Alicia McDaid


Interview: by Janice Grube

With a handful of pieces with titles like Golden Girls Abortion, Don’t Fart In Your Pussy and Call It a Whoopee Cushion, and The Galactic Daughters of Passion, performance artist Alicia McDaid has spent over a decade in Portland’s underground art scene performing satirical skits and homemade videos that showcase the artist during her most intimate moments.

Trained as a studio artist with a concentration in painting, Alicia began journaling her work during the early days of YouTube, and slowly built up a cult following that tuned in regularly to watch her deep-throat a banana, receive a colonic, or break down in a fit of tears.

Her live performances, which have included everything from bouncing a yoga ball while flashing her bloody underwear to taking off her clothes and covering her body with pizza, are some of the standalone bits of shock value that transforms her unique take on performance art into works of cringe comedy.

Having been featured on Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die website, and showcased alongside artists like Antony and the Johnsons and Reggie Watts at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s prestigious TBA Festival, Alicia’s most recent project is a role in the Portland-based filmmaker Dicky Dahl’s film, The Curio. “I play an eccentric middle-aged lesbian painter who lives in a converted school bus,” explains Alicia. “I smoked catnip and dyed my hair gray for the role. It was a lot of fun.”

JANICE GRUBE: What was the scene like when you first moved to Portland?

ALICIA MCDAID: Oh man, when I moved to Portland in 1997 I was like, “Oh my god! My people!” It was so much fun. A lot of my friends were five years older than me and had gone to Reed [College], and were around when the X-Ray Cafe was going on. It sounded like the wild west of the DIY ‘90s. So many talented people collaborating, and everyone’s band being courted by labels, rent and thrift stores were still cheap. A lot of my female friends were around during prime riot grrrl times. I joined an artist’s collective called Pacific Switchboard. We had lots of shows: visual art and music and poetry readings. I was totally blown away and inspired, and started taking acting classes and got a job as a traveling puppeteer—anything to get better as a performer. Then I joined Ralf Youtz’s band Ape Shape as a back up singer and dancer, and we went on tour with Built to Spill. Greg Arden and I created Rush-N-Disco—so many good times! I feel really blessed that I’ve had so many talented friends. I only wish I was a more “together” person. My chaotic nature has fueled my art, but ultimately, it caused damage in most of my collaborative relationships. 

JG: Your art seems based on the ups and downs of your life. How does that affect your relationships and the friends that surround you?

AM: It’s changed so much now that I’m married, but I think it affects my life because I’m always thinking, “I should record this moment, or this could be so hilarious on video.” I think I actually put myself in dangerous positions because I want the story to unfold a little more, so I can use it as material for the work. I blur the line between my life and my art, so I’m constantly escalating drama in my daily situations. I know I don’t need to be doing this, but I feel like I go with the moment because I’m thinking, “If this ship is going down, I might as well make it funny to have something to laugh about later.” 

JG: How much of your work is improvisational versus scripted?

AM: Most of the work I do is improvisational, especially the video performances with just me crying and dancing. It started as this cathartic, load-blowing process for me, and I would start fucking around or dancing and then put on outfits and just go with it. When I started doing these video journals, I was really heartbroken and depressed. I was feeling like there was something wrong with me. I would go home and turn on the camera, and that helped me just focus on being me. When I finally started editing it, I became aware that it was becoming bigger and not just some video journal that I would watch in 20 years. I couldn’t help but think, ""‘This is really influencing what I’m doing as an artist.” ”’ When I made “Pain is Fear Leaving Your Body,” I had to edit loads of footage down to 10 minutes to get some sort of rhythm going. You can’t even really tell what I’m talking about; it just became this universal angst, or comedy, or whatever it is. I’m up for doing anything, as long as people can relate to it. It’s just like writing a love song. It can be so personal when you’re pouring your heart out.

JG: Your entire vibe is very ‘80s, and your influences come from that decade as well. Why is that?

AM: I guess I still associate the ‘80s with innocent fun, hopeful times, and budding sexuality. Like, “‘Wow, I’m gonna have boobs someday. What does that mean?”’ You know? I used to go to a babysitter’s house that was littered with ‘70s and ‘80s Playboys, and that obviously influenced my style a lot. Nineteen eighty four through 1987 were my most awesome years as far as feeling rad and excited about personal fashion and thinking that I was the shit. Then I hit puberty and I got really weird. It all kind of went sideways for a long time.

JG: You’ve been a Portlander for 14 years, yet you and your husband recently left for New York, returning every so often to regroup. Do you feel like you have a fresh perspective in New York being an artist from Portland?

AM: In a way yes, but I also feel a bit naïve. In Portland I feel like you can do anything because you can just do it for the art, or the love of making a connection with a group of people. There’s a strong sense of community in Portland, and I love that. I miss that whenever I’m away. In New York I feel like you have to network the shit out of yourself and really get into a scene. But there’s also an opportunity for me to make a living with my art because people there like to spend their money on weird shit.

Alicia McDaid's PDX

photo: Christine Taylor
  • This place is a time capsule. I went to Dot’s when I moved to Portland as a 22-year-old drunken vegan and ate hummus, fries and beer. I went there all the time when I lived down the street as an early-to-mid-to-late 30’s sober meat eater for burgers and, my fave, the chicken pita sandwich.
  • This is the best movie house in Portland. They have an unusually awesome mix of art house films and festivals-movies you can’t necessarily see if you wait until you can stuff your face with pizza and beer while you watch them. They aren’t running this place to get rich. They are doing it to bring Portland high-quality cinema.
  • I love this bar. I have so many good memories of hanging out with my favorite people in Portland here. They have good food, kombucha, a nice outdoor patio for smoking and carousing, and someone always playing cool records. All the good vibes of a house party, but without that one super annoying drunk guy.
  • The food here is so fucking good! They specialize in French, Italian and Spanish cuisine and everything in small or large family style plates. They work with a local CSA and have great wine—if you’re into that. Fresh veggies, meat that isn’t sketchy, delicious cheeses, with a totally unpretentious atmosphere.
  • I like going here all year round, whether the roses are in bloom or not. It’s quiet, there are benches, there’s a coffee shop called Palio nearby. I’ve cried alone, laughed with friends and made out with boys. The first time I took mushrooms, I went there and it looked like candy land.
  • This is a sliding scale, community acupuncture clinic started by Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter. There are three locations now, but I used to go to the 57th and Fremont once or twice a week for acupuncture and would only pay $15 a visit. I can’t thank them enough for helping me quit drinking, lose weight and generally get more in touch with my body and emotions.
  • If I was independently wealthy, this is where I’d buy all my clothes, jewelry, underwear and the odd, beautiful home decor item. Owner Giovanna Parolari is funny, warm and has amazing taste so everything in the shop feels like a work of art but in a fun, wearable, really well made kind of way. Every time I go here I feel better when I leave, even if I don’t buy anything.
  • Best Indian food in the Portland area. Everything is fresh, perfectly spiced, and made with love. It’s located in a strip mall in Hillsboro, but I would drive out there just to gorge myself into happiness. If you go at dinnertime, you can get dosas; large flat crepes that come with all kinds of delicious fillings and sauces.

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