It's a cold October night at the Viktor Wynd
Gallery in Hackney, East London, and Cody Critcheloe,
Kansas City's favorite multidisciplinary performance
art export, is hosting the first UK screening of his bizarro feature-length music video, BOY. Outside the
gallery, a pudgy man stands stark naked, screaming in
the center of a crowd of smiling spectators. I overhear an androgynous kid in a floor-length tribal robe
and a large headpiece that looks sort of like a vagina
("It's supposed to look like a vagina," he tells me later)
comment, "This is all part of the performance. Cody
is such a genius!" while the gathered throng -- a smattering of cross-dressers, pierced-up punks and odd
old men who together comprise Critcheloe's core fan
base -- applauds the nude dude like mad.
Most essential to Critcheloe's aesthetic, however, is his own striking public appearance. The true face of his brand, Critcheloe's shitty wig, black painted nose and Marilyn mole are inseparable from Ssion, whether witnessed on stage or in videos; screened onto Ssion's merch and album sleeves; deliberately replicated on each of his band members and backup dancers; or, increasingly, on the faces of his most dedicated fans at performances and openings. "Regardless of what I'm making -- not just my look or clothes -- I want it to be specific to me," says Critcheloe of his overarching style. "I don't really care about fashion. I'm just into looks and things that are wrong. And I don't feel any commitment to anything aesthetically. But I'm always gonna be attracted to certain kinds of things, and I'm always gonna draw a certain way. Still, my style is evolving. I'm growing out my nails as we speak."
Critcheloe's visual brand has won him a high-profile circle of supporters and collaborators. Former tourmates Gossip asked him to direct the video for their most recent single, "Men in Love." Previously, he crafted videos for beloved indie acts like Liars and Tilly and the Wall, as well as the album art for Yeah Yeah Yeahs' breakthrough debut, Fever to Tell. Critcheloe hopes to spend the upcoming months perfecting Ssion's next record. "I've also been working with a lot of different musicians as producers on a lot of the new tracks --Teeth, Azari & III, Teengirl Fantasy. The art side of Ssion has sort of taken over at the moment, allowing me to make some money and travel, but making music and writing songs is the key behind everything that I do." But before he rededicates himself completely to music, Critcheloe hints that there may be a few more exciting art-oriented performances in the upcoming months. "Nothing totally confirmed yet," says Critcheloe, "but Ssion may be doing something really cool for a big museum in New York. It's gonna be insane."