“Reality and fantasy collide in an explosion of wigs and costumes,” Selina Vixen.
Catherine Hourihan remembers her past life as a founder of the neo-burlesque movement with wry joy. Catherine’s alter ego, Selina Vixen, was a performer with the Neo-Burlesque circuit that toured the East Village to the ‘blast in the past’ world that is Coney Island. This was all done after flying from Sydney to New York in the early 2000s to follow the performance art instinct. Now a working photographer, Catherine shares some of her first snapshots of this relatively unseen world.
Photography was a natural progression for Catherine to take on, especially when she tired of the performance fatigue that accompanies the touring life. Catherine was exposed to visual art as a student at COFA in her youth and that nurtured her love of film and photography.
“There was always a gaggle of men taking photographs of the performance stage,” she noted. As both a performer and a photographer, being of both worlds, her double identity “allowed an intimacy.” Catherine reflects that it was a privilege to be so close to both worlds.
While sipping coffee, she adds, “It happened when it was supposed to. It was a significant part of my life; another aspect of myself. A character lived out in the Burlesque.”
Catherine recalls a memory of the Galapagos venue floating in a corner of Brooklyn where an un-glamorous Monday night ritual unfolds. She was part of a group of Burlesque performers who had to walk through the snow filled alley to get backstage. The cold of the offtstage life is imprinted in that memory.
For Catherine, burlesque is a place of transformation. It begins in the places you cross before taking the stage. Catherine captures these moments with an experienced hand as we uncovered that part of her life and chatted across the stools in the Warhol’s Children cafe.
When quizzed about the nature of Burlesque, she came up with an offhand definition of the art. In its simplest form, it was “a combination of cabaret, strip-tease and dance.” Burlesque emerged from the bawdy humour of Vaudeville which was constrained to verbal jokes. Other performance elements didn’t appear until the early 20th century. Over time, Burlesque underwent a change of audiences as well as form. It was no longer viewed as a crass, low brow art for the public eye but its playful hybrid storytelling became, “Dignified, elegant, arty and respectable,” in its raw state. Neo-burlesque was its revitalisation.
For her final performance, Selina Vixen was dressed as a statue of liberty who was then stripped and lifted into the clouds by the other girls - her plane waiting in the wings to take off.
“It was fun, social, definitely a bit of a party - occasionally an intoxicated wild ride,” she says with a laugh.
“It becomes a bit of a blur…so many great nights and most of the time I had a ball. It was really part of being a community which was fairly contained at the time. It's evolved since then.”
"That's the end of my show and tell."
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