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Performance artist Stacy Makishi: ‘I was visited by the ghost of George Michael’

Stacy Makishi Stacy Makishi

Stacy Makishi is a performance artist from Hawaii, who has been based in London since the 1990s. She tells Giverny Masso about her latest show, The Comforter at London’s Yard Theatre, which “reclaims spirituality and proposes a new perspective on the church” though 1980s’ and 1990s’ pop culture

How does your work mix different genres?

Did you know that Hawaii is the biggest consumer of Spam [canned meat]? The way I play with genre reminds me of Spam. It’s reconstituted mystery meat where mystery meets all kinds of form, genre, textures and aesthetics. I started in comedy and moved into performance poetry and then multimedia and theatre and think I’m best described as a live artist. I don’t feel restricted by genre or form.

How did you get into the industry?

I’m not sure if I’m “in the industry” or what “the industry” is. I’ve always felt like an outsider. So if I’m in, I must have come in through the back door. I’ve been working professionally as an independent artist for more than 30 years. A lot of it has come down to luck and the kindness of strangers. I don’t see myself as ambitious but I do feel passionate about making the work that I do. Over the years, I’ve been helped by people who for some reason felt compelled to assist me on my journey.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as an artist?

Perfectionism. Struggling to believe I’m good enough. Worrying about what other people think about my work. I don’t think my challenges come from the outside world; my biggest challenges come from within. I heard someone say: “Freedom is the ability to let go of perfection.” It’s funny because what’s compelling about the human condition is the mess, the awkwardness, the vulnerability. We don’t want to go there but that’s the stuff that’s makes us connect and makes the work of interest to others.

Tell me about your show.

It’s called The Comforter. It’s the second in a trilogy about the Holy Trinity. In the US, the Comforter is another word for the Holy Ghost. On Christmas Day 2016, I was visited by the ghost of George Michael, who died that day. It was my worst Christmas and George’s last Christmas. You could see this performance as George’s last sermon to ‘wake us up before we go-go’, to choose life in uncertain times and to believe in the transformative power of pop music.

Any advice for young artists?

Community. Deadline. Commitment. Find a couple of friends that you can share your work with on a regular basis. This is your community. Make lots of work and share your work often. Find a deadline to show your work publicly. Trust that the time you have to make the work will be enough time to create whatever needs to be made. Finish whatever you start. Even if the work is not ‘perfect’, tell yourself that ‘done is better than good’. I’ve wasted so many years being immobilised by the fear of not being good enough. I think if you want it bad enough, you’ll be willing to do it badly.

CV: Stacy Makishi

Training: Performance course at 911 Media Art Centre in Seattle; course with theatre company Split Britches at the University of Hawaii (1990s)
First professional role: TV comedies in Hawaii (1980s)
Agent: Nikki Tomlinson, Artsadmin


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