Much like their mythical namesake, performance artist and curator Tiresias does not let their visual condition interfere with their life’s work: which in this case is dramatically expressive art. And this summer, major players in Brooklyn nightlife will be on board for their latest creation.
Thotyssey: Hello Tiresias, thanks for chatting with us today! So, summer is nearly upon us… are you ready for all that?
Tiresias: Hello! It will be my first full summer as a New Yorker, and, well… my body is ready for the heat.
Excellent! Where were you living previously, and where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Chicago, but I was living overseas for a while — a few years in the UK, and a few years in Indonesia.
Have you always been a performing artist of some sort?
Yes! I think I discovered early on that theatre and performance were arenas in which I could bring many of my interests — music, storytelling, visual arts, literature, video, etc. — into conversation. Interdisciplinarity was always kind of innate, as was the need to create. That being said, my background in theatre is primarily as a writer / director.
I think I bring a literary and theatrical sensibility to almost everything I do. Presenting work in nightlife environments is fairly new for me, and it’s been very exciting.
“Tiresias” was a blind prophet who appeared in Greek myth and tragedy; he was very wise (although usually ignored or reviled by the rulers of his time) and lived a multi-gendered life. How did you come to claim that name for your own?
My theatrical work has always been inspired by myth, but I really became obsessed with the prophet Tiresias after I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition a few years ago… I think because I needed to believe that there was an abundance of vision beyond ocular hardware. Tiresias is this wonderfully queer and transgressive figure who subverts and transcends all the binaries—between man and woman, gods and mortals, the living and the dead, blind and seeing. So becoming Tiresias was all about transforming a degenerative circumstance into a source of creative power. And also about embracing a multiplicity of gender!
Is it extremely difficult to navigate your eye condition while making art and just living life?
It’s definitely been a process of adaptation, and low light spaces can be difficult to navigate. Because it is a slow process, though, I have had time to reframe it as something other than a limitation. Hence, visions of Tiresias.
What are the sort of ideas you want to convey in your work, and where do you get inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from all over the place: myth, science, music, natural history, cosmology, ancient literature, dreams. I am usually drawn to stories of epic journeys and radical transformation. I think I create toward the world I wish to live in, so, I want to convey a world of love, wonder, weirdness, wildness, hybridity, fluidity, abundance, multiplicity. So that can look like the prismatic utopia that is [my stage piece] HYPERFANTASIA, but it is also the chaotic darkness that defines [another work of mine] UNDERWORLD. Queerness has always involved monsters and freaks… and for me, that’s a very beautiful thing.
When you work with people in nightlife for your shows, are you incorporating what they do already into your themes (their pre-existing numbers, etc.)? Or are are you creating performances for them?
Typically, I am curating artists in nightlife for their own particular voices and styles, inviting them to bring their own work into the theatrical worlds I’ve constructed, to see how they respond to the themes. So it’s a very collaborative process. With HYPERFANTASIA, for example, I am struck by how some artists’ work resonates with the show’s ecological themes. And with others, it is about a proclivity toward extravagance and queer abundance. I am very particular about how I curate artists for each show.
HYPERFANTASIA has had a few previous incarnations in venues like Starr Bar, and will arrive at The Brick Theater in early June for an extended run (June 3rd-5th and 8th-10th), with different guest performers each night. What can you tell us about the history and themes of this particular show?
The inception of the show was actually an article about a medical condition called aphantasia, which is basically the absence of a mind’s eye. It briefly touched on its antithesis, hyperphantasia, which involves an over-abundance of mental imagery. So, as an artist thinking about vision beyond sight, I asked myself, what vision did I have to share with the world? And I thought hyperphantasia kind of sounded like a place, a utopia, a fantasy realm where anything was possible. And so I submitted the idea to the Interrobang festival at The Brick before it was written, and before I even lived in New York, and the absolutely incredible Theresa Buchheister decided to take a risk on me. And now we’re back at The Brick for a full run, so it all really comes full circle!
Eventually, I realized that HYPERFANTASIA was a creation myth of sorts, but for a world of fantasy and wonder very much our own. Its gods are quarks and ancestral bacteria, its mythological source material natural history and cosmology.
This latest version of HYPERFANTASIA will feature some folks quite familiar in the nightlife scattered throughout the run like C’etait BonTemps, Iodine Quartz, J’royce Jata, Tallulah Talons, Esther, Pixel the Drag Jester and Senerio, plus some newer artists. How did you pick these particularly folks to collaborate with?
Because they’re all so fantastic! But really, each artist is in the lineup for a reason. C’était, who brings such theatricality to his work, and always this sense of abundance, extravagance. Esther, with these weird and wonderful avant-garde interdisciplinary investigations—in a previous iteration of HYPERFANTASIA, a freewheeling history of magic mushrooms; this time, an archaeological excavation at the dawn of civilization. Then you have Iodine with the insane genius creatures and creativity. I could go on and on!
Oh, I would also love to mention that Afro-Indigenous trans chef Amun-Ra will have themed THC-infused edibles on offer during the run at The Brick, so get there early and don’t miss out. HYPERFANTASIA is meant to be a multi-sensory experience!
And this run won’t be the last version of the show this summer!
All amazing! Lastly: do you think the world of nightlife / drag and performance art are going to meld even tighter together in the future?
That is my hope! And let’s invent new forms and genres while we’re at it.
And now I’m off to help out with Tallulah Talons’ show at Club Cumming. Don’t miss her swamp creature burlesque on June 5th! No words needed.
Thank you, Tiresias!