This year we’ve joined forces with the wisdom of Mary Paterson to further engage us all with three artists at the heart of this year’s SACRED: David Hoyle (21-22 November), Mamoru Iriguchi (26-27 November) and Stacy Makishi (28-29 November). Mary will be launching three interviews with each of them, over the course of the next three weeks, allowing a unique insight into their processes and practices. This week, David Hoyle divulges: I, Victim
“For someone like me, “ says David Hoyle – by which he means someone who’s been involved in activism since the late 1970s, “the world we are living in today is a nightmarish vision.” Treated with the utmost distrust by our government, pressurised to conform to an ideal of perfection, and entangled in systems that destroy our environment, “our true natures” as human beings, he says, “are not reflected in this planet.”
I, Victim is the new show from this legendary anti-drag queen. Directed by Nick Blackburn, it will be a “multi-media extravaganza” that’s as much a response to a crisis of culture as it is to Hoyle’s experience of mental illness. Hoyle starts as he means to continue – in typical fashion, even the title of this latest project is clever, concise and heart-breaking. I, Victim skewers the language of suffering that surrounds mental illness, lambasts the conditions of citizenship in the world today (“perpetual war,” he says “… that makes me feel like a victim”), at the same time as it breezily references the 1970s TV show, I, Claudius.
As tongue-in-cheek emperor of the stage, then, Hoyle manages to reverse the trick carried out by “the era of the narcissist”. If the world at large celebrates individualism at the expense of the (spied upon, advertised to) individual, this show does the opposite. It aims to explore the curative nature of collective responsibility, through the celebration of different identities. Anti-individualism, perhaps, delivered via the medium of David Hoyle’s inimitable and explosive stage presence.“
I imagine it’s a marmite experience,” says Hoyle, sardonically, his voice dripping with the knowledge that he attracts a fanatic, cult following. Performing in glamorous women’s clothes with a deep, deadpan voice, David Hoyle wanders effortlessly across just about every boundary you can imagine. His intellect is matched only by his formidable talent, and he wears both with a casual ease that disarms the audience and invites us to share his world.
Of course, there is a healthy amount of cynical disdain in there as well. He may have killed off his extreme alter ego, The Divine David, in 2000, but Hoyle still demands “total fucking silence now please” on stage, and his excessive performances have a serious point to make.
When it comes to I, Victim, the point is not simply that our culture makes people ill (“…it doesn’t help”, is as far as Hoyle will go, his words measured but his voice vibrating with emotion). It is, more importantly, that art can make us better. Art is both a “tonic and a distraction,” he says, a kind of “occupational therapy”. He is currently exhibiting a collection of paintings as part of the Homotopia festival in Liverpool. They were produced at a time when, he says with marked understatement, “life went a bit haywire.” Hoyle painted in order to have a dialogue with someone, even if it was just himself.
If the paintings mark a full stop on that period (“it’s really weird seeing them all together”), the performance I, Victim extends the conversation. Hoyle says he hopes the show will give people empowerment and strength – either as a way to think through their own problems, or to understand other people’s. After all, Hoyle says, everyone has got mental health issues. “And I truly believe,” he continues, “that every human being is an artist.”
That last comment is more generous than you think. Hoyle describes his current exhibition to me on the phone: the paintings are slogans on colourful backgrounds, he says, “ because I like the bright colours.” Later, I look at some pictures online and realise this was another skyscraper of understatement. The pictures are alive with vigorous brushstrokes: canvasses crisscrossed with colour or dripping with wet paint, palimpsests of feeling, layered with lacerating slogans like “I’m finished” or “addiction and delusion have kept me going.”
Likewise, Hoyle’s stage presence is a storm of emotion– he splashes between abrasive humour, emotional honesty and political commentary in a way that leaves audiences gasping to keep up. And yet it’s the veracity of these personal transformations that gives us room to breathe again: each persona beats with humility, and offers a glimpse of potential difference to those of us watching.
Yes, we may all make aesthetic decisions every day – ”did you choose your socks this morning?” – asks Hoyle, to make his point – but most of us are not artistically skilled enough to diagnose, navigate or expresss the distresses in this world, let alone the love that might ameliorate them.
And that is what David Hoyle wants more of: love. It should be pure, he says, and unconditional. The world is falling apart, and love is the only thing that can help it heal. This surprising and genuine soft-heartedness bleeds through Hoyle’s dazzling performances and provides the key to his generosity.
Hoyle believes that art is a communal experience – for both audience members and artists. And he believes that communal experiences can generate love, in the face of an imperialistic, narcissistic and militarised capitalism. By creating these experiences, he is offering art as a way of coping with the simple difficulties of being alive today. And, whilst he can deftly lampoon a Tory slogan, as well as raise two fingers to the idea of sloganeering in general, David Hoyle also really believes it when he says, “we’re all in this together.”
Mary Paterson is a writer and curator. She is the co-founder of Open Dialogues, which produces writing on and as performance. In 2014 she established up Something Other, a collaborative programme of research that explores the relationships between live art and digital culture. David Hoyle’s I, Victim directed by Nick Blackburn is showing at Chelsea Theatre on 21st and 22nd of November at 8.45pm. Tickets can be booked here.