Kochina Rude. Photography by Rachel Ziegler

We Want it All
Legendary Bay Area drag queens Kochina Rude and Vivvyanne Forevermore take a deep dive into the topic of Maximalism for Feral Fabric’s sixth issue

KR Kochina Rude
VF Vivvyanne Forevermore

With guest editors Sienna Freeman and Forrest McGarvey

Kochina Rude: I’m so excited. So today we’re talking about maximalism with Feral Fabric.

Full disclosure: I don’t really know about what maximalism is, or I didn’t have a strong concept of it, prior to this meeting. What is maximalism to you, Vivvy? And just as a precursor to that question, the reason why I wanted to have this conversation with you is because you and your drag and your artistry strikes me as maximal. But I want to hear you, in your own words, describe what that is.

Vivvyanne Forevermore performance documentation. Photography by Rachel Ziegler
Vivvyanne Forevermore: Full disclosure to you – today I looked up maximalism, and I didn’t even click through to Wikipedia, I just stuck with the one paragraph on Google. So, what I know about maximalism, capital M maximalism, is that it was a response to minimalism. And of course, on Google they’re like, it could be summarized by the catch phrase “more is more,” whereas minimalism is “less is more.”

That kind of speaks to my last name, Vivvyanne “Forevermore.” I'm in the house of More. Juanita More is my sister, Glamamore is my mother. So maximalism to me is… in an artistic, aesthetic way, it’s like the accumulation of “more.” What is the Chanel thing: put on five accessories, but take off two before you leave the house? And I think of Juanita More or Glamamore, and I'm like, no, just put on everything you possibly can.

Juanita MORE! and Glamamore (Mr. David) of House of MORE! Photography by Gooch

Not that they do that without aesthetic value or rigor, but it's like, why not have more? Bigger shoulders or bigger hair or bigger shoes, whatever it is. I like the idea of maximalism as an accumulation of image that you can layer image on top of image on top of image, so that image making becomes the primary practice and the audience gets to do all the meaning making for you. Those are my ideas about it. What about you?

The higher the hair, the closer to dog – that’s my take on maximalism. No, actually for me, I think for me maximalism was kind of more literal, like just having something that’s so visually too much. I mean, you’re describing your last name as indicative of more, right? For me, maximalism is actually about the experience and the stimulation, witnessing or beholding something that is so overstimulating to my senses that I’m almost left in a state of confusion: what am I looking at and why?

VF: Yeah, I mean, that just makes me think that we both work in nightclubs and the nightclub dance floor experience can be one of overwhelm, right? The music is really loud, the lights are everywhere, shining in your eyes, and then there's strobe and sometimes fog, and then there's too many people touching you, if it's crowded, if it's a successful night. But yeah, I like the idea of maximalism being about how it affects you. So, this overwhelm of the senses is really nice.

Overwhelm feels more interesting to me than accumulation too. When I started drag, I was really struck by the cost of it, like the economic cost of it. It meant that I would be getting more stuff in my life. And I really resisted that for a long time because I'm like a post punk, anti-capitalist whatever. And I love aesthetic objects, I like nice clothes, but I had, like, three nice things instead of what I have now. So, I was resisting it for a long time. I really understood good drag as being a product of having really good makeup and doing a really good lip sync, because wigs and clothes were expensive.

KR: Interesting.

VF: Yeah. So, my beginning was just: if I can nail my makeup and my lipstick. Because makeup is a practice of time, an investment at first, but so is lipstick. And I was rich in time, but poor in money.

KR: That sounds kind of minimal.

VF: It was at the time. It was. But I think, though, that my practice of making drag at that time, I think you can't make drag not be somewhat maximalist, right?

KR: Yeah, I agree with that. I think that's the fundamental point. That's kind of the goal.

VF: It is an exaggeration.

KR: Yeah. Actually, what I was about to say is, for me, drag is a funhouse mirror reflecting the world and culture as we know it, back at itself to demonstrate how ridiculous it all is, to be honest. Drag is a caricature of real life, but it also is real life, too.

VF: Yeah. It can't not be real. Drag, I mean. It comes from the nightlife. And I think to me, it's important to like, there is an excess of stimulation in the nightlife. And to me, there's something pretty queer about maximalism, too.

KR: That's interesting.

So, do you think that Maximalism is something that can be queered in practice, or do you think that it's inherently queer?

