How DVVSK Took Their Art From The Air Force To The Stage

For their joint project, “Anima,” photographer Daniel Jack Lyons and performance artist DVVSK illustrate the intensity and sensuality of what reconnecting with nature after a nationwide lockdown looks like.

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY DANIEL JACK LYONS

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Los Angeles based artist DVVSK (they/them) is a multi-faceted performance artist working in music, makeup, dance, and clothing design. But their art is a window into an ethereal universe that stretches beyond the material or aesthetic, aiming straight for our neglected pleasure receptors. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutting down of venues began, much of the queer performance and drag community has moved into the digital realm through online events and parties. For some, it’s presented a major challenge to translate the energy of a stage performance into a bedroom or pre-recorded video. However, for DVVSK, it’s been an opportunity to bring audiences deeper into their world of hazy and colorfully hued performance videos that transport to celestial realms of emotional mysticism and anti-gender fantasies. DVVSK has deeply widened their fanbase during a time when most performers struggle to stay relevant.

 

I first met DVVSK in 2018, through Scum, a performance collective of self-proclaimed queerdos in East Los Angeles. Beginning in March of this year, during quarantine, DVVSK and I began speaking more regularly and realized that we were both yearning for the same things: social contact and a deeper, spiritual emersion into nature. As lockdown restrictions began to lift, we started working on a project to reflect those desires. That project is titled “Anima,” and it seeks to cultivate the imaginative consciousness that connects with anima mundi, or the soul of the earth—inspired by the notion of reawakening the senses in a way that our experience of the natural world becomes more profound than the current, colorless anodyne reality of screen life.

 

In my conversation with DVVSK, they unpack in further detail some of the inspirations behind our project, as well as the role that nature continues to play in their life—quarantine or not—and what lies ahead for the enigmatic performance artist.

DVVSK in Fryman Canyon

Daniel Jack Lyons

Where did you grow up? And what were you doing before performing as DVVSK?

DVVSK

I grew up in different cities, but I call California home. I’ve been dancing my whole life, but stopped for six years and served in the United States Air Force. Working in the military was challenging at first—it was a huge adjustment—but I learned a lot about myself and found confidence I never had before. After actively serving for four years, I realized how much I missed dancing and my own freedom, physically and creatively. So, [for] my last two years, I was able to serve in the reserves. I started doing drag towards the end of my military career, until 2015. My dancing picked up professionally once I made the move to Los Angeles that year, so I put drag on hold. I was a part of a well-known dance company and danced for various artists in music videos and concerts; I served at restaurants on the side and even worked in sales at IKEA for a time. I would also teach dance classes at different studios.

 

Eventually, I started posting pictures of my modeling and my multimedia art on Instagram regularly and it got me some attention. Once I started to get booked for my art and performances more I decided that I really wanted to make a name for myself and put every part of my art out into the world. So, I quit my job in 2018 and started creating and performing full-time.

Daniel

How else have you evolved since then?

DVVSK

I feel that this persona has evolved with me; we both have grown substantially through these past years. It’s more of an extension of myself than anything.

 

Through enduring financial hardships, facing homelessness, and separation from my immediate family, I have learned to adapt quickly and to embrace change wholeheartedly. I continue to remember to have hope, faith, and to remain humble. DVVSK is another embodiment of my spirit: meek but also strong, otherworldly, and mysterious.

Daniel

What inspires DVVSK?

DVVSK

I take from anything nowadays, but: anime, African culture and fashion, and the sci-fi and horror genres are definitely a few main things I pull from now. In most cases, though, it’s music or certain movements I may make that might spark inspiration.

 

I sometimes think about how a certain thing or creature would look or move in a circumstance and how I could tell a story in that way. There are times where a specific situation I’m in or emotional states will be the inspiration and then I build from there.

Daniel

You thrive in nature. How has climate change and the ecological state of our planet factored into the evolution of DVVSK?

DVVSK

As the years have progressed, I’ve made sure to stay educated and do my part to play a positive roll in this ecological crisis—whether it’s thrifting, upcycling to make new garments and props for my art, or making my own natural products at home. I’ve been taught [to] and continue to creatively reduce waste and search for better ways to create and produce that benefit myself and the health of the ecosystem.

Daniel

On a more personal level, describe the role that nature plays in your life. How do you best connect with the natural world?

DVVSK

We should be one with nature. There are times where I just long to be surrounded by it for days. I’ve always been connected with nature in one way or another. My family loved camping—real camping, under the stars (if not in a tent), making your own fire, carrying a knife, and taking long hikes—and getting lost in it. I’ve always had a love for nature; my parents taught me to respect it and I’m glad to have become more spiritually and ecologically aware as I’ve grown. The Earth needs us just as much as we need it. Our spending time with nature can promote its growth. I feel that it’s our duty to protect and care for the nature that surrounds us.

Daniel

We created this project, “Anima,” which was born out of a conversation we had during the beginning of lockdown. Could you elaborate a little about how this project came to be and the inspirations behind it?

DVVSK

It was hard for me to reconnect to nature as freely as I wanted for a while—I didn’t have a car and generally felt so depressed enough that I didn’t want to leave the house. It was like my spirit longing for nature became more evident to me, but my body wouldn’t move. And us both, as well as a lot of people, were missing that real connection to nature and to each other. We also saw and felt how much people were neglecting their [own] connections to nature. We wanted to explore another interpretation of that disconnection. You brought to my attention a few writings that coincided with our thoughts about our spiritual connection and our ties to one another—and the Earth especially—during this time of COVID.

Daniel

COVID has greatly affected performance spaces and performers’ livelihoods, particularly for queer artists. How has this year been for you?

DVVSK

This year was extremely challenging starting out, but thankfully, the queer performance scene found promise digitally: there have been shows online, via Twitch and Zoom. It’s still a challenge, but I’ve found a new love for performing this way. It has allowed me to tell stories in ways I wouldn’t have been able to.

Daniel

What’s next for DVVSK?

DVVSK

I’m in the process of creating new music—refining my sound and experimenting with new processes. I’m also working on a short film written and directed by me that will be debuting next year January, in the Film Maudit 2.0 film festival.

FILM Daniel Jack Lyons CINEMATOGRAPHY Ramon Goni EDITING Olivier Lessard MAKEUP AND STYLING DVVSK ASSISTING Bashir Naim

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How DVVSK Took Their Art From The Air Force To The Stage

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