Archive for June, 2009
Daniel Stuchel, a.k.a. Dani Lamorte, is a self-described radical, highly questionable queer, living off of gin and shoulder pads in the great city of Pittsburgh. This native of Vandergrift, PA frequently turns trash into haute couture, fashioning a busted chandelier into a glittering helmet or breathing new life into a sadly abandoned, gold lamé tracksuit. You can catch Dani, along with drag partner and upcoming Featured Artist Veronica Bleaus, terrorizing the town in a series of impromptu performances affectionately named Drive-by Drag. Be sure to check out their website frequently to find out where they will be showing off their fancy selves next. For past performances, her MySpace profile has enough pictures to keep you satiated until you can see Miss Lamorte in the sequined flesh. I had Daniel/Dani answer a few questions about drag and growing up in Western Pennsylvania, and here was what this hot mess had to say:
OT Blog: Your drag career started in 2004 when you came to the University of Pittsburgh to pursue your interests in languages, particularly French. What got you into drag? Are there any moments from your childhood that you look back on now and recognize as a build-up to your debut as Dani Lamorte?
Daniel Stuchel: As a child, playing dress-up was always my favorite game. I would wear a towel on my head and pretend it was long hair. My terrycloth locks were accessorized with a curtain dress, a pair of my mother’s heels, and the old-lady jewelry I acquired at yard sales. At the age of four, my mother said to me, “If you want to be a girl, I can take you to the doctor and he can do an operation to make you a girl.” She wasn’t serious, and I’ve always been happy being a boy, but I think it was apparent at an early age that I would never color inside the gender lines.
My drag career seems to be an outgrowth of my personality. I spend a great deal of time in my imagination, daydreaming away the hours. Fashion, make-up, dance, music, and performance are all passions of mine. It’s hard to say what got me into drag, but I think I’ve recognized it as a way to keep playing dress-up throughout adulthood, while giving an outlet to my creativity.
OT: How has your conception of drag changed since you started performing? Are there any common misconceptions that you have noticed that you would like to dispel?
DS: Drag is an increasingly blurry concept for me. Back at my debut, I firmly believed that drag had something to do with femininity, with looking like a woman. It was distinct and separate from the rest of my waking life and had unyielding rules and boundaries. The problem with thinking that way is that drag is a revolutionary art. By simply dressing up in drag, you are violating social norms and upsetting the organization of the world around you. When I realized this, the rules began to fall away. Nowadays, I find it nearly impossible to define drag and frequently question whether the performances I give count as drag.
Drag is the perfect mannequin. It has a few humanoid features and a completely naked body. I dress my drag-self up in the things that scare me, worry me, hurt me, or even just the desires I cannot express in my day-to-day life. Then I gaze at what I’ve made and do my best to understand. Once I understand, I use the power of that knowledge to search deeper and find the next thing that goes bump in the night. To me, drag is about making my daydreams become real and exploring the unknown.
OT: Dani Lamorte’s drag style, and even your own everyday style, is androgynous with flair for the dramatic. Unlike what many are familiar with in terms of drag, you’ve developed a look that highlights both extremes of femininity and masculinity. What inspires your fashion and performance style? What do you personally find you are able to accomplish with androgyny that you could not following traditional gender norms?
DS: Clothing is one of my absolute favorite things. Getting dressed in the morning is like making a collage, taking pieces that jive with my mood and arranging them until I reach that moment where everything feels perfect.
My fashion and performance styles are both heavily influenced by my inner world, the bizarre daydreams and thoughts that strike me at random. As you can imagine, what inspires me changes on a regular basis. Right now, I’m terribly fascinated by the idea of thresholds (i.e. how much “girl clothing” do I need to wear for my gender to be called into question?) and intersections. Intersections have been a primary fixation of mine for a few weeks now - the idea of two objects headed on completely different courses meeting for a moment in time, thus coloring each others’ perception of the remaining journey. Of course, if you’d like a more standard answer, I would have to say that I’m influenced by my favorites in the fashion world - Christian Lacroix, Yves St. Laurent, and Albert Kriemler. All three play with overemphasized gender and androgyny.
