Nick Alciati

The 9th iteration of the Re: Art Show organized by alumni Erin Davis and Max C Lee

The ninth iteration of Re: Art Show, Re:Re:Re:Re:Re:Re:Re:Re:Re:, Opening Saturday, March 18th from 6-10pm, up through April 15th.

This month Erin and Max have invited two guest curators, Alice Sparkly Kat and Patrick McNabb, to combine their separate-but-similar ideas into a dynamic exhibition about sexuality, gender, queerness, and subculture.

Highlights include:

  • A performance by trans wave band Deadname on the night of the opening (8pm).

  • Issues of Newspaper, created by Marcelo Gabriel Yáñez, a revival of Steve Lawrence’s publication of the same name from 1969, will be on display and for sale. 50% of proceeds go to ACLU, with the rest going directly to the artist.

Participating artists include: Ariel Jackson, Nandi Loaf, Adam Boothman, Ellis von Sternberg, Willie Stewart, Parissah Lin, Branch Ashton Hudgins, Nick Alciati, Zalika Azim, Elinor Carucci, Matthew Morrocco, Bryson Rand, Krista Louise Smith, and Pacifico Silano.

Nick Alciati with Laura Parnes

© Nick Alciati

© Nick Alciati

© Nick Alciati 

© Nick Alciati 

“From the time I was little, I would develop characters. Around five years ago my brother and I created Darlene and Mildred, Southern sisters in their forties. Growing up gay in Syracuse was difficult as it is a sports town and all my friends were straight jock bros. It was really hard to find my place so I escaped to my bedroom where I could be whoever I wanted to be, which was often times, a female pop singer. I recently thought about my childhood and from there Darlene transformed into a pop star very much rooted in the fantasy.”

Nick Alciati

The following are excerpts of a conversation between Laura Parnes and Nick Alciati.

LP: Did I understand correctly, that the interior monolog that went on in your head, as a kid, was a forty-year-old woman?

NA: No, well, it was more like seventy. But about five years ago my brother and I developed these middle-aged women, Darlene and Mildred and they were obsessed with Jesus, Diet Pepsi and Wal-Mart. And Darlene always had auburn hair. So when I began graduate school I bought a wig and started to visualize her. At first I thought I could do makeup to look forty but then I thought why not just be a hot 1990s pop star. For me it was finally about being comfortable.

LP: Do you think your character Darlene exists in 2016?

NA: I’m kind of struggling at times because I’m very much present in 2016 and being comfortable with my own gender but I wanted to bring it back to those moments when I was growing up. The songs I’m referencing in the videos I’m making are from the late 1990s. That’s the time when I was developing as a young person.

LP: You have a very personal relationship to your characters. How important is that to your process?

NA: Over the past two years of developing Darlene, we’ve developed a relationship with each other. Sometimes, as Nick, I’ll even think as Darlene. My project came from a place where I was questioning my gender and sexuality so I felt the best person to play that role was myself. Also the empowerment of wearing a wig and heels is a high. And I’m much more confident being Darlene than being Nick. Since becoming Darlene I think Nick is becoming more comfortable with himself. It’s been a weird journey. At this point I’m kind of sick of Darlene and I think we might be breaking up after school. But it’s been really fun having that control as a performer.

LP: Some performance artists act out specific characters over and over again. Michael Smith’s Baby or Kalup Lindsay with his soap opera personalities. This is the case with Darlene, but once the audience becomes familiar with a specific character they feel like they can embody it too.

NA: I recently brought people into the studio to give me their best Darlene while I was playing 90s pop music. It was fun to see how people posed. Some of the males were really into it. I saw that feeling I get “this is different and fun.” And at other times some people were really freaked out.

LP: Have you performed as other characters besides Darlene?

NA: I bought a blonde wig and became a new character. Nicki’s the badass high school version of Darlene. Darlene’s the angel on my shoulder and Nicki’s the devil.

LP: How do you approach making work? Do you have a preconceived idea and then you set it up in a shoot or are you experimenting while you’re shooting?

NA: A lot is experimenting; I don't write anything out. It starts with songs; trying to recall memories I had at home alone in my room singing in front of a mirror. From there I’d research a certain female star and I think about the clothes and the location. I go through the whole song and lip sync and have someone helping me film. As I’m thinking of the music videos I'm thinking of the aesthetic and how they were originally made. The process ends up being this really repetitive thing until I have an Ashanti song stuck in my head forever.

LP: You just shot something in LA. Is that how you did it?

NA: Yeah. I really love performing on location in public–seeing people around me–and then watching myself on the screen. It’s definitely a little narcissistic. But if I was going to be reflecting back on the music videos of the time then it had to be multiple scenes to have a narrative. Lip-syncing is really difficult when you’re cutting between shots having to go back and redo it multiple times. There’s always a love/hate relationship at every stage of the process.

LP: Your work seems really connected to your own adolescence but also plays off of images and stereotypes of teenage girls as they are represented in popular culture. Your choices seem very specific in terms of what you reveal

NA: When I started visualizing Darlene I imagined her being completely female and as close to these singers as I could get. But growing up very much male–born and raised playing football–there are parts I can’t get rid of. So Darlene went from being this fun humorous pop star to me delving into ideas of gender. Suddenly I found myself wearing mid-drifts and letting my belly hair show. And, I’m not that great in heals. But I let those moments–those slippages–enter because I think it’s important to blur the binary. I think it’s important to tell that aspect of the story. Even as I’ve developed this character, I’ve developed my own gender identity. Darlene has allowed me to be more comfortable with myself.

