“I don’t do anything for money. I do everything for art.”
The first time I stepped into The Spectrum (an underground queer nightclub in Brooklyn that has since closed) it was to see Bunny Michael perform live alongside Sadaf last summer. It was an experimental night, the room was pitch black and the smoke machine was on even though the room wasn’t all that full. Our friend Breakaway was in town from Minneapolis, and was performing that night as well. He had a car so we piled in. When we got there, I parked on the couch in a pair of knee-high socks. I didn't know what I was in for, to be honest. My jaw dropped as Bunny Michael stepped up, clad in a bodysuit or maybe a swimsuit and a silk robe, and greeted the audience like an old friend. She began with a cover of “Gasolina” and it was then that the middle schooler in me nearly exploded. Bunny's face swung between dazed pouty soft looks and a fiercely infectious smile, and I saw beneath her various characters the same sharp intelligence and social commentary I enjoy in artists like Nicki Minaj or Grimes. Bunny is a pop star for the underground.
Bunny Michael is an artist and performer, whose tracks sit at the cross-section of affects that don’t get enough love (in my opinion): hard femme attitude, mystical forces, and intimate moments in the queer club. Hailing from Texas, Bunny says the South is where she “learned what it felt to be an outsider.” She moved to New York one week before September 11, 2001, and currently lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Spinning her own kind of magic via experimental music videos, her exuberant shows in venues across the Brooklyn underground, and crafted personas, Bunny is actually one of a handful or so notable vocalists and live solo performers in the New York club scene right now. As I write that, it feels like it can’t be true, there must be more people do this, but in the midst of hundreds of DJs (she calls them all angels) in the circuit at the moment, it seems more and more real. There's no one like her.
Bunny Michael is the perfect distillation of our early-summer look at “depravity,” but not for the reasons you might expect (her art is often about fucking as ritual, embracing the slut and the spiritual, all that). Besides the explicit themes of sex and psyche in her work, there is also an underlying perversity to her approach to work itself. In a moment where everybody seems to be performing to make a living, Bunny makes it clear: she’s doing everything for art. What does she mean by that? To find the answer, I spoke to Bunny Michael about who she looks up to, where she likes to spend her time, and what she thinks the spaces we build together really need.
What was your entry point into making things?
I was a very imaginative child, and sensitive to energy from my earliest memory. Creativity was like a lil’ bubble of protection, however I didn’t consider myself an artist until I started experimenting with psychedelics around the age of 15. I remember drawing a picture on LSD of the Virgin Mary and something clicked in my brain. I knew I had a gift.
You’ve referred to yourself as a “Nature Slut Telepathic Goddess from the Future”. These are pretty wild thoughts to have, particularly being “telepathic” and “from the future.” What does that mean to you more specifically?
This title refers to my “Higher Self” or an enlightened dimension of my being that I have only glimpsed in moments. I know it as my true nature without ego. Nature Slut is another way of saying loving the body or vessel I have been given to channel. I say telepathic because I have moments of telepathy where I can see a visualization of a thought or a feeling that someone else is having. And I say from the future, because I know it as a stage I have not reached and maybe won’t in this lifetime.
Spirituality seems to be a huge component of your work as well, in imagery and in your lyrics. What’s your relationship to spirituality these days?
I am interested in what is ultimately unknown and cannot be seen. I am interested in raising my consciousness through internal exploration with meditation, plant medicines, art, and through relationships both on a larger social level and personally. Mainly, I feel a responsibility as an artist to raise my consciousness through compassion and understanding so that I may be a stronger conduit for peace. How can you help to bring peace in the world when you can’t find it within yourself? Having a spiritual practice keeps me on the path of the heart.
Splitting into different personas and living multiple lives and characters seems to be a big part of your work. I feel like there’s been a lot of talk in the past year or so about personalities, personas, and performance – does anything stand out to you about this?
