Wu Tsang’s voice is cheerful, if a little winded, when she answers the phone: “I’m in a fitting, but I can talk.” The New York– and Berlin-based artist is a week into filming a 23-minute experimental documentary about the origins of house music, which will premiere at Frieze New York. Tomorrow, she is scheduled to shoot drag icon Kevin Aviance. Tonight, they have to figure out what he’s going to wear.
She may be at an in-between moment, but to Tsang, 36, liminality feels like home. “Identity is a word I don’t subscribe to—I’m just a human who is drawn to others who experience or have an understanding of hybridity,” she says. “With all the different ways we might feel like we do or don’t fit in, I’m interested in what happens when we let go of that framework and just exist the way we do.”
Tsang doesn’t care to be described as a “trans artist,” but, as an activist, she’s invested in the conversations happening around trans politics, as well as the commodification of trans culture and social media’s role in accelerating that process. Her yet-to-be-named film, created in partnership with Gucci, broaches these ideas through a pair of what Tsang calls “parallel antagonisms”: the gentrification of New York City’s neighborhoods and the appropriation of the music, dance, and fashion of queer communities of color.
What her documentary doesn’t do is wallow in nostalgia. “With really cool moments, people are always like, ‘Oh, it’s not like it used to be,’” Tsang says. “But when they were happening, people weren’t patting themselves on the back, saying, ‘We’re creating a seminal movement.’” In the documentary, co-produced by Ladin Awad and boychild, this idea is presented through a reimagining of time itself. For instance, Aviance, a fixture at long-shuttered clubs such as Palladium, exists in the year 2021, while Kia LaBeija, a contemporary dancer and visual artist, represents the ’90s. “We’re playing with this idea of the characters existing in multiple dimensions,” she says. But at this particular moment, Tsang is being called back to the racks to decide how a drag queen from the future might dress: “I have to go—they’re choosing Kevin’s outfit right now, and it’s really important!”