Whitehot Magazine

On Machine Dazzle

Installation view, Ouroboros.

By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST April 28, 2024 

I have written up some purposefully confrontational gay artists. In the 60s I was with Gilbert and George, who were in their usual matching pale grey suits, as they executed a sequence of high-style poses in a pub, which was in a working class London district where you could not necessarily count upon a politely attentive audience. Some years later I interviewed Quentin Crisp, again in raw London surroundings, for Holiday magazine.  His shoulder-length hair was, if I remember right, Mediterranean blue. But until I made the trip to UMMA, the yummy acronym for the University of Michigan Museum of Art, I had never encountered the artworld likes of the gloriously over the top proponent of Queer Maximalism, Machine Dazzle.

A thumbnail history of Machine Dazzle’s penetration of the haute artworld will record that in 2019 Treasure, his cabaret/fashion show generated by popular song, opened at the Guggenheim and that in December 2022 he had show/events at both at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, and a performance/installation that accompanied a real time performance of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the New York Met.

So to his show at UMMA. This was the first of three iterations of a performative installation, mostly consisting of fuzzy, fluffy or feathery wearables which have exploded or imploded into objects with an unmistakeable art presence. The most attention-demanding piece, though, was Ouroboros, a sizeable circle which the artist had put together from found objects. It was hung from the ceiling in its own room and took its name from an ancient Greece myth in which it references a snake eating its own tail, thereby representing the continuum of death and rebirth..     

It’s been an eventful journey for the artist, who was born Matthew Flower, grew up in  largely Mormon city in Idaho, was an art graduate at the University of Colorado, and moved to New York’s East Village aged 21 in 1994. There he was soon developing his costumery and had become such an unstoppable dancer that he was nicknamed Machine.

It was friends who put Machine Flower together with the performer group, the Dazzle Dancers. “The very first night I made these tissue paper tutus with a staple gun,” he says. “I had a bottle of glitter and a bottle of Vaseline intensive care lotion. I mixed it all together and I said put it all over your body. And here’s your tutu. So for years I was making the costumes. But then they were like Machine! Be one of the dancers! You’re always here. So I became Machine Dazzle. Because all of the Dazzle dancers had Dazzle names.”

The putting together of the works is an unending process. “Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s not,” Machine says. “Sometimes it’s free, made out of something I have or something I find on the street. Everything is a found object in a way.” Sometimes, he says, but very rarely, he knows exactly what he needs. “Ohmigod! I have to make this out of pinecones. Where can I find some?” He adds “You can find anything on the forest floor. You have animals, fallen branches. You have the weather. I think that my work is more about emerging out of nature than trying to control it.” 

Portrait of Machine Dazzle.

The primary wearer of the costumery has always been Machine himself and he sees it as transformative. “Sometimes you become something else, you’re not yourself. You’re not a character necessarily, you become something other, something different. You are in charge of the narrative. If there is one. Maybe you don’t have to have a narrative. Who says you have to have one? You can be anything. You can put on a a costume and be anything. You could be a creature. Maybe it’s a fantasy, maybe it’s very real.”

Wearing the costumery though is not an everyday thing for Machine. “There are times when you do it on purpose,” he says. “And there are times when you just do it. Generally when I dress up, there’s a reason. I’m on my way somewhere. I’m going to a parade.” He has also observed that that it takes courage to wear his more flamboyant outfits.

“It’s ignorant and rather naïve not to think that  certain things you wear would not be provocative to certain people,” Dazzle says. “If I go out in full drag in my neighbourhood they are going to let me know it. Let’s say I’m wearing a dress and high heels and I have make-up on and something silly. It’s not a neutral position. And that kind of look could, in certain neighbourhoods, in certain situations, could get me killed.”

 Machine Dazzle’s work is clearly getting increasing support, I observed, but clearly it remains very much on the edge. Is he okay with that? 

“In art history books things were big, things were mountains,” he said. “There are no mountains anymore. There are a lot of niches. I don’t sell my work that much. Nobody is going to want to take Ouroboros and put in their home. That’s not the kind of work that I physically have made. I am simply responding to impulses and instinct. I don’t create product, I create experiences.”   WM


Anthony Haden-Guest


Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.




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