Elisha Lim and Rae Spoon: Talking Shop
Elisha Lim: So Rae, I’m thinking to myself, so much of the art that I make is hustle. Just hustling to get it out, to make a name, to push myself.
Rae Spoon: You have to hustle.
EL: How do you do it?
RS: You have to hustle to make a living. Oh god, you’re going to make me sound like such a capitalist…
But I think the music model is the best model. You have to tour like a musician. Even if you’re making books or drawings. You have to book a tour like I do and play in lots of towns. That’s when you sell your stuff.
EL: Huh, that’s smart. That’s a good tip. How about this-do you make goals for yourself? Like I want one day to have a drawing in The New Yorker.
RS: No. I just want to be healthy and happy.
EL: Oh. Well how about, do you ever feel like you have to segregate your stuff, like “this is for my gay scene,” and then “this is for the mainstream?”
RS: No. If you’re making art that’s good, it’ll go. I used to play banjo for the Boomers. But it wasn’t safe as a trans person. So now I play for the younger crowds, and I don’t have to hide it. I find that younger hipsters accept it all.
EL: Seriously! Hmmm…that’s really interesting to me. You know, like when and how do you find those little inroads where a mainstream crowd actually feels safe enough to support you? Like where I can say “I’m never gonna draw another white person again” and they applaud wildly?
If I make statements like that in person, usually people get quietly offended and stop coming around. But it’s like you, talking about transphobia to a bunch of hipsters in the audience and they love it. I feel like, in some mainstream spaces, some party venues, some stages, because there’s still a feeling of ‘art’ and ‘safety’, the audience totally goes with me into taboo topics.
RS: Yeah, it’s as long as everybody feels like they’re “in the club.” If you said ‘hey all of you are racist,’ and in fact they all are, I mean we all are, it wouldn’t have the same effect. But as long as everyone feels like they’re in the club, they don’t feel threatened. That’s the beauty of art. It takes you places you wouldn’t go. Sometimes I invite them into the queer world. Sometimes people want to be invited, you know.
EL: I find this really interesting. I think this is kind of my favourite part, the chance to experiment and take risks with activism, in the safety of ‘art’.
Can you give an example of when it worked for you in a really good way?
RS: Yeah. Well, I played Regina this year, and 200 people came out. It was a straight audience, it wasn’t a gay or trans event. But the organizer, she went around to every person working on the show and got them to use my pronoun right. She faced all the transphobic conversations. She really went to bat for me. She was an extraordinary person.
It’s really just about trying to respect other people. If someone says “I am this or that” I just have to respect it. If someone says “you offended me” I have to respect that too and not be defensive.
Anyways I think you’re getting attention cause your art is good.
EL: Thank you! Thanks.
RS: You just have to find the way to perform it, to tour it around. You need to get a public and a fanbase. Get a publicist. Get someone to promote you in magazines and on the radio. You need to get a presence. There’s nothing wrong with that, just making some money. I mean, I want a nice life.
EL: Hah, yeah. So what’s a nice life?
RS: You know, not thinking about being trans all the time. To have a home. A group of people that use my pronoun right.
EL: That’s tragic.
RS: Hahahahah… a nice life is when people get my pronoun right. Actually, I’ve been looking for a chance to come out as ‘they’ and maybe this is it. I’m going by ‘they’ now. I’m gender retired. I’m no good at gender.
EL: Let’s high-five to ‘they’!
RS: Yeah. Rae Spoon is using ‘they’. I mean, it helped me to see your petition against Xtra.
EL: No way! Oh my god that is amazing! It was an amazing petition with 1,500 people signing up to force Xtra to call me ‘they.’
But I felt like I let the ball drop. I never got what I asked for.
RS: But that helped me to say, yeah, now it’s time. I got permission from you to use ‘they’ and I could see people supporting it.
EL: Oh my god, that’s incredibly heartening….
Elisha Lim wrote 100 Butches, a genderbending comic with an introduction by Alison Bechdel and praise from Shary Boyle, Allyson Mitchell and Ivan E. Coyote. Elisha’s work has been published in Bitch Magazine, Curve, Diva (UK), LOTL (Australia) and Xtra (Canada), and Elisha’s 2011wall calendar “The Illustrated Gentleman” was voted best lesbian gift on the authoritative queer site afterellen.com. The 100 Butches were the recipient of two major Canadian grants and toured with the legendary Sister Spit caravan through 28 North American cities. In 2011 Elisha has lectured on art and gender at the University of Toronto, Ryerson, Brock and Concordia Universities and debuted as the first solo show of Allyson Mitchell’s Feminist Art Gallery. Elisha’s latest project is the SISSY wall calendar, and it will be part of group shows in Philadelphia in 2010 and Montréal in 2011. Buy Elisha’s calendar at www.etsy.com/listing/82754558/2012-wall-calendar-sissy
Rae Spoon is a transgendered indie/electronic musician from Calgary. They have released/produced five solo full-length albums and were long listed for the Polaris Prize in 2008. Rae has toured Canada extensively and has been to Europe as well as the USA and Australia to play festivals and tour. Established as a performing/recording artist in the international music scene, they have branched out to write multi-media projects and to composing instrumental music for films including the NFB documentary Dead Man directed by Chelsea McMullan (Toronto International Film Festival 2009). They have also developed a presence in the international sound art scene by making sound projects such as ‘What are you waiting for?’ with Alex Decoupigney. A song-cycle written, recorded and performed in the underground train in Berlin that was commissioned by arts organization: Neue Gesellschaft, Bildende Kunst. Rae is currently working on a book of short stories about growing up in a conservative Pentecostal family in Alberta.