VF: That's a great question. I think it depends. I think it can be queered. I think maximalism overall as a thing of, like, excess, say it's excess overstimulation, overwhelm, accumulation, excess that can be really heteronormative and all about wealth. Right? That's what it sounds like. A little bit of “more is more” is more money. But I think of it, to me, it's like more is more is more community, experience, connection. Right? Drag is also really about connection from performer to audience, audience to audience. And also the barrier to perform a drag is so fluid that an audience member often becomes a drag artist. So, there's a way in which there's an accumulation of energy and history and social networking that overlaps and overlaps and overlaps and builds and builds and builds to form a community. I don't know, that's something I would say.

I hadn't thought of it that way, actually.

VF: I hadn't till just now.

KR: Vivvy, earlier you mentioned that you had previously, when you started drag, I won’t say how many years ago…

VF: Thanks.

KR: That you were rich in time, but poor in money. And so, since then, going from minimalism to maximalism in your drag journey, what, if any, is your “go to” garment, fabric, accessory, object combination when you want to be the most? And, I've seen you be the most, a number of times.

VF: Thanks, Kochina. That's wild because you do the most.

KR: Oh, wow. I'm flattered.

Vivvyanne Forevermore in biker jacket. Photographer unknown
VF: Yeah, we could get into that. I could compliment you for days.
But right now, I have one costume piece that is the most to me. It's a leather biker jacket, but it's made of upholstered vinyl, so it's kind of like what would be on a bicycle seat or something. It's like a diamond pattern upholstery, so its foam backed, black vinyl. And it almost is like a Gwar outfit. It has giant shoulders with tons of spikes on it and chains, and it ties at the waist with a belt and kind of flares out a little bit. So, it almost has a skirt, but not really. That's my “go to” thing right now. It's also such a look that I don't even need jewelry with it because it has so much stuff on it. It's like an “all in one” giant thing, and it makes me even bigger than I am. And I really like that aspect of it. Since I don't wear pads much or never really have much, I like things that will add to my volume as opposed to sinch me at the waist, I make my shoulders bigger or my hips bigger.

What about you? Do you have a favorite maximalist garment?

KR: One of the garments, well, I actually can name two garments that I wear very often when I want to represent my style or type of drag. And first of those two things is my tattooed breastplate.

Kochina Rude maxing it out in a tattooed breastplate and rhinestoned sports egquipment. Portrait by Sloane Kanter

Oh, I love that.

Yeah. So, I have a breastplate that’s like a silicone standard. I think I got it on AliExpress or something. These two tattoo apprentices who I know needed to practice their tattooing on something that imitated skin, so they both tattooed my breastplate with real tattoo guns.

No way!

Right? Now, it's very convincing because of literally it's realness. It's real. It's a real, really tattooed, fake breastplate. As a very tattooed person, I wear it in drag as a crop top, with little nipple tassels, so that the tattoos on the breastplate and the tattoos on my actual skin and body are kind of seamless. It's hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.

VF: Right.

The other item that I've been wearing a lot is - you actually spoke about big shoulder pads in the kind of the biker jacket you're just describing - I also have a big, shouldered piece that is a children's football shoulder pad scenario that I got from a thrift store. It was $8. Still has the logo on it. It saw combat. It was actually used in pee wee football or whatever. My drag daughter rhinestoned it for me. It's this Mad Max kind of real thing that's hard plastic was designed for something else. It was created with a different intention in mind, and I repurposed it. A lot of my drag is about repurposing. I refer to myself as DIY (do it yourself). For me, that is maximal because I'm trying to repurpose, almost like over-purpose, an object that was not intended for the purpose that I'm now using it.

VF: Right. There's a difference between those two things... To rhinestone something is maximal if we're talking about “normal day life,” right? Like, to put a rhinestone on anything would be kind of a little silly. Maybe not these days. Who fucking knows? But for drag, it's very typical to rhinestone an object or item, especially to make it a performance ready so it sparkles from distance and all this. But the idea that you tattooed the breastplate instead of drew on it, to me, is like, you did the most. Right?

That’s also the action of being – as queer people – as drag artists – we are often considered too much, the most. You had two people tattoo this object in order to make it more real looking… you could have drawn it, right? It could have been easier, it could have been simpler, and you did the most with it. And you did the most with it because of who you are. I'm like, of course you got it tattooed.

KR: It’s also about that fine line between realness and authenticity, right? Realness in this, for our purposes, being a historic term, which refers to something that imitates the conventional version of that thing so well that it's visually indistinguishable versus authenticity when it's actually that thing.

