6 Performing Artists Pushing The Envelope

Art doesn't exist in a vacuum, and performers don't have to simply stick to the script. That's especially true of these acts, which confront difficult topics and break new ground with performances that are surprising, controversial, and eye-opening. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

6 Cutting-Edge Performance Artists

Performer Areas of Emphasis
Sasha Velour Drag queen famous for striking visual performances and pushing the boundaries of drag on season 9 of "RuPaul's Drag Race."
Dynasty Handbag Character by Jibz Cameron known for off-the-wall shows and hosting "Weirdo Night" in Los Angeles
Allison Wyper Creates site-specific, participatory encounters that invite spectators to join the experience and confront uncomfortable social and political situations
Geraldo Mercado Multimedia artist who creates kinetic pieces that use his body as a canvas for outlandish and shocking theatrical storytelling
Mirabelle Jones Multi-disciplinary creator taking on societal issues such as sexual harassment and heart disease, using technology to build interactive experiences
Jex Blackmore Focuses on the relationship between religion, sexuality, and public policy, taking aim at institutions of social oppression by bringing pieces to public spaces with a particular emphasis on reproductive health

Dynasty Handbag Presents Masterpiece Weirdo

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Sasha Velour on the Power of Drag

In Depth

There's nothing wrong with enjoying a traditional performance of a classic song or play, but sometimes it's good to go outside the box and experience art with a more challenging edge. These are the kinds of works that use innovative, unorthodox methods to provoke and unsettle, creating interactive opportunities for audiences to encounter the world in bold new ways. For those hankering for some creative audacity, here are, in no particular order, six performing artists who aren't afraid to push the envelope.

At #1 is Sasha Velour, a gender-fluid drag queen and visual artist. In 2017, she earned national renown after winning the ninth season of the reality TV competition "RuPaul's Drag Race," and subsequently invested her prize money into her acclaimed theater show "Nightgowns," which she directs and hosts. Through her live, multi-media performances, as well as her significant work in cultural advocacy, graphic design, and publishing, Velour strives to generate new spaces and opportunities for LGBTQ artists to thrive.

Velour's shows are characterized by a combination of theatrical stunts and emotional intimacy, and often include her signature lip-sync drag performances, for which she pioneered a projection mapping method. In 2019 she began touring her first one-queen show, "Smoke & Mirrors," a blend of drag, magic, and the arts that has Velour sawing herself in half and transforming into a tree, among other tricks. The show uses such illusions to meditate on ideas of gender and fame, and features the music of such luminaries as Judy Garland, Nina Simone, and Annie Lennox.

Velour's shows are characterized by a combination of theatrical stunts and emotional intimacy, and often include her signature lip-sync drag performances, for which she pioneered a projection mapping method.

For #2 we have Jibz Cameron, known for her bawdy performance alter ego Dynasty Handbag. Spanning over a decade, her work as Dynasty has been presented at institutions such as the Broad and Hammer Museums in Los Angeles and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. The shows revolve around her outrageous, subversive character, who takes on an array of forms as she addresses everything from queerness to global politics and art history.

Cameron's shows as Dynasty Handbag include "Good Morning Evening Feelings," a wild spoof of talk shows, and "Soggy Glasses, A Homo's Odyssey," which sends up Homer's epic poem through a feminist lens. "Shell of a Woman," meanwhile, starts as a PowerPoint presentation before spiraling into dance numbers and surreal monologues. In addition, Cameron acts in film, theater, and TV, and does lectures and workshops on subjects related to performance and comedy. She has also created myriad video works and produced original music albums.

Showing up at #3 is Allison Wyper. A movement-oriented artist located in LA, Wyper devises site-specific, participatory encounters that foster close collaboration and exchange with audiences. Some of her works, such as "Witness" and "Your Photo-Op with Abby Ghraib," invite spectators to enter into the scene and make moral judgments about how to act. Other performances are informed by the multilayered histories of Los Angeles, using collective action and video documentation to excavate social memories embedded in the city's spaces.

A movement-oriented artist located in LA, Wyper devises site-specific, participatory encounters that foster close collaboration and exchange with audiences.

Additional works by Wyper include "Birthing a Nation," a collaborative performance ritual that uses maternal imagery and found audio recordings to condemn police brutality, the NRA, and the patriarchal structures that enable them. For "The Lovers ," she and a fellow performer recreated the iconic painting in front of the Sepulveda Dam, among other places. Since 2012, Wyper has also been engaged in "Encounter," a practice in which a diverse group of artists meet to create impromptu performances at different venues across LA.

For #4 we arrive at Geraldo Mercado. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Massachusetts, Mercado moved to New York City in 2008, where he was introduced to performance art while serving as the video production manager for a non-profit cultural center. Exploiting his high tolerance for pain, his performances center on the kinetic and masochistic use of his body, which he pushes to physical extremes as a means of interrogating empathy and identity. He also channels these themes in his experimental video art, where he employs minimalist animation to evocative effect.

One of Mercado's boundary-pushing performances was "Nighttime Club," which he created for a Brooklyn festival in 2013. In the hour-long piece, the artist dragged cinder blocks tied to his wrists around a ballroom, all while he was nude and being lashed by female performers. A similarly grueling project was "Bubblegum Bubblegum," in which he provoked the audience to decide how much punishment he was to endure. There was also "Pienso Luego Existo," a musical exploration of Latino experience, and "Do You Understand Me?," a commentary on masculinity using soup, pillow feathers, and Mercado's beard.

In the hour-long piece, the artist dragged cinder blocks tied to his wrists around a ballroom, all while he was nude and being lashed by female performers.

Landing at #5 is Mirabelle Jones, a queer, non-binary creator who writes, performs, and makes multi-media visual art. Their performances, which have been held in gallery windows as well as on city sidewalks, address such issues as sexual harassment, climate change, gentrification, gun violence, and LGBTQ visibility. Reflecting their commitment to social justice, Jones is a certified domestic violence and sexual assault crisis counselor, and founded an organization that nurtures the development of creative works to help raise funds for survivor resources.

Beyond their performances, many of Jones' works involve manipulated objects and interactive technologies such as sensors, 3D printing, and computer vision. For "Book Reads You," the artist used a book sculpture equipped with a Kinect camera to turn the physical gestures of spectators into a verbal story. "Asystole" does something similar by transforming viewers' heartbeats into music as they look at 3D-printed pages. Also notable is Jones' "Porcupine Wearable," a spiked, sense-responsive harness that visibly reacts to the stress levels of its wearer.

Finally, for #6 we come to Jex Blackmore, whose Satanist, activist-focused work emphasizes the interrelations between politics, religious rhetoric, and sexuality. Challenging institutions that perpetuate social and reproductive oppression, she brings her transgressive performances to public spaces such as the outsides of women's health clinics and state capitols. Blackmore is responsible for coordinating the 2015 Satanic gathering in Detroit, which became the largest of its kind in history.

Challenging institutions that perpetuate social and reproductive oppression, she brings her transgressive performances to public spaces such as the outsides of women's health clinics and state capitols.

Blackmore has taken sundry approaches to attacking repressive political and religious systems. In 2015, she had clergy drench women in milk in order to disrupt protests against Planned Parenthood. Equally focused on reproductive rights were the performance installation "Milk Mother" and the protest piece "The Future of Baby is Now," which involved self-flagellating performers dressed in baby masks and bondage gear. Satanic ritual performances such as "The Sabbat Cycle" and "Subversive Autonomous," meanwhile, incited participants to achieve liberation through indulgence and disobedience.