“The Routine of Forgetting” by Julz Hale Mary
1. Is there a specific way you want viewers to interact/react to your artwork, and what kind of relationship do you wish them to have with your piece?
I hope they interact by laughing, honestly, but I know my pieces carry a very specific, morbid sense of humor. I hope they talk about it with each other. If they cannot find humor or if the work does not spark conversations then I hope someone can see how much labor I put into my art. I do everything by myself like a bootstrap fanatic who doesn’t even believe in bootstrap culture except for themselves. But I guess when your shit is really good no one can tell how hard you worked so I will repeat this obsessively when they don’t.
2. Do you ever find that people are jealous of the freedom you have, to be flamboyant/ so unapologetically yourself?
Great question about jealousy and almost makes me think you are very intuitive for bringing that up. I have explored this a lot. Firstly I have real privilege. My white skin and education and stealthy-ass “daylight” gender makes it easier to be anywhere in San Francisco, the most privileged place in the world. And jealousy? Yes, I have had experiences where people objectify me because I create personas that look as though I am thriving and doing so with a graceful, perfectly crafted vengeance (hence the word “crafted”). My creations and characters purposely reject the way the white patriarchy wants me, “some version of a white woman”, to exist. Typically the system wants to see all marginalized people drown in the limitations of our learned roles and trauma. Should we become educated about our oppression through an institution, that institution continually reminds us of how inferior we feel. It says we can only gain access to resources by becoming tokens or by being competitive, so we fight each other any way we can. If we are into theory or sociology, we fight over who has suffered more to achieve more. If I am creating work that deflects that pressure– or that even transforms that victim energy into this flamboyant, fun, carefree persona–then yeah. People think that shit is real, that I am doing great, haven’t been through shit, probably came from money and that I can handle their suffering and almost deserve to. That’s a lot of assumptions, and a lot of assumptions made through classic, unconscious misogyny.
As a performer I was treated in a similar way people treat female pop stars where there are these super dichotomous feelings—she is holier than thou or someone to be ripped apart; neither are seeing the person. And I think performers get stripped of a lot of their humanity in this way. It’s funny because, unlike female pop stars, I am not insulated by wealth, I do not have an entire team crafting my image, I don’t have the popularity or a mansion to ease the insults. So the roller coaster ride of putting yourself out there even as “a little nobody artist” is a huge risk in both underground and mainstream communities where the world would rather see you suffer from a rock-throwing than see you taste a crumb from the moldy pie. I took a step back from live performance for this reason. After a while, I just actually didn’t feel seen at all, which was not really why I got into performance, so I am still taking a break from it as a live spectacle and in the last couple years moved mainly into visual art.
3. Your spirit of femme empowerment really inspires me. When was it that you first explored your high femme and boi genders?
Well if I think “when” it was as a kid. When children grow up in an abusive household, there is always one of them who deals with parentification without consent, rising to the occasion when there’s abuse and attempting to protect those abused. I was that person in my family, and so I channeled my rage, my feelings that no one had time for, into role play. As a young child I role played men and women and would put on whole scenes I created on the spot. One time I played my grandma who would rage in public. I had a purse as a prop and threw it on the table in the living room as it were a counter, demanding someone fix their mistake. I was fabulous. Jerry Springer also opened my eyes to every queer and trans identity you can think of, and I never missed an episode, secretly staying up late to watch it at night so I could act out the scenes the next day with my friends. That’s the bliss of being queer; you can use happy pieces of your childhood every day in your life as an adult. Or even makeup pieces of that childhood. I think many of my mental health issues as a cis, straight woman came from role-play repression and all the never-ending “rules” of heteronormativity. I would literally show symptoms of shutting down from the wardrobe rules alone. Besides, beige can make anyone depressed (which now I queer, obviously).
A lot of this femme exploration happened in my mid-twenties in the queer clubs when I also took self-portraits with a laptop camera. My “boi” genders are a queering of masculinity. But as a trans, non-binary, queer person, I use femme empowerment as a way to live a fantasy. I create this “give no fucks” femme person who calls out abuse, casts away male hatred, and loves being fat, breaking the “rules” about looks, or embracing “crazy,” “ugly” and “improper.” She lives her life imperfectly with celebration. When a femme person steps into her power, she might as well take on “crazy” as a pronoun because that is how the world treats her. I always think about Xmen characters like Jean Grey or Storm and how they are so powerful because all of their power is coming from within them. I mean, Rogue can kill men with a kiss! It’s wonderful to step into that power, even if it does feel like a performance because the performance allows you to believe it even for a couple of hours. Over time this has improved my self-esteem when I am not performing. Slowly I sort of become closer to my fantasy heroes. Also, it’s fun to shock people with loving yourself unconditionally. I mean, that’s all it is, and somehow that is sacrilegious.