VF: And that's a really nice place to take it too. I don't know. I think that's interesting.

KR: I think that's kind of what performativity is.

VF: Tell me.

KR: Well, performativity, as described by Judith Butler, from my understanding, is the process of intentionally putting something into the world, so much so that even though the origin may have been artificial or contrived, it actually ends up becoming what it was supposed to be, almost kind of self-fulfilling.

The term is used in various ways, but that's the way that I think of it. How can I convince you? Or is that even the point?

VF: Right. I mean, with your breastplate as an example. It's kind of quite clever and funny, the way you wear it too? You don't always disguise. A lot of people will wear something along the seams to make sure you perfectly blend it or something. So there's this way in which you made it match your body in an authentic way, but then you present it in a way that has artifice to it. Right. So there's this overlap there's almost this overlap of what that thing is of identifying that thing. Anyway, I could go on about that forever.

Do you ever feel with maximalism and your experiences of it or ideas around it – do you ever feel trapped by it? Or do you think it's liberatory?

KR: That's a good question. Do you want to know the truth?


I don't think of anything I do as being trapped. I don't think of myself as being trapped in anything that I do. But part of that is because I don’t really know what I'm doing. I have sense of self, sure, but I have a difficult time imagining something that's not in front of me. It's hard for me to imagine something in my head. I wouldn't be very good at storyboarding something or drawing a mock design of an outfit I want. I'm not good at that. What I am good at is collaging things together. So, for me, maximalism is about pulling from everywhere and putting it into a way that combines those things that may even seem desperate and like they don't match and finding a way to make it cohesive and work together. And I think that for me, the artistry aspect of it is that it's unexpected.

You said this thing earlier about how drag is reflecting the culture back to itself in this way... And the thing that you just said of collaging things —  I often talk about the tools, think about the tools of the drag artists as being pop cultural. Like, we speak in pop vernacular because we're referencing pop songs. Pop songs are one of our mediums, right? We use pop songs to quote, unquote, dance to or listen to or whatever it is. And I think of what you said of layering these different things that might be disparate. I think that is exactly what our tools are; like we're layering an image with a song that might be reinterpreted to support, maybe, a narrative or just a beautiful moment, but it might not be what the artist originally intended or even referenced any of the materials that may have been in a music video or anything like that.

So, we're pulling something and layering a new thing on top of it. And in order to layer a new thing on top of it, we're also layering makeup on our faces. There's a lot of layering and collaging like what you said, and I think that that's a nice way of talking about it, that these many images come together to me is the maximal part of it.

Left: Fauxnique in performance with Timothy Cumming's show, 'Muse' November 2020, Catharine Clark Gallery. Photographer Deborah Oropallo.
Right: Lisa Frankenstein. Photography by Rachel Ziegler

I also want to shout out Fauxnique, who is one of my drag siblings, who works quite literally with collaging in her drag, specifically. She'll cut up magazines and layer them on top of each other and create garments out of them. She is quite a maximalist and she's also a House of More type person. The way she performs, to me, it’s always very grand and has a lot happening in it. So, I want to shout her out too.

KR: Yeah, Fauxnique is an excellent example of what maximalism looks like in drag.

VF: I wouldn't say it's not subtle, because she also can be very subtle on stage, but it's up there.

KR: Can maximalism be subtle?

VF: That's a good question. I mean, I did bring up minimalism earlier, right? I wouldn't say that minimalism is subtle. Minimalism is just like less, right? But if you have less things in a room and then there's a white room with a black pencil, that's not subtle, right? It's just less. It's one image as opposed to whatever. I don't know if subtle is a way of measuring these things that are kind of about volume. Right? I think you can be subtle within maximalism.

Let's say your house is incredibly over decorated, and I think of some friends of mine who have a really good aesthetic taste, and it's just stuff from everywhere, and there's lots of color and lots of patterns, but, there'll be one beautiful little thing over here on the table that you wouldn't maybe notice, that you might not notice because there's so much happening. But I would say that because everything is so over, there's so much to put your eyes on, this one thing does become subtle. So maybe there is a way that maximalism can be subtle, where if the room was empty except for that thing, it wouldn't be.

KR: A white room with a black pencil... the black pencil being the focal point.

VF: Right. You walk in and that's what you see. That's not subtle.

