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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kirk Read: Where Scatological Performance Art, Queer Erotica, Humor, and a Big Heart Coexist

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Kirk Read - AMOS MAC
  • Amos Mac
  • Kirk Read
100 Profiles: SF Weekly interviews 100 people in San Francisco arts and culture.

No. 89: Kirk Read

It's controversial, but I'll say it nonetheless: If you haven't seen writer/performance artist Kirk Read approach the mic buck-ass naked or take a live shit -- or, better yet, paint with said material -- then you haven't really experienced San Francisco.

"Whoa whoa whoa," you might say. "I don't need to see anyone take a dump outside of Dolores Park!" If you feel this way, then you definitely need some Kirk Read in your life. Read on.

Kirk Read is a big queer San Francisco treasure. The author of How I Learned to Snap and director of Army of Lovers, he has toured nationally with the Sex Workers Art Show, the Queen's English, and Sister Spit. He co-hosts the long-running queer open-mic series K'vetsh and Smack Dab. He is a regular at performance series such as Porchlight, Perverts Put Out, Radar, and Litquake.

It is impossible to encapsulate Read through his accomplishments. What you really need to know is that this man is a force of nature -- schroom-y, hallucinogenic nature. Scatological, bleed-y nature.

"In the past few years I've worked with nudity, pee, and poop in my performance because I cannot understand why these things are shocking," he says. "They are the three things humans all have in common. I think shock can only be the beginning."

It's true. Read's performance art is ... well, good. Moving, even. Despite the reality that it sometimes smells or gives you anxiety, you leave the space completely changed. Turns out, the religious parallels aren't entirely accidental.

Kirk Read plays with fire, literally and figuratively. - AMOS MAC
  • Amos Mac
  • Kirk Read plays with fire, literally and figuratively.
"I like art that is rooted in someone's tiny world, then goes cosmic," he says. "I think of myself as a freak preacher because a lot of my early training as a performer was in an evangelical youth group. That Southern Baptist stuff doesn't go away -- you just have to bend it to your advantage."

But the thing about Read is that -- despite the boundary-pushing content of his work -- he is a big-hearted man who somehow inspires and challenges his audience to unfathomable depths of Kumbaya-hood. I should know. I am most definitely a prudish aesthete, not your typical fan of anything that stinks -- hippies, bodily waste, and so on. But I will be first in line for a Kirk Read performance. It is like I've been glamored.

It's possible that Read's success at least partially lies in his lack of pretension, his utter charm, and his uncompromising and sometimes hilarious vision.

Kirk Read in the wild. - ED WOLF
  • Ed Wolf
  • Kirk Read in the wild.
"I like the term 'performance artist' because it automatically makes people testy and defensive," he says. "Like if you're doing a piece where you make cake batter with your piss, people go 'I've seen that so many times! Back in the 90s!' As if all the edgy queer stuff happened back then and now queer culture is over. It's so limiting to be jaded about things you never actually experienced. There is beautiful culture happening in this city right now in real time."

For now, Read is hard at work on his upcoming solo show, Computer Face, which runs June 7-8 and 14-15 at the Garage. It concerns our addiction to devices. It's also a portal into a very magical mind.

"I'm exploring ways of being in the world that allow you to escape the screen, like fishing and hunting," he says. "Other influences that are coming in and out of the evening: the Long Island sex worker murders, a salmon restoration ceremony in Nevada City, group hallucinogen use, the Bible, third-wave feminism, the painter Grant Wood, and handwriting.

"I feel like what I do is uplifting, even if it's really strange."

Even when faced with fire marshals, venue concerns, or funder controversy, he goes cheerfully into that dark night.

"That's what I get for working with weirdo material," he says. "If I were doing a monologue about three generations of women in my family, there would be no problems. But Cleveland is the place for such monologues. San Francisco belongs to weirdos."

And San Francisco's freak prince is definitely Kirk Read.

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