director // Alexis Penney
editor // Tamaryn
production design // Ian McPherson
production assistant // Sebastian Li
2nd camera // Phuc Le
location // Navel.LA
the fool // Tamaryn
the magician // Phuc Le
the high priestesses // Moisés Michel / Dominique McDougal
the empress / death // Charlene Incarnate
the hierophant & devil // Ian McPherson
the star // Alexis Penney
“The universe is perpetually being born, and at its center, there where I kneel, I am.” - Alejandro Jodorowsky
I brought Tamaryn to my rented room in a punk house in Berkeley in 2009, one of a series of spaces I styled like queer opium dens all over the Bay Area. I festooned the walls with talismans and icons from Barbra to Buddha to the Virgin, and felt shy and self-deprecating about how much time I had spent on it.
“This is like the wallpaper of your soul,” Tamaryn said. Those words have stuck with me in the decade since, revealing the deeper truth of all that we do as artists - habitually, unconsciously or with awareness and intention. I feel now there is always something beyond what is obvious, wanting to be expressed, an animating force that compels us to do and sing and make and create things that don’t necessarily make any kind of sense, or survive a materialist critique, but seem to radiate with an innate value of their own. A lot of the work now seems to be about getting out of the way to let that essence through.
I was 23 when I lent my naked body to the “Love Fade” video. I don’t remember our conversations but I remember the sag of the couch under my hip. You can see snatches of my ass through the kaleidoscopic video effects. It’s me, lifetimes ago, but it feels like the spell of the imagery and the song have grown a body of their own, become someone else. I entered a drag pageant later that year at the Stud in San Francisco. I dressed in my own Midwestern punk take on Madonna as Eva Perón and was carried in as a corpse by shirtless men, while Tamaryn lead the procession with baskets of flowers, veiled and draped in black. After my rebirth and lip synched climax to the song (Hole’s “Letter To God”), they all pelted me with white lilies from the front of the stage. Just another moment waiting to be birthed through us because we showed up. Our friendship has veered from coast to coast, from drag show to goth club to the annual holiday gatherings in the queer community spaces I’ve spent these years. Every few years at a pagan holiday she’ll show up with her new album to preview and gifts of cosmetics for all the drag queens and femmes. The seed of this video was planted on a night like this.
As Aquarians with moons in Scorpio, we both have a mind and an eye for patterns, and an intuitive sense of the more essential energies flowing through all things. Not always easy to live this life, to be a part of this strange tribe - some of our Zodiacal siblings sharing these placements have left this earth too soon, and a lot of our work feels like homage to them. Given what I’ve witnessed, this is the life that we have chosen; we are here to do this work of interpreting these currents for others’ benefit.
I’m so grateful for all that magically aligned for us to make this work the way it emerged. To gather artists like Charlene, the spine and spirit of my former collective art space Casa Diva, in Brooklyn, together with my newly convened household in Los Angeles, and get to bring this vision to life in collaboration with an artist whose work has soundtracked most of my adult life, has been a gift and a revealing and illuminating challenge. Whether we gather to make art or food, to protest or protect, collaboration is a teacher. Meaningful solitude is vital, but we are ultimately a collective, communal species, intimately interwoven with every Other on this earth, perhaps even beyond, as the Tarot so effectively shows, and for the way this work has brought this home for me I am deeply grateful. Diversity is not a value to be sought or an optic to be curated but the defining reality of our existence on this planet. We weren’t dreamed as one homogenous blob, we were dreamed as many, plural and wildly different - queer and straight, cis and trans, black and white and every intersection of all of the categories we can conceive and construct - so I’m also deeply grateful for all those that are not like me in some way, that don’t necessarily see their face or story reflected in mine, that still pledge their energy into projects with me, and who will receive this work in spite of or even because of those differences.
Share this and whatever inspires you wildly. Pick up a cell phone and make your own video, tell your own story. Please, open up to what is asking to be born. Be the Fool or the Star. Take the next step, pour your tears out. Thank you. Much love and blessed be.
- Alexis Penney, Los Angeles, 2019