Queer Art: Ben Cuevas and Heath Daniels on Whether It is Really ‘Queer’

Heath Daniels in "Go Go Reject"
Heath Daniels in “Go Go Reject”

In a community where the spotlight is more often on go go dancers, drag queens, DJs and party promoters, there also exists a creative community of queer artists. WEHOville has identified a few of them and will be publishing interviews with them over coming months. Here is the second installment of a three-part conversation between Ben Cuevas, an interdisciplinary artist, and Heath Daniels, an independent film maker whose “Adults Only” has been gaining recognition at LBGT film festivals around the world.

Heath Daniels: Do you mind being identified as a queer artist?

Ben Cuevas:. I don’t mind it at all. I mean, I’m queer and I’m an artist, so I think that makes me a queer artist. I think that my work speaks beyond my own personal identity.

Heath Daniels: Because they don’t do that with straight people. You never have a straight person stating in their bio, “straight artist.” I’m wondering if you feel that marginalizes you as an artist?

Ben Cuevas: I think there is potential for that. But I don’t solely make art targeted in a queer way. But a lot of my anatomical stuff is focused on the body. It’s about transcending individual identity and that can resonate with everyone.

Ben Cuevas at Install: WeHo
Ben Cuevas at Install: WeHo

As an artist, I am more interested in what people take away from my work as opposed to what I was putting into it. It’s always interesting to find those things you weren’t thinking of when you were making something that somebody else sees in it.

Heath Daniels: Does your art turn you on?

Ben Cuevas: It does. I think it’s interesting that you use the word “turn on.” Creativity and sexuality — the two are so intimately intertwined. Often when I talk about my work, I’ll say something like, “Oh, yeah. It really got me off making that piece.”

Heath Daniels: I found that just watching the un-edited, raw footage of some film work I’ve done, I’m turned on. Because that’s what I imagined when I wrote it, and it turned me on when I was writing it. Not necessarily sexually, but just that I followed through on my vision.
It’s very…

Ben Cuevas: Orgasmic.

Heath Daniels: It is. And without necessarily being in a sexual way, it’s just within my belly. It gets me excited.

Ben Cuevas: I’m interested in the space between the stuff that you do as a pop culture and entertainment journalist and the sexually charged films that you make They are two very different things that most people would not try to put together into one career. I think a lot of people would think, “Oh, putting gay sex in your film, that’s like career suicide.” Which is why I think it’s so f***ing awesome that you do it.

Adults OnlyHeath Daniels: Well, the irony of that is I’m now working on a children’s book series. Honestly, I’m just following my own path and the things that interest me. I hope it works out and other people think what I’m doing is interesting too.

Ben Cuevas: So, would you call yourself a voyeur, and do you think that influences your desire to find out about people and interview them?

Heath Daniels: Am I voyeur? Yes, I would say so. I do generally love talking to people and finding out their stories though. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get people to talk about themselves but I like the challenge. The wonderful part about being a journalist and interviewing people is getting them to open up and share. If I do my job and ask good questions, it’s such a high for me to have someone say, “No one has ever asked me that before!” and they give a really unrehearsed, genuine reply. I love that!

Heath Daniels: How did BenBot 5000 come about?

Ben Cuevas: That also started in college. In one of my photography classes, one of our projects was the “Icon,” we had to do some sort of work that dealt with iconic imagery. I wanted to turn myself into an icon. I was really into Joe Dallesandro at the time, and Peter Berlin, and that kind of iconic gay imagery in the Seventies. I wanted to somehow embody that and make it current. Of course, I had long hair at the time, so for that original BenBot 5000 photos series, I was wearing a bandanna around my long hair like Joe Dallesandro and did some very Peter Berlin-inspired poses. And I created a series of fake magazine covers for BenBot 5000.

Now I’ve been more interested in seeing how real I can make BenBot 5000’s career seem. That’s why I did the fake “Rolling Stone” interview. I found it to an interesting forum or medium in which to blend fiction and reality.

Heath Daniels: But it is not completely made up. I’ve seen you sing and perform at Akbar

Ben Cuevas: Oh sure, I do those things. I did a lot of music and theater as a kid. But it feels safer for me to put it into an alter ego. I can put all of those more over the top and outlandish parts of myself into that identity.

Heath Daniels: Well, I think if you talk to someone like Joe Dallesandro, he’d probably say that that was sort of a creation as well. I don’t think he was necessarily being himself.

Ben Cuevas: Yeah, totally.

Read our interviews with Cuevas and Daniels on how they got started and what’s next for their art.