involved with set design and costuming, but much of the aesthetic was already built-in to the character’s spaces and personas. Vag and Flawless’ apartments were pretty much left as is, though we brought select props into Flawless’ place-the altar, the wind-up toys, the record player, which we secured through one of Flawless’ friends. Flawless is her own brilliant stylist and always knows how to push the envelope with her look. Since Vaginal Davis was playing the Whoracle of Delphi, which called for more of a specific costume, my friend Marcus Pontello created her look for the television infomercial scenes. My friend Taylor Lorentz embellished Holly’s place for her scenes, and otherwise, Rhys and I filled in the gaps and made many of the decisions with art direction.
One of my favorite recent works of yours was a doormat with your face on it emblazoned with the word ‘WELCOME.’ The work turns self-deprecation on its head, a kind of preemptive way of ‘throwing shade.’ I know you’re interested in the history of queer languages and that you’re inspired by the book The Queens’ Vernacular by Bruce Rodgers, which specifically addresses the art of reading. Your work often uses ‘reading’ as a device to talk about what is not talked about, especially in videos such as You Will Never, Ever Be A Woman…, in which you and Van Barnes trade loving chains of insults and a kind of Craigslist personal ad banter while lounging around in a domestic setting in various states of undress. I’ve always thought that the way you incorporate ‘reading’ into your work relates in some way to how the fine art world ‘reads’ work, with all the accompanying criticism, gossip and social accoutrements that inform the reception of artist and artwork. Does understanding the dialectics of insult and ‘reading’ ever influence how you see the art world, how you take or give criticism?
ZD: Absolutely. ‘Reading’ is about inoculating or preparing a person for a larger culture of intolerance. If we can articulate the most hurtful things we can imagine, then the words will have less power when being inflicted on us from the external world. It’s also a form of verbal self-defense; anyone who has been bullied or ostracized understands the power of words-it’s all we have to utilize in our uphill battle for self-respect, especially when your physical power or agency is constantly being compromised and dominated. I’m interested in The Queens’ Vernacular because it’s about identifying and putting names to things that didn’t have a name in the American lexicon-we’re talking between the 1920s and 1972 when the book was published. How do we understand our bodies, our genders, our desire, with the limited tools of language? We have to create a new language to define ourselves. I think of the possibilities of gender expression as color 3-D to hetero-normative culture’s black-and-white 1950s television set. All of these things are changing, and it’s up to those of us living in the future to define a new vision for the rest of society.
In your films and performances you establish a relationship with the spectator that confronts him with your gender, your sexuality and your body. In works such as The Inability To Be Looked At and the Horror of Nothing to See, the viewer is involved in the work and feels a variety of emotions that range from admiration, desire, judgment, to voyeuristic shame. Can you share with us how this resource challenges the viewer and impacts in the interpretation of your work?
ZD: My work in performance coincided with my decision to transition my gender from male to female. I started to become more aware of how often my body was being evaluated and scrutinized by the external world. I know this is consistent with a universal truth of being female, continually being seen and assessed, but there is something particularly awkward and vulnerable about going through puberty a second time as a fully formed adult, and towards a more visible gender at that. And eventually, the men who used to call you a faggot are suddenly licking their lips when you walk by, and women who were sympathetic become threatened or competitive. It takes a lot of energy to reconcile and overcome this inner voice that is constantly wondering if the people you come across in your daily life are reading you as a man, as a woman, as transgender, or as a non-person. If they are sympathetic, laughing at you, or shit-talking you in another language. The concept of ‘triple consciousness’ is at play here, and again, is not unique to gender so much as to any group of marginalized people who are visibly different than the dominant power group. Those works where I’m directly incriminating the viewer, their potential assumptions or judgements, are perhaps more of my own projection of what some of those voices of evaluation might sound like, as well as a verbalizing of my own internal process, an exorcizing of internalized shame, or self-doubt. There’s also a nod towards the relentless fetishizing of trans bodies, which is something of a subculture amongst a group of disenfranchised straight men; the underbelly of heterosexuality. The language of that particular style of sexual objectification seemed especially brutal and without boundaries. Performing, for me, is also about collectivity, about tapping into the truth that we are all trapped in bodies that we didn’t choose, and nobody makes it out alive.