Simply put, androgyny permits me to do whatever I please. Androgyny, by definition, is found in the murky waters of gender - you’re never sure what it contains or what it should look like. I like rampant possibilities and unlimited exploration. Gender norms are for people who aren’t curious.
OT: As an aside, you used to go by Lilith LaMorte when you first started out but now go by Dani Lamorte. What made you switch?
DS: Originally, I performed under the pseudonym Lilith LaMorte. This worked perfectly as I considered my drag persona to be separate from who I am on a day-to-day basis. With time, the blurring of some lines, and a lot of personal growth, the construct known as Lilith became obsolete and limiting. During many performances, I felt as though it was Daniel on stage and not some separate entity. For me, dressing up, slathering on paint (drag speak for make-up), and throwing myself on stage doesn’t require a separate persona or even a division between my day-to-day life and my stage-self.
So, I kicked Lilith to the curb and adopted Dani - a shortened, androgynous version of my birth name. Lamorte has nice ring to it, so I kept it. Dani Lamorte is me – typing this response on my lunch break at work, doing the dishes when I get home, talking to my mom on the phone, and jogging down Walnut Street in a lamé track suit while the song “Two of Hearts” blasts out of a boombox and Veronica dances next to me. It’s all the same person, all the same adventure.
OT: Continuing with the issue of androgyny, I find that your drag is similar is many ways to the costuming and dress of the club kids of the late 80s and early 90s, of performance artists like Leigh Bowery who emphasize ridiculousness in gender, and, going even further into history and tradition, of side-show freaks like the Bearded Lady. There has always been a simultaneous fascination and repulsion towards these figures, these “freaks” within our society. What is your definition of freak and what does it mean to be one? What kind of response can one achieve from beneath this seemingly derogatory label?
DS: I’m flattered to be compared to Leigh Bowery! He was an absolute genius. I’ve always loved Leigh’s use of the disgusting, the unattractive and abhorrent. He saw them as interpretations of beauty. He was certainly a freak as I define the word. Freaks, to me, are people who defy culture at-large simply by being themselves, attracting a mixture of disdain and praise. Praise comes from a place of appreciation and identification, while disdain comes from fear and shock.
Freak is only derogatory if you want to be a follower, a wallflower, someone who blends into the scenery. To me, though, being a freak is incredibly powerful as it demands the attention of the people around me and puts me in the position to educate, explain, break down barriers, create, and share. I’ve always liked tarot cards and, in particular, The Magician card; it represents an individual who harnesses the power of the world around him and can evoke change. I would like to think that freaks, drag queens or no, are the magicians of this world.
OT: You and your partner in drag, John Musser a.k.a. Veronica Bleaus, recently began doing Drive-by Drag performances where you show up to various public locations in the Pittsburgh area, do a number, and then leave without a trace. What was the impetus behind this type of performance? What kind of reception from the public do you hope to get/have gotten?
DS: Drive by Drag was, in a way, a fantastic intersection! John and I are very different people, but we have moments when a singular idea resonates perfectly with both of us. We had toyed with the idea of giving performances in supermarkets, parks, and other random locations, but it never quite happened. When John approached me with the idea for Drive by Drag, as a series of performances throughout the city, I could hardly say no! I love the spontaneity and randomness of it all. Unlike most shows, we can’t control many of the elements of our stage; it presents new creative challenges and hurdles. I’m eating it up.
To date, the public has been curious, friendly, and completely stunned. More than anything, I think John and I both want to bring a little bit of unexpected art and excitement to the world around us. I feel we’ve been successful thus far.
OT: What can OT Blog readers expect from you or your alter ego in the near future?
DS: Oh, gosh! Well of course, you should expect more Drive by Drag. You never know where we’ll show up! I’ll also be performing at Veruca La’Pirhana’s birthday party at the Blue Moon in July. I would definitely encourage the readers to show up; I have something quite special planned.
