June #82 : Bloodless, Still Gutsy - by Stanya Kahn

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Bloodless, Still Gutsy



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June 2002

Bloodless, Still Gutsy

by Stanya Kahn

Self-mutilating maestro Ron Athey on new work, old wounds and those three-hour enemas

Last Profiled in POZ December 1997

The meds made mortality a less pressing issue for me than back when congressmen were cursing out my work. But not dying as expected causes other dilemmas! You spend over a decade preparing for it, and suddenly you're 40 and don't know how to live -- how to think beyond a couple of years. So instead, in my art, I went even further back to the initial source.

The new show we just took to Hamburg is called Joyce, my mother's name. This is probably the strangest piece I've ever done. It's about my matrilineage of Pentecostal schizophrenic women: The aunt who's religious but sexually compulsive, the grandmother who has a prophet complex, and the mother who is disassociated and spastic and institutionalized since 1969. The female incest, epileptic seizures, compulsive cleaning -- my new work is all the neuroses I come from.

I think sexuality is magic and spiritual. It's also unhealthy, dangerous and insane. We don't always operate from our rational minds. That's why you fetishize, get into degrading play -- you're working through self-hatred. By living out being a piece of shit, you can stop feeling like a piece of shit.

I have a fun time with my Swiss boyfriend. We've been together for two and a half years. He's negative, so that's probably the thing that makes my HIV most real to me now. Things that were once low risk become a greater risk, and I go through paranoid periods with that.

One thing I was always accused of was presenting sexuality in an "unhealthy" way in my work. Which I had a good laugh over. I was making this link to my grandmother and aunt's incestuous relationship -- these women who douched each other with betadine everyday -- and realizing that that was why I was giving myself three-hour enemas.

Something that grounds me is gardening. I have three yards. I feel like I'm creating a little paradise, and I'm ever inspired by the Southern California vibe. That's why I live in a cottage with herbs, flowers and weird cacti, not in a loft downtown.

Crying hasn't been easy for me. I was on a plane watching a movie with Sharon Stone on death row, and I almost cried. I thought, "Bitch, you haven't cried in 10 years, and you're gonna cry over Shaz?!" But recently I got an update about my mom's persistent mental illness and cried. It's hard to remember that things don't stop when you leave. They continue -- to deteriorate, in this case.

The last thing that made me laugh? Talking about what made me cry.




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