Penny Arcade Aka Susana Ventura is a performance artist, author…
Scottee is a performance artist, provocateur, writer and campaigner. He’s shared the stage with Rihanna on the X Factor, written scorching polemics for The Guardian and wowed crowds at Camden’s Roundhouse. He’s also a cheering mix of playful charm, sharp wit and camp mischief. Where did it all begin, asks Stewart Who?
Scottee is wearing sweeping false eyelashes, a red wonky gash for a mouth and a smear of mascara sliding down his right cheek. Coupled with the white knee high socks and Billy Bunter shorts, it’s a look that’s attracted a fair amount of gawping. Have they never seen a Rubenesque, pseudo femme-clown in day-drag?
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An architect, when I was much younger, ‘cause I liked designing things- and then when I realised I wasn’t that good at maths, I wanted to be a designer. Then a doctor and then a TV actor. Then I realised I wanted to be loads of different things, so I just become a different thing every day.
When did you first take an interest in art?
I never have. I’m not interested in any form of art apart from my own, I think. It’s so diluted with a load of (pause) can I say shit? With a load of shit- and lots of people who’ve bought art careers. So, I have no faith in art and therefore no interest in it.
Did your parents encourage your talents?
No. My mother is an alcoholic and my dad was a drug addict. So maybe they did.
Do you think that background has informed your personality in any way?
Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of my performances are to do with compulsion or extrovert extremism. But I don’t think there’s a cross dresser in the family.
To grow up in such surroundings might affect you- make you feel like an outsider?
Yeah, kind of, but it was more to do with the fact that I wanted to wear different clothes to all my other friends, so I was always made to feel very different. From the age of 12, when I bought camouflage trousers and everyone else was wearing tracksuit bottoms
What’s been the most upsetting criticism levelled at you?
“Are you like Leigh Bowery?” It’s such an easy thing to say, ‘cause we’re both fat and wear funny clothes, so that usually gets my goat. But it doesn’t upset me. I prefer bad press to good press, cause the bad press usually describes what my agenda is- and I’m a protagonist. So, them being annoyed by me, makes me do it even further.
You’re aware of Leigh’s work, right?
My mentor was his assistant for 9 years. And my next door neighbour was his best friend- Sue Tilley. Obviously a lot of people who see my work are from that generation, and were also his friends as well, so I’m really aware of his work- and I’m lucky enough to own some of his pieces.
He became a performer, I’ve always been one. He was about becoming something, a creature or a character. My work is usually about being comfortable in my own body and taking my clothes off. Where he wears clothes, I take them away.
He had quite a clean finish, whereas I’m more about the punk aesthetic- rough and ready and a bit cut and paste. I think that I’m also a bit more political than he was- his politics were more to do with sex and sexuality and I’m more about fat girls and gender.
How has your sexuality informed your work?
It’s given me a lot of spite, ‘cause I resent homosexuals with a passion. There’s something called ‘celebrating your stereotype’ and gay men do it so well, and so easily and happily. Where they’re quite happy enough to go to Vauxhall from Thursday to Monday, quite happy to do their detox-mocha-chocca-latte at China Life in Camden Town….and then go buy some Ikea from the Ikea catalogue- and it’s a stereotype which they fully embrace. Other communities shun those stereotypes, whereas Joe-Bloggs-average-gay-man…is that. Gay people just really annoy me. There’s something about civil partnerships- and I KNOW you’ve had a civil partnership, haven’t you?
Yes, I have, but I got married, in drag on the HMS Belfast to my best friend that I’ve never had sex with, purely for inheritance reasons, though I do love him.
Oh, my God. I LOVE that, though. I can understand it through that point of view, ‘cause if my partner was to die, or to be in an accident, I’d like to be informed first. We’ve been together four and half years and I think that means something. But also, I wouldn’t get his art, he wouldn’t get my clothes. That sounds so pathetic, but to both of us, that’s such an important thing.
Wayne (G) always said hat he wanted me, dragged up as a nurse, looking after him in hospital and for me to inherit all his tat.
This is the same thing that happened to Leigh (Bowery) when he married Nicola- as a joke, because, like myself, he was a protagonist and wanted to piss people off- why is he marrying a woman? When he died, she hadn’t catalogued all the work properly. She didn’t offer to catalogue it properly, bits and pieces have turned up in Brighton charity shops, so yeah, I could talk all day about that.
Back to civil partnerships…..
