I first found myself in the company of Boji Moroz at a Halloween gathering last October. I still have a vivid memory of turning around one moment to discover everyone had fallen silent and Boji was standing on a chair, spotlit with an iPhone flashlight, offering a seemingly impromptu vocal performance. It was a soulful, operatic voice that controlled the room. I wanted to learn more about Boji as an artist — and, thankfully, they were kind enough to oblige, paying a visit to the studio one evening for an interview.
You can also see Boji perform with Kvirtet this Thursday (Feb 2) at Hamburger Bahnhof. We will meet you there :-)
Photo by @botanicalpanpolyandahoe
I was first eager to learn how Boji was introduced to processes of artistic expression.
“I started in art school when I was very little. Ten, maybe eight. So I was always around art, and by the time I was in high school, I already had an art studio in Kyiv.”
What forms of art were you exploring at the time? I wondered.
“I was singing — in church. And I painted and wrote songs and texts. But there was no one [in church] who really cared about that. They didn’t know how to react. The church community is very closed and isolated, and at some point, I felt that I wanted to discover more art and I started to visit some parties and little exhibitions of my friends that I found on the internet, and that’s how I got into the community of artists and queer people. That’s how I found out there are more people like me. I used to go to church on Sunday, and then I would go to a gallery opening like on a Thursday. So it was like two parallel lines.”
We spoke then about how these two parallel lines began to diverge.
“When I started studying, I felt that church is not for me anymore, and I started skipping. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. And then at some point, I started doing drag performances on stage in wigs and high heels, but I was still formerly a member of the church — and the pastor saw all of these pictures on social media — and they actually excluded me. My parents didn’t know I was queer, so the pastor blackmailed me and told me he will tell them and it will be public. So I did it myself before. I posted a video of coming out and my position about queer people and the church and Christianity. [The video] got a bit viral in the church, and they wrote [my parents] a letter, and it was a big thing. And so I departed ways with the church completely. That was like three years ago.”
I was curious about their experience of studying.
“I got to know the Kyiv Academy of Media Arts which was a big thing at the time because it was like the first institution in Ukraine that had classes about contemporary art. And they opened a grant for students and I won that grant, and that’s how I got into the contemporary art scene.”
I wondered what kinds of contemporary art Boji was producing at this time.
“Not all, but significant pieces I did were performances with my voice, and doing sound-related multimedia and exploring the sound of words’ influence and significance. It was about connecting your body with the sound of your voice, and so this one is me grinding my teeth — and it’s also connected with my Christian context. It’s a chapter of the Bible that describes the pain and suffering that we will get in hell. And one of the metaphors is grinding your teeth.”
We spoke then of another previous performance piece of Boji’s.
“This is the same song that I used five years ago — but it has another sense after the war started. And I combined the traditional Ukrainian lament song with the meditation practices I learned while studying in Denmark at Højskolen Snoghøj. We ended up with a lot of people on stage singing together and crying and doing this lament.”
“I started to perform because one of my curator friends proposed me to — my first show happened in a gallery space. Then I started to perform in bigger venues, little clubs, and art spaces. And eventually, I got this proposal to do a solo show, which ended up being a concert, as it was more organic to my practice at that time. The concert was a big success and one of the greatest concerts I’ve had. That's how my artistic practice grew into ‘entertainment’. I still believe that I'm an artist to my core, even If I use music and entertainment as my main media now.”
Photographer @mayrawallraffphotography. Mayra Wallraff. Kvirtet collective performance in the framework of Dragana Bar party by kem.warsaw in Sophiensaele (TANZTAGE BERLIN 2023)
I wondered if there was a defining moment in which they knew they’d crossed the border from contemporary artist to music artist.
“On Soundcloud, I wouldn’t expect much [plays] on my songs. Like usually maximum like 2000 or something. And then this song [I'M YOUR PERFECT WOMAN] had like 18,000 plays. And that’s how I felt that I am a music artist — because before I was more like pretending to be one. It was then I understood that people listen to the sounds while riding a bike or being in public transport — so basically, I should produce more.”
I was then interested to hear about the process of expression in the presence of an audience.
“I like to ‘entertain’ people. Compared to a gallery space, concerts and shows are way more upfront. When performing in front of the audience you can clearly see your influence on people's bodies, facial expressions, etc, and even get direct feedback after the show. I like this immediate energy exchange.”
I wanted to know how Boji describes their music.
“I would describe [my music] as something that at some point you would cry to, and then at some point you would laugh to it and something you’d find in between? I don’t know. Sometimes I really hate it, but sometimes I really love it. And if you see my performances on stage you’ll see that it’s really energy-consuming.”
Do you have any messages or themes behind the lyrics?
“The lyrics are completely random. They don’t mean anything. If I understand what it’s about, then it’s not good lyrics for me because at some point I should detach from my text and look at it from a distance… I mean, of course, I do have an idea and a context as I write it. But I also think art should be interpretive, and you can make art interpretive by not knowing 100% what it’s about and you can leave some space for a viewer or listener to interpret it. So yeah, this is how I would describe my music. I want it to be free and not dictated by me as a narrator.”
What goes on in your head while performing?
“I look at how people react and feel if they need more. Sometimes they need less. I enjoy analysing people around me when I perform to understand what they need in the moment and how to keep their attention and not lose the energy in the room, and this is something that fascinated me even before I started entertaining people. It’s also important to feel the audience and if people are leaving, what should I do? Like what tracks should I play next? How do I interact and keep the audience on the same level? This is what I have in my head. I forget my words all the time. Words are not that important.”
Pictures by @vlrnv. From the “DIRTY BOTTOM OF THE FUTURE” live music performance as part of the second open-studio of the residency HOW YOU DARE? happening in Fabbrica del Vapore, Milan, promoted by Comune di Milano and supported by Veralab.
“I have this intro track called “Hi”, and the whole song is going through people and asking their names and then singing their names. And it’s getting faster and faster and it ends up just like screaming their names and dancing with them. So it’s a perfect icebreaker for the audience. And sometimes I can kiss someone from the audience or start dancing with someone. I love interacting. I love to break this ice wall between the performer and the audience.”
Boji is also a part of Kvirtet — a queer performance collective. They told me the story behind the collective.
“Kvirtet has 4 members Dimetra, Dim, Sasha Malyuk, Boji, and a magical assistant Alisa. We're all multitasking members, however, all of us has their fields and preferences within the collective. Sasha is more into fashion, she already made 2 fashion shows in Berlin. Dimettra creates crazy outfits and makeup, but she also has a magnificent singing voice. I'm talking goosebumps! Dim creates objects for the scenography, performs, and adds some tenderness and fragility to our crazy crew. Alisa is an unbelievable helper and truly magical assistant, she can do anything, nails, and makeup, or come up with a decision on how to сlog the 100kg bathtub filled with water 1h before the show. I produce music for our gigs, write the lyrics and poems that then perform during the shows. We come up with ideas together, and what I try to do is to moderate and curate our ideas to create the best show ever.”
How did you meet?
“We met in Kyiv. We were just friends, and then we decided to create this temporary collective for a New Years and we went from one [party] to another, entertaining people with games and songs and stuff, and people who were in the parties didn’t know we were coming, so it was like a surprise. So that’s how we created the idea, and then, after the war started, a year after, we all met in Berlin and started to develop it, and now we already had a show in Milan.”
Thank you to Boji.
You can see Boji perform with Kvirtet on 02/02/23 at Hamburger Bahnhof: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn7L5i9ItnV/
Words by Ewan Waddell.