Drag performance has always fostered a space for bodies to revolt against the cultural binaries, expectations, and gendered rulings incessantly shackled onto them. But with live performance having veered into the close yet far past, how can drag artists continue to stage these resistances without their radical bodies being present, live or even totally real to their audiences?
Leaning boldly into technological possibility with their digital work in progress project, The Word of Cake Boi, Cake Boi’s cyborg clown body has a slick and nostalgic manifesto for propelling drag art and the discussion of identity onto the 2020’s dystopian ‘stage’.
In a series of lip-syncs, ranging tonally from Dinah Washington to Sufjan Stevens to Roisin Murphy, The World of Cake Boi is a series of daring visual experiments set comfortably and accessibly in the familiar frame of music-video-style polish. Unafraid to set a tone for pushing simple ideas to their limits, they open with a freakily edited lip-synch to various versions of ‘Blue Moon’ in a dynamic display of how music can be shared across different identities, sounds, and ideas.
Their creative use of limited lockdown production and a simple green-screen is consistently surprising, if sometimes a tad overindulgent. Parts of the body that we might not notice on stage are isolated and edited in beautifully disturbed ways until we sometimes can’t tell a mouth from a hand. Still images are animated so that Cake Boi can magically become a flower or a moon. Literally warping their body against normative shape and form, Cake Boi stages a digital drag rebellion of bodily agency.
Well-researched in its visual references – spanning from early surrealist film, to psychedelic club culture and 80s style pop videos – it’s clear that Cake Boi is fresh out of a drama/art degree. As it blends influences and eras towards an aesthetic style that resists arriving anywhere absolute, The World of Cake Boi is an exploration of identity as process or collage, rather than a pursuit of definition.
Structured like a self-indulgent personal cabaret of the artist’s various ideas and representations, the project risks feeling a little disconnected. In an on-going, cliche meta nod to information culture, much of the action plays on a vintage television set as it tunes from static to sporadic content. The distinct episodes may be successfully symbolic of overwhelm at a time when we’re all feeling bombarded with conflicting information, but they’re missing an overarching narrative or thematic tie where it’s not completely clear how it all links together on a wider scale.
Whether it’s clowning, silver screen melodrama, or performance art, Cake Boi’s organised adoptions and corruptions of each corner of performance style are carried with a refined artistic flow, which is almost editorial in its sophistication and finesse. With the image distortion layered on top of their polished androgynous aesthetic, it’s as if the drag is only ever complete through the digital interventions, so we never feel as if we’re missing much from live performance.
As Cake Boi continues to hone their style, skill and message in this exciting arena of digital drag, I think we can all look forward to finding out what a chic and edgy new generation of clown will discover.
The World of Cake Boi streamed online for SHOUT Festival until 10 November. For more information, see SHOUT Festival’s website.