Classical voice and music were my life for most of my childhood and teenage years, and I’m dying to re-explore them. I’ve taken up some musical endeavors, both solo and collaborative. In particular, I find atonal and experimental music enticing.
Life presents ceaseless opportunities to be creative, and I’m always interested in working with other artists and creative types. Got an idea? Give me a call!
I have no problem admitting that when it comes to Messy Magazine , I am certainly biased on their behalf. That said, this bias honestly has nothing to do with the fact they published an article of mine in their Cleveland Film Guide, or that I went to college with one of their founders—although, it doesn’t hurt. Truth is, I totally dig Messy Magazine because, above all else, it is such a damn cool idea.
In essence, the Cleveland-based online magazine is doing for the Northeast Ohio art community what we here at Open Thread are doing for artists in the Pittsburgh and tri-state area: spreading the word.
Since its first issue in November 2008, Messy Magazine has challenged budding and established writers to craft articles on each issue’s predetermined theme, while at the same time finding fresh and unique ways to highlight all sorts of artsy goings-on in the Cleveland area. This devotion to giving exposure to artistic events led to the magazine becoming involved in this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, for which they produced the aforementioned Cleveland Film Guide to help promote the event, and participated even more directly by sponsoring one of the films screened.
Messy Magazine is headed for big things, and since their mission grooves so well with ours here at OT, it makes sense for us to pay it forward and get the word out about this wonderful publication. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Vanessa Aron, business planner and founding member of Messy Magazine, about the publication’s history, their involvement with the film festival, and what’s in the future for all things Messy.
OT Blog: How did Messy Magazine get its start?
Vanessa Aron: Messy Magazine is a project that has been in planning for quite sometime. It really started with Lauren Kirk and Michael Stidham, who both attended Cleveland State University. They had several writing classes together and really became focused on creating something that would benefit the art community in Cleveland. They were really looking for an outlet for their creative expression. Lauren is a writer, and Michael is an amazing visual artist who also writes amazingly well. I am jealous of their skills!
Lauren and I both interned for the Cleveland Free Times, but during separate summers. We had a mutual acquaintance, and my involvement with the magazine came about simply through run-ins and conversations with her about our current professional states and about how changes could be made in the arts community of Cleveland. There is so much going on here; there are art galleries left and right and a ton of people creating a lot of interesting stuff. It’s a bit uncollected, though, and unless you’re knee-deep into the arts community, it’s easy to miss a lot of the goings-on in the city.
Professionally, both Lauren and I were in interesting situation. I had been laid off and I was looking for something I could focus on and would give me a sense of self-worth. Losing my job was strange because I am someone who really needs to have a packed schedule to get things done, and suddenly I had all this free time, and I was unsure how to fill my days.
The serious planning stages started in February after Lauren and I went out for drinks one evening. I arrived home that night, and I couldn’t sleep because the wheels in my head started turning after this lengthy conversation about Cleveland and art that night. So instead of sleeping, I created a business plan that really became the foundation of the magazine. I emailed it to Lauren the following morning and said, “This is what we’re doing,” and it’s been going ever since. We planned through spring and summer 2008, fine tuning this and that, creating a draft of the design of the magazine, etc.
I brought Genna Petrolla (MM’s marketer) on board with the magazine last July/August. Genna and I both worked at the company I was laid off from, and I knew she’d be perfect for our mission. She is amazingly talented, and our work strengths balance each other very well.
So our first issue came out in November 2008. And people started to take notice and we’ve been going ever since. We just distributed our fourth issue over Memorial Day weekend!
OT: Messy Magazine had some serious involvement in the Cleveland Film Festival this year, putting out not only the Film Guide, but you sponsored one of the films that was screened there. How did this partnership come about?
VA: The film festival was a f*cking blast, and it was so great being a part of all the excitement. This was the biggest year ever for the Cleveland International Film Festival. They broke attendance records on each day of the festival.
