Jean-Biche spent several years in Brussels before heading for Paris and meeting with success as a queer performer. After leaving a permanent mark on the city, the multi-faceted artist toured the world with Manko Cabaret, worked with Jean-Paul Gaultier and even interpreted David Bowie at a tribute ceremony. Defending his own vision of performing arts, he told us about renewing drag culture and his relationship with social media.
Visual artist, dancer, performer… How do you define yourself, Jean-Biche?
I don’t feel the need to define myself, actually. You define yourself for a resume, when someone tries to find out who you are. One shouldn’t put names on one’s art; it would be like setting limits to yourself. I am a passion-driven person who learns on the job and likes to try different things. People often call me a ‘queer artist’. If that means ‘versatile’ – beyond labels and stereotypes – I could go along with it. But I still like to cling to the idea that I don’t need to define my work – that’s not my thing.
We can feel it in the way you revamp drag art. Do you feel like a new type of drag?
I perform, cross-dress and create my own looks. So yes, my art is linked to drag culture. Although I’m getting less and less comfortable with this idea. Following Drag Race’s popularity, the drag got uberised; her ideas got limited as she went mainstream. That pushes many artists to reinvent drag performance today. Whether they are named Salvia, IsSheHungry or Matière Fécale, outcasts are rising with true creativity to redefine our field. I know some of these artists, and they inspire me a lot. Meanwhile, my career has developed differently. Performing each weekend in Paris at Manko Cabaret, I have worked with fabulous performers from diverse backgrounds: strippers, acrobats, musicians… I have fed on their universes and experiences; this ultimately helped me to shape my own vision.
Which feelings do you try to share with your audience when performing?
What I love in art, is feeling the creator’s truth and a good balance between elements. That’s what I also try to develop in my own performances. I want the audience to feel somehow worried, somehow seduced, somehow repulsed… You have to strike a delicate balance, so people get the picture without feeling lost. Neither should you take them for idiots, nor for the best-in-class. I don’t like explanations; I prefer letting people experience the immersion. Whether your message is coded or not, people will always follow if your approach is genuinely sincere. What I enjoy most is when they come after the show to tell me: “We didn’t get it all, but we had a really nice time.” That’s the best compliment they could give.
You have spent lots of time in Brussels before settling down in Paris. What do you take away from the city?
I initially came to Brussels to attend La Cambre and wasn’t expecting much from the city at the time. Quickly, I understood the city was the perfect ground for me to experiment and try things without fearing judgement. It’s obviously one of the best cities to build yourself as an artist. I relocated to Paris after Manko Cabaret asked me to perform every weekend, but I often come back. Each time, I feel nostalgic walking in the streets. People here always supported me, and it’s always a pleasure to come back for a show at Cabaret Mademoiselle or a DJ set at Los Niños. Brussels may be viewed as a laboratory, one of the only cities where people only ask you to come and do your thing.
You’ve been highly active on social networks before taking a bit of distance. How do you balance between creation and social media presence?
I used to be quite addicted to social media when I understood it could help me achieve my goals. I used to take and edit tons of selfies. I would spend hours looking at every detail, no matter how small, thinking about who I should tag first or which hashtag to add. That made me feel blue in the end. In Paris, I sometimes find drags who have an impressive number of followers on Instagram. They have an irreproachable feed, seem to be connected with everyone and have plenty of admirers. Truth is that the day they go to work, you realise they are not professional or unprepared for the stage. This made me aware of the importance to focus first and foremost on my work. Each hour that I don’t spend on social networks is an hour I can spend on creation – that’s what matters most.