.Body of Work: Blood is magic for drag artist Hollow Eve

Drag performer Hollow Eve has brought their art to hundreds of stages all over the country, from dive bars to fine art galleries to reality TV.

They found their biggest audience on the small screen when they competed on season 3 of reality TV show The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula. There, Hollow’s impassioned speeches and acts involving live worms, body modification and menstrual products garnered diehard fans and virulent critics.

On Friday, Oct. 27, Hollow will perform at North Bay Cabaret’s “Halloweird” at the Mystic Theatre. Taking the stage in Petaluma marks a full-circle moment for them; Hollow, who grew up in Sebastopol, first donned drag as a young teen in the mid-’90s at a performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Phoenix Theater.

Though they can’t reveal much about the performance, they said, “There will be worms and there will be needles and there will be staples.”

North Bay Cabaret host and founder Jake Ward does not even know what Hollow has planned—he prefers to be surprised along with everyone in the audience.

Watching Hollow Eve perform is always a surprise. They are known for alternately bringing gravitas and levity, high art and raunch. One night they’ll serve a probing meditation on grief—literally bleeding on stage—and the next night they’ll swim in nacho cheese.

“There’s not more to the avant garde than there is to the filthy,” they said. “They activate different emotional spectrums and experiences of existing, and they’re both extremely valid and important to me as an artist as I craft my work.”

Ward said Hollow, who has performed at North Bay Cabaret twice so far, gives audiences the exhilarating feeling of watching something they’ve never seen before.

“Their performances are dripping with so much emotion and intent, never shocking for the sake of being shocking,” Ward said.

While the world of drag is chock full of queens and kings, Hollow said they never wanted to be a monarch. Instead, they describe themself as a “post-binary drag socialist with a penchant for anarchy.”

“It’s ridiculous,” they said. “It’s a mouthful and it’s a touch pretentious, which I love because it’s as pretentious as calling yourself a king or a queen, but it’s also saying, ‘We don’t have to be in this social strata of class in order to empower ourselves.”

Early in their drag career in San Francisco, Hollow felt self-imposed pressure not to repeat an act. The constant schedule of creating new work was expensive and exhausting.

Hollow said today, some 20 years into doing drag, repetition is an important part of their work. For one, it can take 10 or more performances just to earn back the money they invest in creating new work. Yet, beyond economics, repetition is how Hollow emotionally processes their life through art and refines each act.

“I know when I’m [satisfied with a piece] because I don’t need to know what anyone thinks. The second I’m asking, ‘How do you think it went?’ I didn’t like how it went,” they said.

Hollow knows their art is polarizing and “not for everyone.” The human pin cushion is a striking combination of thick-skinned and vulnerable. They speak in equal measure about their knack for not caring what their critics think and their desire to create vulnerable community spaces to connect with their audience.

“[When I perform], I’m not interested in telling you what I think; I’m interested in asking you a question that I’m also working on answering….It’s curiosity and emotional connection,” they said.

In one of their favorite and most extreme acts, Hollow does a three-hour durational performance called “Dandelion Wish.” Their head is covered in 150 staples, then strings are attached to each staple and tied to a blacklit cube-shaped frame that surrounds them. The effect is that they become the stem of a dandelion with each string becoming a seed. They also wear a necklace of needles.

Staged in art gallery spaces, audience members approach Hollow, make a private wish, and the performer seals the wish by removing a needle from their neck. Once all the wishes have been cast, they perform their way out of the box “to release all the wishes into the world,” according to Hollow.

It’s a performance about collective generosity and sharing energy, said Hollow. Yet some critics regard Hollow’s work as a dangerous display of self-harm.

Hollow considers their ability to tune out certain types of physical pain a superpower forged from a childhood dancing ballet, where not having toenails was good luck. They often reflect on what society considers acceptable pain.

“It’s OK for women to fill their necks with needles and have their faces rollered and call it ‘beauty care,’ but when I do it, it’s wrong,” they said.

For Hollow, their piercing acts are about loving their body and creating beauty with it, which they find liberating.

Bringing a plethora of skills to their craft, Hollow learns new skill sets and evolves endlessly through drag. They studied lighting design at San Francisco State University and once hoped to direct plays for a living. Drag allows Hollow to integrate mediums to an extent other art forms don’t allow for, they said.

“Drag is this endless wormhole where you just keep learning new skill sets and feeding your creative mind,” they said.

In drag, where one’s own body is essential to the form, said Hollow, they get to be the “director, performer and executor of all of the things.”

Some of the artists who inspire Hollow are the musicians whose work they most often perform to—Bjork, Joanna Newsom and Bikini Kill among them. These aren’t artists Hollow wants to meet. Yet Hollow also draws inspiration from other Bay Area drag performers they call family.

Hollow’s late drag mother, Phatima Rude, was an iconic San Francisco artist who helped shape the city’s contemporary drag scene, bringing avant garde, punk performance to her craft. Many remember Phatima for stapling money to her body—a sideshow stunt she is credited with bringing to a drag stage. Yet Hollow described her as a limitless shapeshifter who could alternately serve grotesque filth, high glamor or suburban housewife.

Phatima died in 2021 at 55. Even while performing drag regularly, she spent many years unhoused.

“Her story is not an easy one, but if you encountered her in a bar, she was so kind and gentle….Just to be in her presence was such a calming and beautiful space,” Hollow said.

Hollow honored Phatima’s legacy alongside drag siblings Jillian Gnarling and Kochina Rude at a show called Rebirth in 2022. They hope to produce the show again.

Ever the shapeshifter themself, Hollow is currently grant-seeking and learning 3D mapping so they can cast 100 body molds for a forthcoming installation.

See what Hollow Eve has in store at Halloweird at 7pm on Friday, Oct. 27 at the Mystic Theatre. Tickets and more information: mystictheatre.com/seetickets-event/halloweird.


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