We were contacted by the Cleveland Film Society, the folks who put on the CIFF, sometime in late December, early January after they had checked out the first issue of our magazine. They thought we had a great positive outlook on the city and the arts community in Cleveland. From what I hear, there was a buzz around our magazine after our first issue, which was very cool.
We were excited when they contacted us. It was a huge deal for us only after putting out one issue. Our second issue came out the second week of January, a few days after our initial meeting with the CFS people. We decided to further our involvement with the CIFF by creating our own film guide. We shadowed the CFS crew, interviewed them, hung out in their office for a day, it was a lot of fun and they’re a great, tight group of people. Genna told me when I walked into their office I’d never want to leave, and she was so right.
The film guide was primarily, but not completely, devoted to the CIFF. We incorporated articles about the film community in and around Cleveland. The film community is HUGE here, but it’s not super known. We have the Cleveland Film Society, the Cleveland Film Commission, Cinematheque at Case Western Reserve University, the Cedar Lee Cult Film Series, Cinema Wasteland, the film school at Cleveland State University…it’s huge!
We were also fortunate to sponsor a film at the CIFF, An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrists. This was probably the perfect film for us to sponsor, as the documentary, as well as our magazine, were creations out of crises. Even more, our sponsored film was created by Cleveland natives, something we were very excited about. The film had several sold-out showings, which was great.
OT: Each of your issues seemingly has a theme, dictating the feel of that particular issue’s writings and direction. What are some of the prior themes you’ve had, what are some you hope to have in the future, and how do you and the MM team come up with what you want the focus of each issue to be?
VA: When we created the magazine, we were looking for something that would encompass an entire issue so we wouldn’t be a magazine filled with just random work. As the overseer of the artistic direction, I wanted more of a coffee table book than magazine style look. That’s why we don’t directly promote who is in the issue on the front cover.
I’m a visual person, and I love photos and the use of visual work. I try to incorporate just as many images and photos as written work into each issue. A lot of the photos are my own as well, so I feel like I am also expanding my creative horizons, because I’m always out and about snapping images of random things to incorporate into each issue and the design.
I think overall the theme is our way of holding creative control over the entire operation. We also believe the use of a theme can fuel more creativity and more great work.
The downfall with using a theme is that if it makes no sense, or if people don’t understand it, they either won’t submit something, or they just submit whatever. We will and do accept work from anyone, anywhere, theme-related or not, but we do try to push the use of the theme. We are learning and becoming more aware of how simplistic or complex a theme can be, and really it’s an issue by issue thing.
Our first theme was Mad at Monday. It was a fun first theme to start out with because everyone has something to say about Mondays and the beginning of the work week—or if you don’t have a job, what Mondays mean when you are out of work. We had some pretty humorous submissions, so it was a lot of fun to put together.
Our latest issue, Emerge and See, was to the Messy Magazine group the most important and I suppose the most emotionally invested theme yet. There is a lot going on worldwide, regionally through the rustbelt, and specifically in Cleveland. We are trying to change attitudes that cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit are not dead; they just need to look around and realize what potential they have and change their attitudes. I think we are off to a great start. We see big things coming our way!
OT: On that same token, what would you like to see in the future for MM?
VA: This is the perfect time for that question. We are sort of in what I would call a resetting phase. We are currently in the process of collectively reviewing what the magazine is and what we want it to become. We are on the brink of some really cool changes, which will be for the better. We are in the process of becoming a quarterly magazine. We want to focus our energies toward each theme and issue much more than we can at this point. We really want to fuel the creative world around us and really show everyone that there are amazing full-time, part-time, and seasonal artists in this world that are not showing at the MoMA, the MOCA, or wherever. These people have real jobs and also have a creative side, so we want to better ourselves to better show off what we see. Stay tuned! Summer ‘09 is going to be Messy Magazine’s own Emerge and See.
Many thanks to Messy Magazine and Vanessa for helping us out, and for getting the word out about nearby artists—a cause we can certainly support!
Check out their current issue, as well as back issues, at http://www.messymagazine.org/
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