Sporting a luxurious platinum wig, an exquisitely painted face and a pair of enormous silicone breasts made visible under diamanté lingerie, Victoria Sin assumes a stereotypically alluring pose, propped up on one arm and languishing among furs and satin. At first glance this image appears static, but eventually you recognize minuscule movements and the rise and fall of Sin’s chest, as the artist contorts themselves into a position that has been echoed by female muses throughout history. This vision is accompanied by Sin’s sultry drawl, encouraging you “to look, to look, to look” as if you are engaging in some kind of sensual feeding frenzy.
This video piece, titled Tell Me Everything You Saw, and What You Think it Means is currently on show as part of Drag: Self-Portraits and Body Politics at the Hayward Gallery, alongside celebrated pioneers of queer self-expression such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Leigh Bowery. For Sin, who graduated from the Royal College of Art’s Print MA last year, it’s a pretty surreal experience. “Being in a context with Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman is incredible. It’s great to be contextualized in new ways, especially when I’ve often felt like so much of the drag community didn’t take me seriously.”
“Being in a context with Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman is incredible”
As someone who identifies as non-binary, Sin has often come up against questions of “validity” when performing on the traditional drag circuit, something that the artist finds exhausting and frustrating. “There’s still a lot of misogyny and racism within the gay, and particularly the drag, community,” they explain. However, after watching female queens such as Holestar, and getting encouragement from inclusive clubs like Vogue Fabrics, Sin gained the confidence to get on stage. “They definitely gave me permission to start doing this thing I had always wanted to do.”
The idea of a “female drag queen” is still surprisingly difficult for some people to get their heads around, but the acerbic, exaggerated character that Sin embodies is stratospherically subversive. They grapple with so many problematic, ingrained societal norms, from disturbing complicity in the male gaze to the absurd universality of the phrase “make me a sandwich”—the first act Sin ever conceived consists of producing the commonplace snack with the aid of a cleaver, before presenting it to a male audience member with a trademark grimace. “The humour in it comes from the highly choreographed actions, and finishing this really banal, pathetic sandwich, exactly on time,” says Sin. “The bread falls onto the cutting board at the exact drop in the music and the comedy comes from the fact that the audience knows what is going to happen.”
“My drag is a critique of western beauty standards, but it is also something that I love doing,” they continue. “I love looking like that, with a big ass and big tits and a tiny waist; covered in diamantes, with beautiful platinum hair and becoming a foot taller. But they are also things that I’ve been socialized to want. I’ve been told that I want to be this for my entire life and because of that I’ve had to unlearn hating a lot of my features. But I still have these ingrained desires: to be this towering blonde bombshell. So I’m saying “OK, I can do it, let me show you, but I’ll do it in a way that doesn’t function within a colonial and patriarchal gaze, I’ll do it in a way that upsets it.’”
Creating succinct comedic sketches as well as immersive, suspenseful art performances is no easy feat, but Sin is committed to pushing the boundaries of their practice. They have produced writing collections, a regular science fiction reading group for queer people of colour and a series of portrait prints produced by removing their drag makeup with cosmetics wipes. “My work has been going more and more towards creating environments that are their own worlds. When you step in, I have created the rules at that moment, and you’re in this moment with me. I want you to forget about the outside world and be present with me, and be totally transformed and transported.” This was certainly the case at the Serpentine Pavilion earlier this summer when the threat of enormous downpours and lightning almost cancelled the show altogether, and the presence of the blood moon created what Sin refers to as “some kind of mystical mood enhancer”.
“I am aware that the work I’m making is really sexy right now”
During the hour-long piece, Sin lip-synced to their own script, riffing on issues of desire and the act of looking, defining moments in discovering their own sexuality, and quoting from feminist science fiction, all while strutting to a throbbing soundtrack conceived by Shy One. It was an enthralling experience, and the sold-out event is a testament to Sin’s rising profile, but that in itself is something they treat with caution. “I am aware that the work I’m making is really sexy right now. That everybody is scrambling, because they’re realizing how straight and white their institutions are. I feel that my success in the last year can be attributed in some sense to the way my work is fetishized at the moment.”
Sin is also keen to point out that, although there has been progress right now in terms of representation and visibility in the arts and wider clubbing culture, this could all slide back again. “Groups like as Pxssy Palace and BBZ are made for and by people who are tired of going to clubs—whether gay or straight—and feeling like the space is not for them. The basic tenements are: ‘Don’t contribute to existing oppressive structures. Don’t be transphobic, don’t be sexist, don’t be racist, don’t be homophobic.’ They’re amazing, but they still don’t have a permanent space. Moments can come and go without any security for people who are the most precarious. I’m thinking a lot about permanence and security, and the answer usually lies in owning space and property, so after the interest in queerness goes out of the mainstream, there’s still a space to occupy.”