There are people who fought for us to be able to enjoy our sexuality and we now half-heartedly say yes to anything that arises. So when we weren’t given marriage, but were given civil partnership, the gays were like (adopts high-pitched queeny voice), ‘Yeah, fab, we’ll have that, cheers’. But it’s a halfway house, and we shouldn’t accept the halfway mark. It should be all or nothing. There are people who died for their sexuality and there are people still being killed today. I recently did a fundraiser for the Iraq LGBT safe houses, for which you see no backing from the gay press…and THAT pisses me off.
You see, I would never have put you together with something so politically motivated.
I’m a product of my generation, where there was all this consultation work done to get young people’s voices heard and enable them to speak out and get involved in politics. Of course, that hasn’t been followed through, there aren’t enough people in politics, we’re doing it through other mediums- like art, performance or queer radicalism.
So, yeah, I’m a very political creature, and it’s not just about gender, it’s about weight as well. I really think the larger woman should be celebrated. It’s also about civil rights for trangendered people in the UK. I get annoyed by things, and that annoyance makes me make things.
Your work is a often a reaction to body fascism prevalent in society- would you agree?
Yeah, I think I do. I remember being really young, I think about 7, coming down stairs before Sunday mass and my aunt telling me I had to get changed because I looked fat. That was my first conflict and confrontation with body facism.
How did you respond to that?
I cried. I cried for hours actually, ‘cause I was wearing horizontal stripes. It was actually quite dark, because my mum didn’t protect me, she didn’t say anything against it, and I thought- isn’t that the role of the parent? Even that young, I thought- why isn’t she sticking up for me? She was also an overeater and had a REALLY bad relationship with food. My second experience was when I was 12 and my mum sent me to Weightwatchers.
When you were twelve!?
When I was twelve. The reason for it was that she went to a job interview and didn’t get it, she thought it was because she was fat. She told me that if I was fat in my older life, people would look at me, judge me and I wouldn’t get a career.
So, how many times did you go to Weightwatchers?
I became Slimmer of the Week.
I’ve got the certificate. It was really sick. It was in Highgate, there were all these middle class women…and then me, being pikey as hell. I had to help weigh them. Then my mum stopped going, it was a fiver a week, and she said, well, I’m not paying for YOU to go.
So, then I ran out pretty quickly. I couldn’t do it. Then when I was fifteen, I went from 16 stone to 22 stone and had a nervous breakdown at the age of 16. I was like- I hate myself, and it was because of my body.
Then we went to the hospital and they were like- you are seriously putting so much pressure on your heart, you’ll be dead in 5-10 years. So, I lost loads of weight dramatically, which is why I have all these scars across my stomach, which I use in my performances.
People think I draw them on, but they are actually real. It’s from where the skin has stretched so far, over such a short period of time, obviously, where I was growing as well, from my teenage years. So, they’re gonna be there for ever. I quite like them. Quite interesting.
Exactly. Nobody else has got them. You can’t say that about a Dior handbag can you?
At what point in your life were you happiest?
Now. Because, when I first started doing this like 2 years ago, I got a lot of abuse. Only from gays. I had people on the gay scene throw bourbon over my face, I was wearing bandages….and they tried to set me on fire.
I’ve been removed from G.A.Y. I don’t know why I was in there in the first place. I had lots and lots of trouble and gays going- Oooooh, you’re a fat cunt. It’s only now that people are like- oh, my God, you’re amazing. People are starting to turn. My work’s doing really well. I’m creating work I wanna do, so I think now, I’m really happy at the moment.
What was your first performance piece?
As Scottee? I think it was the Bear Beauty Contest, 3 years ago. I knew how powerful it would be to be naked, as a fat, young person, especially in a crowd of people who like that body shape. But, I knew it was a struggle for me, because it was the last barrier. I can go out dressed up, I’m comfortable with my sexuality, I don’t mind dressing up as a woman, but can I do it half naked?
So, I bought myself the smallest pair of pants and came on stage, Christopher Biggins was one of the judges. I was wearing quite a French look, like a big blonde, side comb-over, with all these bandages, big glasses, big lips and a big raincoat. To Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ I did an alternative striptease, where I’m left with all these scars and all this blood and I was like, really shaking, with adrenaline and fear, but also, because I’ve accomplished something, I’m OVER my last hurdle…and I stopped. There was this complete silence…before the crowd went- YEEAAAAAAAAAAAAH.
Are your family aware of your work?
No. Oh, yes, they are. I tell a lie, yes, they are– they think I’m a paedophile because I look like this. It’s really deranged….but, my mum moved to Lea-on-Sea, which is like a (thinks) cockle place just up from Southend.
She went into the hairdressers, this guy with highlights in his hair, who’s about my age, is doing her hair and he starts to talk about fashion. She’s like- oh, you’d love my son, he’s your age and he dresses like you.