For many trans-identifying people the concept of family and home can be a troubling or frustrating thing, with parents often not understanding the complexity of gender and identity. Many parents end up being outwardly hostile towards their trans children. You returned to your childhood home to work on the recent show at Lus De Jesus. Your parents are in your upcoming video for the Hammer Biennial. How has having supportive parents impacted your work, and what thoughts do you have about the notion of family, both drag and trans families and biological families?
ZD: I am incredibly fortunate. My parents are my role models, and I believe that they are role models of good parenting, which is one of the primary reasons I include them in my work. The world needs to see that there is an alternative to parents rejecting and marginalizing their transgender children. The child-parent relationship is so much about reciprocal learning, and I think I’ve taught them as much as they’ve taught me. They never took a strict authoritarian position with me, so I think they have a less-defined sense of hierarchy and have always been open to learning. No parents are free of expectations or dreams of who their children may become. I’m sure it takes a lot of adjustment to reconcile who your children become as adults, but I think it’s narcissistic to expect your children to reproduce your projection, or align with your ideology and values. Above all, my parents are invested in my happiness, and they realize that it took me becoming an artist, a woman, a Californian, etc., to get there. I’m fortunate because they are progressive-minded and educated, and in most ways I am a pretty direct descendent of their ideals. Millennium version. Many parents are probably too invested in their own antiquated values to accept their children’s autonomy, but mine are cool, and they’re fun to be around too.
The confidence my parents’ support has given me has been really instrumental in enabling me to present myself as a subject/object without feeling shamed or disempowered as a trans person. And some of it comes from my ancestors I’m sure, and queens, and trans people, past and future. As queers, we’re lucky to have the advantage of assembling a chosen family too, which has been crucial to my development and my manifestation of self. (Aunt) Holly, (Mom) Vag, (Dad) Ron Athey, (Grandma) Flawless and my (Sister) Van-and that’s just a start, as I have a handful of other siblings-have all been incredibly influential and powerful figures in my life.
Relationship (2008 – 2013)
‘Relationship is an intimate and diaristic record of Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst’s relationship as a transgender couple whose bodies are transitioning in opposite directions (for Drucker from male to female, and for Ernst from female to male). As both subjects and makers of these photographs, Drucker and Ernst engage various elements of self-fashioning, representing themselves in the midst of shifting subjectivities and identities—making images that are simultaneously unguarded and performative, an extension of their narrative filmmaking practice. Collectively, the photographs become a cinematic document of their romantic, creative negotiation and collaboration. In Drucker’s words, “Our bodies are a microcosm of the greater external world as it shifts to a more polymorphous spectrum of sexuality. We are all collectively morphing and transforming together, and this is just one story of an opposite-oriented transgender couple living in Los Angeles, the land of industrialized fantasy.”’ — The Whitney
Video and performance works
w/ Rhys Ernst She Gone Rogue (2012)
22 mins, digital video
‘“Darling” (played by Zackary Drucker) attempts to visit her “Auntie Holly” but instead falls down a rabbit hole, encountering trans-feminine archetypes (legendary performers Holly Woodlawn, Vaginal Davis, and Flawless Sabrina) who are in turn confounding, nebulous, complicated and contradictory. Engaging a world of dream-like magical realism, SHE GONE ROGUE references Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, utilizing a space where singular selves multiply and expand, offering windows into parallel dimensions, with time and space collapsing into a whirlpool of divergent possibilities. When Drucker finally finds the white rabbit, the process of identity construction completes a full circle, offering more questions than answers.’ — ZD
Outfest Interview with Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst of “She Gone Rogue”
Bring Your Own Body: The Story of Lynn Harris (2012)