What I like to refer to my work where I use two versions of myself in an image as “witness consciousness”. It’s the relationship I have with my Higher Self, the push and pull of the ego manifestation and the love manifestation. It so hard to stay in that love space and sometimes you can go really far away from it, then you remember, and you’re right back in that peaceful loving place. There is a shift happening, I believe, in consciousness on the planet. The next stage of our evolution. Artists are both the initiators and the reflection of this.
When I saw you perform last summer at The Spectrum, I was so struck by your aesthetic style and found it so striking. How do you decide how to get dressed for your shows, and also how do you decide what to wear when you’re just leaving your house for any kind of engagement?
I base a lot of what I wear on color choice. Colors have a huge effect on my feelings. I also don’t like to buy anything that isn’t second hand, unless it is a really special piece by an artist. There are too many clothes everywhere! I do believe clothes have energy and when you wrap your body in something made out of cruelty it can have a deep effect on your psyche, or at least it does on mine.
How do you balance the work you might do “for money” and the time you spend making art?
To be honest, I don’t do anything “for money”. I do everything “for art”. Money is exchanged in multiple avenues but I don’t discriminate my efforts. My goals are always present, whether I’m selling a painting or selling a drink. Why am I doing this? To serve. To serve humanity. I do what I have to do to show up to that. And these tips from these customers are helping to facilitate that. And this gallery show is helping to facilitate that. So I’m grateful.
What do you think is missing from culture in New York? And what would you love to see more of?
With all the diversity of this city, I think there is still a real lack of representation of people of color artists in the art world. Our voices having been silenced for too long. New York needs now more than ever to hear and see the expressions of diverse experiences. We have been creating our own spaces but often it’s hard to sustain them. We need more support and that includes financial support. I worry too about gentrification making it literally impossible for artists to live here. Or making it that artists don’t even want to live here. It’s like we have totally lost sight of what makes New York so amazing; the creative energy and creative spaces. Not just bars and restaurants and Duane Reades and Whole Foods and Forever 21 ... like, what the fuck?
Who are you really into right now?
My heroes are Nina Simone, Ram Dass, Terrence Mckenna, Angela Davis ... Right now I’m inspired by Anohni, Princess Nokia, Mykki Blanco, Chino Amobi, Kendrick Lamar, Raul Nieves, Meriem Bennani, Chanca Via Circuito.
I love to see artists who are unafraid to talk about deep issues, politics, revolution, suffering, enlightenment, who use their work as a means to wake people up and raise consciousness. How can you be an artist today with everything that is going on in the world and not speak to it?
How would you describe your relationship to nightlife?
I try to go out and support other performers and artists as much as I can without getting too caught up in the drinking aspect. It’s a hard balance, but I finally feel like i can go to a club and not get fucked up and enjoy the community and be present with that. There's so much beautiful gatherings happening in NYC right now, literally angels are DJing and performing and hosting and dancing every night of the week! It’s a beautiful time.
How do you define success in relation to your artistry and performance? What makes a project a success in your eyes?
Success is “sleep in peace when day is done”, that’s what Nina Simone says. How to get to that peace for me is taking care of my body and mind. I don't think any performance or creative endeavor is ever not successful because even if something goes “wrong” I’ve learned from it. I've learned what I don't want. Sort of like a bad relationship. You’re like “damn, I'm not gonna do that again!” When I think about my future and my goals and dreams, I see myself inspiring more people the way I have been inspired by so many amazing artists. I see myself giving back.
You clearly see yourself as very connected to the natural world, and continue to use it as a big component of your art. Where are some of your favorite places to spend time outside?
Living in New York makes it really hard to connect to nature as much as I’d like to. In fact, it’s really affecting me. I try as much as I can to go to the park or go upstate. But it never feels like enough. Some of my favorite places are Prospect Park where you can still get lost, and the queer side of Riis Beach.
Any works coming up for you that you want people to know about?
Yes, I just finished a new record, and new videos all coming out very soon. I feel very grateful and excited to share.