He says- Oh, I don’t wanna dress like this, I wanna dress like this…and he goes and gets this magazine, which was Gay Times and it was when I was doing YrMymYrDad and plonks it on her lap.
It was a six-page spread of me, half-naked, spewing milk down myself, having a fight etc. Basically it was a celebration of my work. She left the hairdressers…and never went back. So, yes, they are aware of my work.
What happened to YrMumYrDad? What was the concept behind that?
It was kind of like drama school for freaks. Like, we (Scottee and Buster Bennet) both met each other. We both wanted to do something artistic, we were both pissed off by certain things and wanted to let the world know that we were pissed off, like most teenagers. We were really interested in this emerging Electro-clash thing, so, we both made a couple of electro records, toured them for while.
One of our last performances was when we stormed Tate Modern, en masse with other freaks, so it was dipping our toe in the water. I decided I wanted to carry on performing, but I wanted it to be a bit more street, a bit more political and go down other avenues. He wanted to do music, so it kinda just ended like that.
How did you meet Jodie Harsh and how would you describe your relationship?
We met a few times and we hated each other. I was so repulsed by the idea of someone who wanted to be a celebrity. I was like, ‘You are SO deluded’.
She was like, ‘What the FUCK are you? You’re not even a tranny. You’re not a drag queen. You’re fat and hairy, you’re not even attempting to look like a woman. WHAT are you doing?
We got really drunk.
I was like, ‘Jruery Haaaaarslch, I’ve got an idea for you’.
She was like, ‘What, WHAT?’
She was really pissed. It was after Discotec.
I said, ‘Let’s do a club, girl’. We met up, got really pissed again.
I said, ‘COME on, it’ll be like Grace Jones and Andy Warhol’.
She said, ‘Which one am I?’
‘Grace Jones, I said.
‘Right then, I’ll do it’, she said and we started running events together. We did a performance piece together to establish our working relationship, where we invited a load of magazine editors to a suite in St. Martins Hotel and just bitched at them. We’ve been working together for almost a year.
Are you competitive?
No. Not at all. She’ll be like, ‘Ooooh, girl guess who I was out with last night? I was out with so-and-so’.
And I’ll be like, ‘Who’s that?
I’ll tell her that I’ve just seen an amazing piece of performance art by this person and we get excited that the other person’s excited, but we’re so chalk and cheese, it works. I have no aspiration to be a celebrity and she has no aspiration to be a performance artist.
Of which performance are you most proud?
There’s this boy here who is in the show at The Hospital that I met 3 years ago. He was a 17-year-old who used to be really mouthy and mill around my clubs. I asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to be a performance artist. I offered him his first show at my club Antisocial.
He did it, and I was blown away. I was like- wow, it’s like I’ve found a child. His sister said to me- will you come to our house and speak to our dad, cause he’s really worried about him, being 17, dropped out of school and they wanted to send him to university. So I went to the house….
What did you wear?
I wore black. I took my shoes off at the door and I brought cake. I got the cake out and they were like- (clicks fingers) SOLD. I spoke to the dad. It was really nerve racking because I was like- that child’s life is in my hands. Then I found out that his mum has multiple sclerosis and she’d never seen his performances.
We got drunk one night and I was like- YOU can call me mum, I’ll be the mum in the front row and I’ll clap for her. I’ll support you through this son, ‘cause I remember when I was first doing this, I just had bitchy AIDS queens putting me down, and I realised how beneficial it would be to have someone around. He’s called me Mum ever since. His name’s Lowe Adams. He’s absolutely mental. When I see his work, I get excited. I rarely get excited at other people’s performances.
How does being a performance artist affect your love life?
It doesn’t. I’ve been married for four and a half years. He’s an artist though as well.
I guess that helps
Kind of. Although it helps more that he’s a chub fucker. That’s more the issue.
That would help too. Where did you meet him?
At The Cock. He came over to me and said- I like your gold chains, ‘cause I was wearing loads. I said- thank-you ever so much, then just walked away. He kept on looking at me and I was like- oh, LEAVE me alone. He came over. I said, ‘What do you do for a living?
He said, ‘I’m a broom maker’.
I was like, ‘Right- you make brooms, for a living?
Camp, girl. Turns out, he’s a print maker, but because he’s from Liverpool, it’s very hard to understand anything he says.
Is there anyone in you life you’d like to say sorry to?
Erm….my God this is so therapeutic, I love it. My mother, ‘ cause the last thing I said to her was, ‘When your 90 years old and my cocaine-addicted father has left you and you’re dying in a room alone, you’ll remember me. Bye-eeee’.
First Published: March 2008, The HospitalClub.com