Kieran Butler celebrates their non-binary identity using the illusion, transformation and magic of drag and photography. They shared, ‘the foundation for my practice comes from Photography and understanding what its materiality is. From the materiality of photography I moved towards my materiality – who am I, what makes me this person, and what will inform the person I am going to become.’ The artist’s new body of work comprises a collection of fitted bed sheets and quilt covers which have been digitally printed with photographic works as well as one on one silent disco drag performances and text works that reflect conversations Butler has had with friends and colleagues in the LGBTQI+ community.
What is it about photography as a medium that makes it the perfect fit for your message?
Photography is the perfect medium because it is never exclusively one thing. For example, I mean that photography is always an image and an object at the same time – one is never really removed or differentiated from the other. Whether an image is displayed on a screen or displayed as a print there’s always an element of ‘objectness’ to the image. Photography is a medium that truly fits into a non-binary framework and so is the perfect medium to explore LGBTQI+ identities and lived experiences because they fit into the same kind of idea that nothing is ever exclusively one thing or static.
In a few of your images the protagonist is holding a smartphone. Do you riff on notions of the ‘selfie’?
100% I riff on notions of the selfie. The selfie is a marker of the Millennial generation but also has a lot of associations with identity online and IRL, and both being fluid – again playing into philosophies of the non-binary. It’s also featured for pragmatic reasons – my phone is my wireless shutter release. It allows me to control my camera from a distance because I typically work solo during a shoot.
The make-up you apply highlights the face would you say it is also a mask?
It’s definitely a mask, but not one for concealing, one for revealing. At the moment my ensembles are about myself – they’re basically my everyday wardrobe elevated to a level of hyper-real-Kieran – my drag.
How were you introduced to drag and how has it enabled your art-practice?
My earliest memory of drag is from when I was a very young child, maybe three or four. I was at the shops with mum and there was a person who looked like a man wearing ‘women’s’ clothes. They were explained to me as being a transvestite or a person who lives like a drag queen without the hyped-glamour. As a child I was so fascinated by this person and how they presented themselves – it’s a memory I’ve never let go of. As I’ve grown I’ve learned how nuanced gender identity is and that drag means something different for everyone and can be applied to many different contexts. Moving through art school I steered clear of content that was political or personal in nature. Many of my peers would comment on how “queer” my work was even in a still life format. These comments combined with that memory and modes of drag have enabled my practice to move forward from the single subject of photography. Figuring out what my drag is has been a real learning experience allowing myself and my practice to become more authentic – maybe more hyper real too. It gives my work more entry points to communicate with a more diverse audience.
Why did the Greek story of Castor and Pollux appeal to you as a narrative to re-cast?
The story of Castor and Pollux for me has a two-fold meaning. On a superficial level my zodiac sign is Gemini and I have a twin brother – mythology and systems of magical thinking have always fascinated me. On a deeper level the mythology surrounding the figures of Castor and Pollux – who make up the constellation Gemini – deals with themes such as composite families, machismo, community, support, re-birth, and the associated trauma of these transformative experiences. These are some themes that resonate, in my experience at least, with the LGBTQI+ community (if not all people) and experiences of identity formation.
19 September to 7 October, 2018
Australian Capital Territory