BOYCHILD IN PARIS, JULY 2013. STYLING: GEORGE CORTINA. HAIR: ANTHONY TURNER/ART PARTNER. MAKEUP: MARY CARRASQUILLO/ART PARTNER. MANICURE: SOPHY ROBSON/STREETERS LONDON. SET DESIGN: JEAN HUGHES DE CHATILLON.
My phone call with the Los Angeles-based unnamed artist who goes by the stage name boychild is a last resort after several attempts to connect by Skype. “Are you into astrology at all?” is the first thing she says. “Mercury’s been in retrograde, and everything’s been so technically and technologically difficult.” Though she dismisses her interest in astrology as “a California thing,” her preoccupation with embodying modern mysticism has led to one of the most original performance-art acts in recent years. Growing up in Northern California in the 1990s, she dabbled in photography amid San Francisco’s drag scene. The beginnings of boychild—the name she took on around 2011—emerged after conducting research on non-Western shamans and clowns as inspiration for a friend’s dance thesis in Berlin. “It was the spark that turned into a blazing fire,” she says.
Boychild often sports a shaved head, unnaturally tinted contact lenses, and an evolving palette of full-body makeup. On stage, she may hold strobe lights in her mouth and hands. This complements hypnotic, seizure-like thrashing—the finer details of which she improvises, borrowing from the anarchic post-WWII Japanese dance genre Butoh. As in Butoh, boychild’s movements involve violent twisting and jerking that convey bodily torment, but she’s updated her stylings for the digital age. “It’s like the physical body turning into a cyborg,” she says. “It’s like a glitch; there’s a repetitive thing that happens. It’s moving slow, but also fast.”
While honing her persona, she caught the eye of Shayne Oliver, who was building his then-fledging streetwear label Hood by Air. Boychild’s wild, gender-bending “freak show,” as she has described it, expressed Oliver’s radical aspirations. Stomping and writhing, she walked down the runway for the brand’s fall 2013 show alongside A$AP Rocky. It was clear to all that she was something totally new and intriguing, in part because no one knew what to make of her: Man or woman? Model or dancer? Hyper-alive or zombie? The appearance quickly led to other collaborations, many occupying a similar space straddling art, fashion, and music—most notably with musician Mykki Blanco on tour and with Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai at a performance at New York’s MoMA PS1 this past spring. Recently, she starred in artist Wu Tsang’s film A Day in the Life of Bliss, in which she played Blis, a character based on boychild and named after an earlier drag persona. Also in the works is an under-wraps MTV project.
With things moving so fast, it’s surprising that she describes herself as sentimental. “I get overwhelmed,” she says, reflecting on the ephemerality of internet culture. “[Performance] is my way of interpreting it while being sentimental, but also, emotional, powerful, and critical.”