‘Bring Your Own Body is a tribute/biographical monologue to the late transgender figure Lynn Elizabeth Harris. Harris, who was born a hermaphrodite in Orange County in 1950, was raised as a female through high school and beyond by parents who never reconsidered his gender identity, even when, at age 5, Harris developed male genitals. Harris’s mother and father were doting parents, and, through the auspices of a Los Angeles archive of gay and transgender documents and memorabilia, Drucker has come into possession of an extraordinary array of baby photos, family pictures, school reports, driver’s licenses, and other images and documents. By projecting an array of these images on a screen behind her while she recites the details of Harris’s odyssey, Drucker weaves a deeply disorienting tale. What is one to make of a life story that includes both beauty-contest wins as a woman (Costa Mesa Junior Miss, 1968), and an eventual and rapid self-transformation in 1983 at age 33 into the mustachioed man called Lynn Edward Harris? For Drucker, Harris remains both a cautionary tale — his life was sensationalized in painful ways by the tabloids and shock television — and a boundary-busting hero. Her final words sum up these mixed feelings in a simple question and answer: “Cause of death? Not enough love.”’ — The Independent
At Least You Know You Exist (2011)
16mm film transferred to DVD, 16 minutes
‘Created inside an archeology of the uptown New York City apartment inhabited by legendary performer/drag queen Mother Flawless Sabrina, At least you know: you exist is a site-specific exploration of a fixed space where everything is in a state of change. Known as Jack to those close to him, he has lived in the same apartment at 5 East 73rd Street for more than 45 years—a crowded, unwieldy place that fiercely pronounces his rejection of conformity. In this 16mm film, totemic mystical objects act as a collection of mysterious sculptures in different states of mutation, and rich layers of feverish history interface with a new vision of transgender performativity. Navigating the real and the unconscious, oscillating between documentary and myth narrative, Zackary Drucker weaves a fluid, parallel text of these two divergent lives, exploring a legacy being passed from a lost generation towards the future.’ — ZD
One Fist (2010)
Live Performance, 10:30 minutes
‘This live performance work finds the body of the artist mummified on a rotating turntable. An audio track leads viewers through a schizophrenic journey that vacillates between an Academic discourse about deconstructing the gender binary, and a masochistic sub conscious voice that details the artist’s experience of being objectified. Unraveling layers of language, complicating the intellectualization of the queer body, and challenging modes of spectatorship, ONE FIST is a deep re-contextualizing of outsider representation.’ — ZD
Lost Lake (2010)
HDV, 8 minutes
‘Filmed at the peak of autumn foliage in a rural Midwestern US locale, this non-narrative collaboration posits beauty and fear as inextricable from the psyche of the American landscape. Contemplative moments and stunning vistas are jarringly punctuated with the vocabularies of witch-hunts, hate crimes and psychological violence.’ — ZD
Performance Clown (2010)
Video and live performance
‘Performance Clown uses tropes of drag performance to abrasively reverse the power exchange between audience and performer. The video introduction begins, the audience watches. The lights come up on Zackary looking foolish, like a rodeo clown. Zackary singles people out and reads them, while they are simultaneously blasted by a pre-recorded laugh track.’ — ZD
15 minutes, live performance with video
‘Addressing notions of misinformation and revolutionary impulses, PIG is a performance that stages a meeting of politically involved “girls.” This multimedia work places the trio of Zackary Drucker, Mariana Marroquin, and Wu Ingrid Tsang within a dialog about contemporary trans politics as it relates to the history of civil rights movements. Inspired by non-hierarchical forms of social gathering, PIG uses tropes of consciousness-raising and group therapy to explore language, identity, agency, and the societal construction of trans as a “monstrous biological joke.”’ — ZD
The Inability to be Looked at and the Horror of Nothing to See (2008-2009)
Live Performance, 17 minutes
‘The Inability to Be Looked at and the Horror of Nothing to See is a live performance that takes form as a group meditation. Viewers are directed, by a disembodied voice, through a series of breathing exercises, new-age visions, and dark, dysphoric confessions, all the while being instructed to pluck out the hair from an androgynous, stripped body in the center of the gallery.’ — ZD
You Will Never Be a Woman. You Must Live The Rest of your Days Entirely As a Man and You Will Only Grow More Masculine With Every Passing Year. There is No Way Out. (2008)
In collaboration with Van Barnes, Mariah Garnett, and A.L. Steiner.
