Shannon Lester & a Lady Named Sasha – A Performance Art Practice

by Shauna Oddleifson

I took some time this past month  to hang out with Shannon Lester in his studio in the Platypus House at UBC-Okanagan where Shannon is pursuing his MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies.

After spending six years in Japan teaching English, and having very little space for creating art, Shannon decided to make his way back to Canada. During his last two years in Osaka, Japan, Shannon and Michael Judd, a fellow expat, were feeling a bit dissatisfied with their lives in that they were not doing anything professionally with their art, so they formed KISS KISS BANG BANG; a group that combines performance, music, video and film, and visual art. They have performed all over Japan, in New York, and in BC. Currently, Shannon is in his first year of the 3-year MFA program, and is ambitiously working on many projects including painting, music and performance.


When I visited Shannon, he was concentrating his efforts on the performance aspect of his practice. In KISS KISS BANG BANG, Shannon performs in drag as “Sasha”,  his alter ego. Sasha was born out of trauma, and Shannon’s affinity with women as a gay man. Sasha is a way for him to explore his female side, and to explore his dark side in a safe and positive way. It also allows for him use it as a creative outlet through which he can express his rage, and sort of do therapy on and for himself.


In talking about his experience at UBCO and what his professors and graduate committee think about Sasha, Shannon says “I am a bit concerned with being pigeonholed by the academic world, that I am working on queer theory, or dealing with gender issues.” Shannon made it very clear that he is not fighting for gay rights, or anything of that nature, but rather sees this as a way of putting a mirror up to the gay community, of questioning some of the lifestyle choices that are stereotypically part of a gay man’s life. He also mentioned that it is challenging to be in an academic establishment as when his drag work is very anti-establishment.


On top of the time spent on studio practice, which also includes painting, some of which adorn the common spaces of Platypus House, Shannon also has to make time for research and writing about what he is producing. The program at UBC-O focuses a lot on the critical side of art, not so much the creative, according to Shannon – a lot of the work being done, and being encouraged by the professors is very theory based, which leads to people doing a ton of research before they can even get started on making art.  This is something that Shannon finds stifling.  Of course, he notes that it is important to be able to talk about your work, but there needs to be time to make it so that you have something to talk about.


With this amount of work, and the fact that Shannon has three areas of interest in his artistic practice that are all very important to him, I asked Shannon if it’s all worth it. Of course it is! Having nothing but dedicated time to be making art is what any artist wants – real life seems to get in the way – what a better place to have this opportunity to concentrate on your passion. The MFA program at UBCO is self-directed, and the professors are largely hands off, so Shannon is making this time exactly what he wants.


The house, known as Platypus House for reasons only know to the MFA students, is an amazing space that the MFA students share in which they can create, bounce ideas off of each other, get feedback, discuss and critique – they are surrounded by art all the time.


Shannon will be working diligently over the next 2 years to complete work for his final exhibition in the fall of 2013 –  he admits that it is going to take a lot of time and effort to put together a cohesive exhibition, but it’s something he is so happy to be able to do in his life. Shannon is able to spend 100% of his time being creative while in school, and is looking forward to being able to continue to do just that when he graduates.


“My goal is to be a professional artist, I want art to be an integral part of my life.”


To find out more about Shannon’s work and KISS KISS BANG BANG, visit

KISS KISS BANG BANG (KKBB) will be hosting an exhibition/performance event on Friday, May 4th at 7pm at the FINA gallery in the Fine Arts building at UBCO. KKBB is a drag based performance art collective who formed in Osaka, Japan in the Fall of 2009. The founding members Shannon Lester (aka Sasha Zamolodchikova) and Michael Judd (aka Belgium Solanas) will be reunited in the gallery for a retrospective exhibition of photography and live performance. Michael Judd will be visiting all the way from Osaka, Japan for this very special event so please be sure to come support Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! Admission is free. The opening reception starts at 7pm and the live performance begins at 8 o’clock sharp. For more information about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang please visit their website at:



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