Meet the Artist Playfully Subverting the 1990s Talk Show

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Oriana Fox - The Embodiment Workout
Oriana Fox, The Embodiment Workout(Film still)

Oriana Fox’s The O Show is currently in London, and we spoke to the performance artist about tackling money and masculinity in the age of #MeToo

Since the birth of collage and the very earliest days of Postmodernism, artists have been joyfully conflating the barriers of high art and “low” culture, working everyday trash (sometimes literally, in the case of Kurt Schwitters) and advertising or pop references into the arena of the gallery. The brilliant performance artist Oriana Fox takes this conflation of art world and TV low-brow one step further, and for years has positioned herself as the generously coiffured, two-piece clad host of her own talk show, The O Show. The show is a spin on the traditional daytime TV chat show, though moves into art territory in the way Fox tackles her subjects: she initially focused on interviewing almost solely people involved in performance art, and has since expanded into interviewing people of interest around issues including sex, money, power or happiness. All the big guns, basically.

“It’s about challenging norms and conventions, and people who do that and the effect that has on their lives,” says Fox, “looking to their examples and what boundaries they can push – how can that be helpful in a therapeutic sense? What are the political repercussions in challenging those norms?” Fox, who has a decade-spanning arts career also taking in painting, sculpture and video as well as performance, is currently a third of the way through The O Show’s current London tour, in which she will investigate three themes – masculinity, money, and femininity. The show is set to a live studio audience and with guests such as artist Gavin Turk, Selfish Cunt frontman Martin Tomlinson, Coco de Mer founder Sam Roddick and many more. Ahead of the second of three tour dates, titled Business or Pleasure? – in which Fox will be “wearing a barrister’s wig and robes and using a big hammer to bring the court to order”, with guests escorted by “two burly men dressed as cops” – we spoke to her about money, masculinity, making a persona and more.

On the boundaries between artist, therapist and talk show host…
“Maybe I should be a therapist because I’d probably be good at it, but I didn’t go down that much more practical path! In my work I’m usually exploring something highly personal, but I’m branching out a bit more. With the masculinity, or #MeToo show, I played on the expectation I was going to make it very ‘me too’ and bring up some personal experience, so I kind of made a joke and said ‘you might have guessed I have a personal interest in the subject matter’, but then I talked about how my sexuality is quite masculine and said that the imagery that turns me on is mostly the stuff that’s made for heterosexual men.”

On adopting a persona for The O Show
“I suppose I’ve always been working in that genre of performance art which blurs the line between the self and the artist. I’ve thought about why I have this persona with the costume a lot, and at a certain level it’s down to shyness. It also gives it a certain weight when it references popular culture and mainstream TV conventions, and that heyday of 90s talk shows – I want to allude to that and give it that feeling. If it’s just me it doesn’t feel as celebratory.”

On sexuality…
“When I was in my 20s I wished I was a gay man, for me it seemed that would be much more sexually free – I’d be expected to be pursuing men. With online dating, I felt like if I was the one that clicked on someone, it would be the end – only if they clicked on me might it be likely to go somewhere. It was annoying, but that’s how it felt. Maybe things are changing… I’m not dating anymore, thankfully. For the show, it was interesting to speak to someone who used to be a high-class call girl, and had a PhD but couldn’t find work: it was interesting to see what it means to sell something we think of as so intimate and personal and that so many people think shouldn’t be sold. But it made her value herself more, and her body image and sense of self changed because of it.”

On why we need to talk about money...
“The big evil demon buzzword is ‘Neoliberalism’; there’s a feeling, especially at Goldsmiths [where Fox studied and now occasionally lectures], that if you don’t somehow respond to that as a context you’re really out of the loop. I also feel like because I’m an artist and I’m dependent on other people for things financially, I feel a lot of shame about money, so that’s the inspiration. I wanted to make a show about artists, and the world telling them what they do is worthless, and the kind of things you have to do to keep afloat but it’s changed a bit from that idea. It’s interesting as photographer Eva Sajovic worked on a project taking portraits of people who are extremely poor and writing their stories; Gavin Turk’s work is all about valuing stuff that has no value. In a way within Neoliberalism, people are disposable: in Trump’s America there are definite winners and losers. For me, I feel like the the message is ‘you can have it all, so why aren’t you? Why aren’t you bringing home the bacon and raising a family?’”

Tickets for The O Show on June 27th 2018 can be purchased here