After graduating in fine arts at La Esmeralda, an art school in Mexico City, in 2012, I had no idea what I was going to do next. I still lived with my mother. I had no money, not many friends, no prospects. I sent portfolios everywhere, but galleries didn’t seem interested. I had been working on a painting on and off for almost a year and just couldn’t finish it.
One night I was up late painting and listening to music on YouTube. There was a cover of a Waylon Jennings song called “Dreaming My Dreams”, performed by Cary Ann Hearst. Her voice completely captivated me. I’ve watched the video over and over. It inspired me to dig out and tune my electric guitar, which I hadn’t touched in ten years. As I sat in front of my laptop, trying to play the song, I was overcome with grief, though I didn’t know why at the time. I couldn’t figure out the chords and my voice didn’t sound like hers at all. I started to cry and couldn’t stop.
That turned out to be a fateful evening. The next morning I tested positive for HIV. A few years later I went blind due to complications from the disease. I told this story as part of a 2017 performance piece called “The Sigourney Weaver Jam Sessions” at the Time-Based Art Festival in Portland, Oregon, in which I tried to sing “Dreaming My Dreams.” I realized shortly afterwards that the reason I had cried that night was that when I heard my voice in my headphones, I heard a man singing. I suddenly knew two things: I had to do something about my gender and I had to do something about music.
I’ve been working on both since then and am so much happier. I am learning to androgynize my voice and to play guitar. It feels very different now that I’m blind, almost like I’m using a different part of my brain. I still have my first electric guitar, but playing acoustic is more intimate, so I want to come back to the electric guitar after I get the hang of it. My instruments are usually in the living room – I was lucky enough to find a large apartment in the Mitte district of Berlin, so half is my home and the other half my workspace. Now I only make work if I think it’s funny. Even if the subject is very sad or dark, something about me – the way it will be presented or the context in which it will be shown – has to tickle me. Unfortunately, all the fun of painting disappeared with the loss of my eyesight; the joy of it was to see how the image changed while i was working.
I am learning more and more how important it is to build playtime into my creative process. To keep having ideas for paintings or the motivation to create, I have to regularly spend time singing or strumming the guitar. It has become a kind of therapy, something I do to make myself feel real.
This interview has been edited and abridged.