‘You Will Never Be a Woman. You Must Live The Rest of your Days Entirely As a Man and You Will Only Grow More Masculine With Every Passing Year. There is No Way Out: features two characters that are expressing the most painful things they can say, to prepare each other for a larger, more dangerous, culture of intolerance. The characters occupy multiple roles, and prepare on all fronts, as they appropriate and enact the fetishistic language of sex ads, assault the spectator, antagonize (“read”) each other, and ultimately regain their agency.’ — ZD
FISH: A Matrilineage of Cunty White-Woman Realness (2008)
‘FISH: A Matrilineage of Cunty White-Woman Realness is an extension of a life-long feminist dialogue with my mother. Utilizing a coded language of contemporary and historical queer vernacular, the syncopated language is a conduit between the second-wave and the new-wave/future. The intergenerational dialogue addresses our relationship, and our respective cultural and political positions as women.’ — ZD
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yes, I got the great photo, thank you. The Gerard Malanga book I published with Little Caesar Press, ‘100 Years Have Passed’, was one of his Benedetta Barzinni books, and there she is on the cover. Nice observations on Arnold, thank you. ** Sypha, ‘CftBL’ must be easily free to watch on youtube or somewhere if you ever want to. Cale’s Island albums are definitely at his peak. They’re all pretty great. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve been under the impression that the music aka catchy part of Madonna’s tunes are mostly written by her collaborators? If so then maybe her taste in collaborators is less … catchy? Right, I remember now that David Tibet is a big supporter of Shirley Collins. That makes total sense. ** KK, Hi! It does seem like a book that is destined to be reprinted sooner than later. Oh, you’re near Austin, got it. I don’t know San Marcos. Well, I’m not an expert on Texas, although my parents and grandparents were Texans so I spent a fair amount time there growing up. But not around Austin. More around Houston and Corpus Christie. I’m happy you like the Ed Smith, and, if it’s gotten you revved up about your own poetry, that’s the ultimate compliment to it, obviously. Do a chapbook! Big encouragement from me. I want to read it. Thanks, Kyle. How’s school going? You dig it? ** Steve Erickson, Yes, that makes sense, what you said about “prestige TV”, a sharp and self-indicting tag if there ever was one. Everyone, Steve E. has reviewed the Mexican film ‘The Chambermaid’ right here. I’ve never heard of nordic larping. Nice words. Based on your definition, I do know a bit about that kind of work, though. When Zac and I were in Rennes showing ‘PGL’, for instance, we spent time with a woman there who was about to premiere a theater piece exactly as you described, but she didn’t use that term. There’s probably a different term in France. Anyway, I will use those words as a search term and see what I come up with. Thanks! ** _Black_Acrylic, Cool. That the post lead you somewhere. I don’t know Patrick Staff’s work. Interesting, I like how it looks in your photo and on the site. And they live in LA? Huh. Thanks a lot for the tip! ** schlix, Hi, Uli! I very much agree with you about the great and sweeping lack of interest in ambiguity at the moment. Well, you know I think confusion is the truth, so, obviously, this mania for the conclusory in art, and in politics too, is grim to me. I’m on Facebook, but I find very difficult to spend time there where so many people are obsessed with making pronouncements based on an extreme minimal amount of information and actual personal thought about the things they’re judging. I just try to concentrate on the fact that there is a lot of extremely interesting work out there, new and old, that doesn’t pre-curtail itself. As this era has continued and worsened, I increasingly think of this blog as a kind of mission to expose ‘difficult, non-conforming’ work to people who might be looking for pleasure and inspiration in being challenged. Because feeling saddened and worried about the marginalisation of originality and pure adventurousness and ambition becomes futile and self-defeating, you know? Anyway, yeah, I hear you, bro. The Robert Walser/ Der Teich project; It’s Gisele’s next theater work. It’s her adaptation of a Walser play that he wrote when he was 15 or something. Honestly, I think the play itself is terrible, so I’m a bit bewildered by her wanting to adapt and it and curious to see what she does. I may be involved because she has recently asked Zac and I to create a ‘secret’ second play that would be happening onstage during the Walser play but wouldn’t necessarily be visible to the viewer. I have no idea what that means, but we’re supposed to go to a rehearsal very soon to watch the play at its current state and talk about what we could do. We’ll see. So I’m not quite sure what to say about that piece so far. That’s what I know. I can let you know more once I’ve seen what it is. Love, me. ** KeatonStates, It’s hot. What can I say? My sweat is more articulate than I am at the moment. Too bad about ‘PS’. I was afraid of that. Sounds like you got more out of Pride than Pride theoretically could provide. Cool. Me too: that movie love. I won’t be able to stay cool, but you you can, so do that, won’t you? ** Right. A reader of this blog requested that I restore this Zachary Drucker post made back in the days before she was best known as one of the producers of ‘Transparent’. Hope you enjoy it. See you tomorrow.