Before Antony was 'Antony and The Johnsons,' he was a veteran of the theatre. Moving to New York as a teenager, Antony enrolled in drama school at NYU, and subsequently co-founded the performance collective Blacklips and spent much of the 90s writing and directing off-Broadway productions. One night, Antony was performing in Manhattan when he met an English artist named Charles Atlas, a figure known for his lyrical portrayals of the dancer Michael Clark and the late Leigh Bowery. The pair became close friends, and came to collaborate on a performance in New York called 'Turning', where Antony's songs were paired with the projected images of Downtown females, including Nomi Ruiz of Jessica 6, CocoRosie's Bianca Casady and the performance artist Kembra Pfahler. It's now taken shape as a feature-length art film, and will have its UK Premiere on August 11 at Antony's Meltdown. Here, Antony explains why he's been obsessing over the project for the past eight years.
The film is the next level of 'Turning' in a way, because it includes all sorts of very intimate interviews with the participants. It's totally different to the original stage piece. There wasn't a narrative attached to it before, but now the narrative of the women's lives is attached to the image of them turning in combination with my songs
Charles used to come and see my performances at the Pyramid Club when I was 22. People were always vying for his attention and to get him to film them for a minute, but I think he really liked me. He obviously humoured me! I just kind of grew up around him, and we've always bounced off of each other. First of all I asked him to do a project with me for the Whitney Biennial in 2004, and we did 'Turning'. The idea was to combine my concert with a prototype that he was developing which was a turning portrait of a woman's face. Almost like multiple exposures, overlaid upon themselves. I said, "well why don't we do a whole series of these during a concert? We'll have one portrait for each song."
After I won the Mercury Prize, which was a big moment for me, we toured 'Turning' around Europe in 2006 with all the women from Downtown New York, and we filmed the whole thing. Charles was generating these beautiful art films every night of the women as they turned by the side of the stage. He has a brilliant vision of things. It's just so modern and so pure; so beautiful and so crisp. Over the last four or five years, we've slowly put together the resources to make the film in a way that was really satisfying to both of us, with a Danish producer called Bullitt Film. The film is the next level of 'Turning' in a way, because it includes all sorts of very intimate interviews with the participants. It's totally different to the original stage piece. There wasn't a narrative attached to it before, but now the narrative of the women's lives is attached to the image of them turning in combination with my songs. We're really excited to show it in London, and Charles and I will both be at the premiere and we'll talk about it after the screening.