4. Your piece description for Night Light mentions queering a memory from the late 90s/early 2000s. Can you talk a little more about the specifics of this memory and how your piece grew from it?
It’s about my experience with rape culture in the early 2000s as a 15-year-old who started going out with my friend to college parties (hence the black light poster idea). Restriction ran my life, and I could never have my feelings, so alcohol was the opposite extreme for me and my portal into becoming someone else—someone I never remembered. So I had my first make out, first sexual experience, everything black out drunk. I would take 11 shots, and the college men would pour them and then I would wake up in a college apartment or dorm and have zero recollection. That creates a body dysmorphia and addiction to abandoning a body you learn not to trust—a body which lays out waiting to be violated (a survivor’s though process). So yeah. It’s about that, and how you feel after doing it four times a week for six years—like a dysmorphic body blow-up doll.
In the media, there was the popular rape case about the Stanford woman. That bro raped her. She described in her letter to the press that she woke up in the hospital and just heard there was an accident, and she did not remember what happened. She described justifying the previous night away because she did not remember even though she woke up in a hospital, even though they told her “something happened,” even as she reached for her missing underwear. It’s so sad to think that having your rape validated as rape is a “privilege” and that in her case, it was unquestioned mostly likely because two men reported it. But it’s true. Most women who drink just internalize that shit over and over and over. It’s a merry-go-round that can run someone into the ground.
5. What did your process look like for this particular body of work? Was it different than your usual process?
I guess you could call this piece a subjective portrayal since it’s a soft sculpture and I usually do self-portraits. My process starts with a feeling that turns into an idea that matches my personal story-telling with some systemic analysis of the world. This piece is in line with that process. It jumps from me remembering what is felt like somatically to wake up drunk without memory; and if something sexual did happen you don’t remember, and you blame yourself, so your body begins to feel heavy, like a blob. Cool. A blob. Make a blob!
I follow these trains of thoughts and then that leads me to systemic analysis like how teenage girls aren’t allowed to have sexual agency, they can only respond passively to men’s desires so they cannot explore unconsciously, equally, with men. Young men are conditioned to take anyone’s sexuality, and as they age there is a bro code that allows this to happen all the time. What were bros into during this period when you were a teen who started partying? Oh yeah, black light posters. Wow, those were tacky. How funny would it be it queer one of those things and flip the script?
The most unusual part of this process was how much EASIER it felt to photograph a representation of myself through an object rather than my actual self. I liked it a whole lot and can see the appeal of photographers taking breaks from self-portraits to externalize feelings in more abstract ways.
6. When do you think you first learned that “polite society” was absurd?
Polite society is a polite way of saying “white culture,” so I am facetious there. It’s absurd because it’s the most violent society, and that juxtaposition of it being both polite and incredibly violent never sat well with me due to personal experiences with violent loss (polite description). Most of my art stares that construction in the face since white culture constructed my face. I think it’s important to do as a white person–like do it on a personal level and see how you engage its seductive evils. White culture is so hellbent on preserving the violence in the most absurd ways like politely out buying your apartment, politely sanitizing the streets by passing policies that ticket homeless people, politely cleaning the streets by getting cops to kill you, politely shaping the genders and sexualities of kids through cute little clothes, plastic, sanitized toys, and boxes with balloons they use for gender parties. Politely creating nonprofits to oppress people who do not act normatively. Politely shaking hands and signing papers to politely start wars. Everyone gets played. These polite little everyday gestures kill people (and do so “passively” through people committing suicide) and so I think it’s a joke—or “absurd” if you will. Polite society isn’t a kind society. And that’s a polite way of putting it.
About Julz Hale Mary:
Julz Hale Mary is a performance, visual and public artist who exposes the absurdity of polite society. They create custom graphics for fabric, design original fashion pieces, make experimental films and take self-portraits. Julz began performing in gay nightclubs in San Francisco where they first explored their high femme and boi genders. They expanded their performance and visual art practices to both galleries and the public sphere, embodying spirits of femme empowerment by taking repressed stereotypes and liberating them through a queer lens.
About the interviewer:
Olivia Reed is a rising senior at Oberlin College, originally from The Bay Area. She studies English and Studio Art, with figure painting/drawing as a favorite medium.