LP: Do you think she’d ever play football?

NA: That would be fun.

LP: I’m curious about the blending or slippages you describe in relation to gender.

NA: I’m building a bedroom installation [for an exhibition] and I’m blending all those things together, [starting with my early years as a boy obsessed with Barbies, to me trying to blend in by playing football, to Darlene being a fantasy and eventually making her a reality…I’m blending both of us as characters but also as valid identities.] The next video I’m making is going to be Nick and Darlene going back and forth. That was informed through me shooting and realizing I can’t dance that well in heels, I do have traditional male body hair and I don’t tuck away any of my anatomy. I keep all that just there because it’s just me bring into question the constructs of identity and subverting that.

LP: It’s important for people to be aware that it’s not full drag.

NA: I don’t want to be passable as a female. I’m not trying to impersonate the stereotypes fully. I thought that was what I wanted at the beginning because it was fun. It was like I get to play dress-up at 27 and I could never dress up as a female when I was growing up. So it started with the baseline of “it’s fun to wear a wig, do my makeup, wear heals.” Then it moved more into delving into ideas of gender. That’s why I don’t call her a drag queen but an alter ego.

LP: There can be a power in that and an importance to it.

NA: In my experience of “high fishy drag,” as they call it, it’s more like the Hell’s Kitchen queens are lip-syncing to Britney Spears or Kesha or Madonna. They’re trying their best to be really feminine. Verses a lot of my friends in Brooklyn are sort of subverting that and not so much being the archetype of female but exploring more of an identity in a character through their performance.

LP: It’s interesting to hear you speak about an alter ego as opposed to drag.

NA: Traditionally it could be called drag but it’s much more than a performance at a bar or club. And a lot of queens have more than that as their personas.

LP: Well there’s a personal element in this character that distinguishes Darlene from just lip-syncing. Although lip-syncing to Keisha!

NA: There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s fun.

LP: It can be important too.

NA: Absolutely, it’s important. It’s important for drag to allow people to feel empowered, not to just be what they were raised to be. And escapism–having this fantasy world to escape to and seeing people do that. When I became friends with a bunch of queens I thought, “I could do this.” They’d help me with my makeup and it turned me into feeling really empowered.

But Darlene is very rooted in me being myself. To some people Darlene might be vapid. She’s more than that to me. I struggle with getting beyond the humor and these fantasy videos. I want to delve deeper into where she’s rooted.

      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Darlene is a young lady who is a pop star of sorts. As a portrait photographer, what I find most interesting about Darlene is Nick’s relationship to her.   When Nick and I discussed his fantasy character, he spoke of her as though they were the same person. I had just finished a yearlong project photographing trans men and was very excited to see how I would translate or render Darlene’s identity through my lens. The aim was to create a quasi-magazine spread for her – something similar to Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone – but I liked the idea of the pictures weaving a line between editorial and advertising, with a nod to popular imagery that we see in today’s media.       

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     I wanted Darlene to look impeccable, strong, raw, and beautiful. I chose Calvin Klein underwear for wardrobe because it is one of the most recognizable sexy garments for a young generation. Calvin Klein chooses high profile models, actors, and singers to sell their brand, and I thought Darlene would portray this ideal perfectly.  As much as she's making a declaration in her Calvins, Darlene also deserves to be seen as an earnest lady. She has a story to tell, and I imagined that she would want to show us her chic side wearing fur and an up-do.  Watching Nick become Darlene was the highlight of this collaboration. Nick required little direction, and quickly understood what I wanted Darlene to exude – lips slightly parted, eyes a bit starstruck, an attitude of take me or leave me, but please want me. Within seconds he seamlessly transitioned into Darlene, and revealed the many facets of her personality – just the way she needed us to see them.   Melody Melamed       

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


    
 Initially I had no idea that having an alter ego would take me on a two-year photographic journey. My thesis project “xoxo, Darlene” began as an unspoken hought, and soon this imaginary friend developed into a full-fledged, realized identity.  
 Darlene became a part of me throughout my graduate studies, but it was this carefully focused photo shoot that allowed her inner star to shine bright. With Melody’s direction,  a make-up artist carefully sculpting my face and a lighting crew, Darlene became the brave woman and heroine I wanted her to be. With the support of my peers, the mfa photo department, and a lot of trial and error with makeup and dance moves, I can finally say that I not only feel comfortable in #mycalvins, but also in my life.   Nick Alciati

XOXO DARLENE

Darlene became a part of me throughout my graduate studies, but it was this carefully focused photo shoot that allowed her inner star to shine bright. With Melody’s direction, a make-up artist carefully sculpting my face and a lighting crew, Darlene became the brave woman and heroine I wanted her to be. With the support of my peers, the mfa photo department, and a lot of trial and error with makeup and dance moves, I can finally say that I not only feel comfortable in #mycalvins, but also in my life.