I make performance—whether face-to-face, live online, or experienced as a prerecorded video or audio file. Using spoken language as my primary medium, I appropriate formats of oral address, such as celebrity confessions, locker room motivations, guided meditations, pop songs, and the kind of formulaic speeches required of American high school students in speech and debate class. My work playfully defamiliarizes these stylized formats. It asks questions about how we use the content and sound of words as tools of rhetoric. I am interested in the fundamental concerns that motivate and, at times, flummox our efforts at vocal persuasion, especially anxieties about human agency, personhood, and gender. After all, "voice" suggests individualized expression and personal perspective, and the capacity for speech has long been used to differentiate human from non-human animals, despite the devastating implications for people with speech disabilities. Ask Siri what Aristotle has to say about so-called lower animals lacking speech; think about what spoken language does to animate our constructions of the human and the delightful, terrifying humanesque. Ask her.
I obsessively return to standardized oral formats—I keep manipulating and performing them, sometimes speaking while holding a script (139 Assisted Confessions, 24-Hour Confession), sometimes using a voice produced by my computer's text-to-speech function (Automatic Teller, Information, Hashtagconfession)—to expose the tension between the scripted and the spontaneous barely concealed by Artificial Intelligence. This is also the exquisite tension that lies underneath conventional theatre, which dramatizes human agency through predetermined language and the actor's extemporaneous emotional expression. I cut my teeth in theatre. I owe a debt to it. I continue to practice, alongside my work in gallery-based performance.
Despite the general move away from orality (the replacement of phone calls with texts, for example), we continue to value oral expression as a marker of authenticity. The sound of the voice doesn't matter much, and yet it really, really does. I sink into this contradiction—in all its tragicomedy—when I make performance. I ask audiences to listen for the hard work of emotional truth, failed, successful. I fuck with the sound of words. Sometimes, that kind of fucking sounds like music, as in the live performances 24-Hour Confession and Apologia(Skydance), collaborations with musician/sound designer Seth Warren-Crow. Sometimes, such messing around sounds unsettling, as in the video There Is Something in Good Men That Really Yearns for Discipline, for which I digitally lowered the pitch of my voice and used it to ventriloquize an avatar of my toddler son. The phrase "having a voice" means having power in the public sphere. Having, performing, downloading, and digitally altering voices is, in my work, playing with that power, troubling as it can be, a kind of dark play that acknowledges the dangers and perverse pleasures of using voices.