KR: I hadn't thought of it that way… I have a question here that I'm going to ask you. In her 2020 book, Everything: A Maximalist Style Guide, designer Abigail Ahern says she is obsessed with maximalist interiors because they “stir up emotion, offering a much-needed respite from minimalism and mid-century quietness. Maximalism is the most of styles. Nothing is off limits.” How does this sentiment resonate with you as an artist working in the drag world?

VF: It resonates in a few ways. First, what I really notice about this quote is the first thing that she talks about is its relationship to minimalism, right? She's placing it in a lineage of aesthetics. She's placing it in a timeline of aesthetics where we're going from mid-century quietness and how people are reacting against that. And I think there's something there, right? I think that drag artists often react against things. So, what this makes me think of is like, maximalism is the most explorative style, nothing is off limits. And then I automatically get cheeky and I'm like, well, is minimalism off limits? She's saying...

if everything goes, then everything goes, and does that mean that everything has to go?

My performances can be maximalist for sure, but most recently, I've been doing like three different songs for the past two years and they're all quiet and emotional and I'm not a dancer, and I often fill the stage with other things, people, costume, change, something like this. But these days I get on stage and I do like the most personal lip sync I can. And to me, that's a very minimalist thing. I'm focusing on one thing, which is like emotional vulnerability, or the projection of emotional vulnerability. I'm trying to be as pure as I can to what I think the song is about, to interpretation. So there's a way in which I feel that I'm doing the opposite of what she's talking about. I'm not responding to minimalism, I'm responding to maximalism.

I think the maximalism that I'm responding to is a little bit of this, like, RuPaul's drag race maximalism. It's become almost like there's like a codified style of drag and it involves hair that you can throw around a death drop or rather a dip, a high kick or jump into a split. This type of performance that is like, big, big entertainment like showgirl, showgirl, showgirl.

And to me, I'm like, well, what if I'm reacting to that and I'm just doing something really beautiful and simple. Within the context of a nightclub, which has, like, too many lights and too much sound, right?

KR: And those types of performances can elicit very strong emotion.

100%. The quiet or the big?

KR: Well, I suppose both, but I'm speaking specifically to yours. There's a level of earnestness there. It's coming from a real place. Being able to convey that emotion and that sentiment and that performance to — whether it be one person or a room of 500 — that can elicit strong reactions from people. Which I think is maximalist: - how can I draw out the most people, even just in terms of as a drag performer;, how can I draw out the most money, if I'm going to be a capitalist maximalist?

VF: I want to shout out Glamamore here because she's my drag mother.
In the time that I've known her, she's gone, for many different reasons, from doing full drag to getting on stage with a bag of clothes and putting on a wig and sunglasses and lip syncing. It is, to me, incredibly minimalist. She's doing the least with regards to her look, but her lip syncs, in that moment, because everything else is pared down — she's one of the best lip syncers, period,  dot the end. She does very quiet numbers that pull everyone's attention at the same time and she'll do it wearing no makeup. There is a way in which minimalism allows the performance to shine, whereas I think sometimes when I'm doing it and I have all the things on, there's a way in which they're fighting against each other. Not in a bad way, it's just a different vibe.

I guess the word is clash.

VF: Clash? Yeah. That's great.

KR: Actually, to piggyback off of your comment about David Glamamore, I also think of my drag wife and your daughter Lisa Frankenstein.

VF: Oh yeah.

KR: I'll never forget when Lisa Frankenstein brought the house down during an impromptu performance during the pandemic wearing a mask so you could not see her lip syncing the words. And she still, still managed to bring the house down and have people cheering at the end of her number. If we want to talk about the power of minimalism….

VF: We’re supposed to talk about the opposite, but yeah…

KR: I suppose you can't have one without the other. I think that's why, drawn back to this, it seems like maximalism without minimalism just wouldn't be as maximal.

VF: Maybe, but I feel like now we're in this like black, white, yes, no, good, bad dichotomy which I don't love because to me, queerness and drag are very in between. Or, like, fucking with everything at the same time.

KR: Something that you said once, Vivvy resonated with me on this topic. To go back to how maximalism is something that is queer, it's like a queer specialty. I don't know if maximalism is inherently queer, but Vivvy, you had mentioned that maximalism is uniquely queer. The example you gave was that we had to make the biggest quilt in the world to get attention to AIDS in the 80s. Act up, fight back is a maximal statement.

VF: Yeah, Silence equals death.

KR: It's effective.

