Episode 2 – The Panti Monologue
“When I was 20 yrs old, at a party in my brother’s flat in London, I met the most exotic and fabulous creature I’d ever laid eyes on – a performance artist called Leigh Bowery.
He was a big man – tall, voluptuous, and fleshily imposing.
By the time I met him he was already a legendary figure on the club scene, and for a young gay Irish art student, meeting him was exciting and revelatory.
Leigh had made a name for himself as a living work of art, a clubland flesh-and-blood sculpture, a towering installation of skin and costume that moved with surprising grace through crowded rooms of startled clubbers or puzzled gallery patrons. His astonishing costumes, which sometimes pushed his very flesh into impossible, unsettling shapes, set a standard for which every club kid with ping pong balls stuck to his face has been striving for ever since.
For Leigh, his body wasn’t an end, it was a beginning; a medium of transformation, an opportunity. With paint and fabric, movement and performance, he pushed against the boundaries of his own form, his own biology – and transformed himself.
Until I met Leigh I had always thought that I was, in a way, fixed. Immutable. That I was, and always would be, the vet’s son from a small town in the west of Ireland. That my parameters were already set, and my defining characteristics already defined.
But in Leigh I began to see all sorts of new possibilities. He was a doughy kid from the arsehole of Australia, and yet here he was, the startling epicentre of “cool London”. The most fabulous creature in a scene full of fabulous creatures.
In Leigh I saw that transformation wasn’t just possible, it was exciting, and even necessary. And for the first time in my life I realised that I didn’t have to be defined or confined by where or what I came from – I could define myself! I was the master of my own destiny! Life was for creating not consuming! Convention was for wimps!
And I’m still interested in this idea of transformation as both possible and even necessary. On an individual level, but also, in a wider context.