Photography by Rachel Ziegler
VF: Right. I would add on top of that too, that if we talk about the history of queer liberation, you and I both know, but that it really is sparked off and fought by people who were visibly queer, could not not be queer looking, right? Like they looked queer, gender nonconforming, etc. And if we want to center on the true dominant culture of the United States of America, which is heteronormativity, white supremacy, misogyny, all the things. Heteronormativity is not maximal, right? There are two genders, there's two bathrooms. No more! We're done.

I think of the queens at Compton's Cafeteria. They were too much for heteronormativity. They were just so much.

The reason why Drag Story Hour and whatever is becoming illegal is because the idea that anyone would want to dress, it's not even just to dress to a gender opposite, quote unquote opposite… but that they would dress to such an extreme. And the fact that it's being read as sexual by heteronormativity is that, to me, it's clearly just a tactic. But also, if you're reading drag as inherently sexual, just like purely sexual performance, it means you can't even conceive of what it is. Right? You don't have the ability to even read what it is because it's so far outside of your aesthetic world and your symbology and semioticsand stuff that you can only assign something that you can interpret it as, which is sexual, where it's like, not all drag references sex. Just because you're wearing, like, a bodycon thing. And then also, like, ten pounds of fucking foam to show off your hips and curves. I don't know. I wouldn't say it's not sexual, but that's not what it is.

What a sick, sad world. What a sad way to be. Queer people, we want it all. We’ll demand it all.

VF: Yeah. Let us get married and also fight a revolution.

KR: Well, actually, on the topic of heteronormativity and maximalism, or whether or not it's inherently queer, I actually think about maximalism compared to not minimalism, but rather asceticism, which would be like, the very practiced full devotion to God or whatever. Insofar as that a person literally owns nothing, has nothing. I forget who it was, that Greek or Roman person who famously lived on a pillar with a blanket for like, decades or something like that.

VF: It's about denial, right? It's in the negative. It's about denial so that you could have a purer life.

KR: Right. In the Middle Ages or so, much of the religious imagery was really strong and I would argue maximal, Catholicism. You’d walk into a cathedral and there's colors and images and symbols. It's all about symbology, right? And these very intensely strong images, these maximal depictions of Mary and Jesus and the disciples, in part was because common people were illiterate, they did not know how to read. And so, what's striking to me about that is that maximalism, even in that instance, is a response to being disallowed something. And the pipeline of children who grew up Catholic to becoming adult homosexuals is, you know, arguably high. That's somewhere else that I go with it too, when I think about the topic of maximalism.

VF: Well, I like what you said about it not being a response to minimalism, but a response to asceticism. And if we take asceticism as being a denial, a removal and a denial of things, so that you can have a more pure experience, it's like a mix and remix of the Catholicism thing. It’s like: do you have to deny yourself the world in order to touch God? Right? Like, queer people — we want it all — so maybe in order to touch God, you can indulge in physical reality, you can find spirit and love in an object. Right? Why do I like images and stuff? It’s because the experiences of images and the experiences of drag and this collaging that you're talking about, and the layering, opens something inside me, creates a queer portal in my brain and new meaning is created because of the way you're layering images that I wouldn't even think to. Because you're creating new associations for me. I don't know, I just kind of went off on a tangent there, but I just think you saying queer people want it all and then talking about asceticism I'm like, yeah, maybe we do want it all. That's okay.

KR: And is that such a bad thing? Right?

VF: It is only if you tie it to evil capitalism.

KR: And maximalism as capitalism can be evil itself too, right?

VF: Pretty bad, the writer strike, rich corporations and all this.

KR: Let's end this with one final question and maybe we can both respond to it. What is the relationship to you between maximalism and power?

VF: Oof. I would say to me, maximalism would be a tool, if it's a tool, to wield power, sure. But I don't think of them as necessarily tied together because I'm thinking about maximalism as like an artistic or aesthetic or community expression. I'm not thinking about it as an accumulation of guns.

KR: Well, sure. And that's power perhaps in the literal sense.

VF: Is it power? I think it can be.

I think maximalism is powerful. Yes.

KR: And as queer people, we are experts in harnessing power and reinterpreting and making new meaning and making power out of things that were intended to disempower us. Yeah, like the term queer itself.

VF: Yeah, I'm picking up what you're putting down. I like this. I co-sign. We figured it out. This must be the end of the article. You know what? That's it.

KR: I think that we can close the Webster's dictionary on this topic. Someone call Wikipedia and get them to transcribe this. Great. Lovely talking to you as always, Vivvy.

VF: You too.

ZOOM Interview recorded Monday, 05/8/23, 6:30pm