My day starts just like yours.
When I wake up in the morning, I check my phone, and then I have a cup of coffee. But then my day truly starts. It may not be like yours, because I live my life as an artwork. Picture yourself in a giant jewelry box with all the beautiful things that you have ever seen in your life. Then imagine that your body is a canvas. And on that canvas, you have a mission to create a masterpiece using the contents of your giant jewelry box. Once you've created your masterpiece, you might think, "Wow, I created that. This is who I am today." Then you would pick up your house keys, walk out the door into the real world, maybe take public transport to the center of the town ... Possibly walk along the streets or even go shopping.
That's my life, every day. When I walk out the door, these artworks are me. I am art. I have lived as art my entire adult life. Living as art is how I became myself.
I was brought up in a small village called Fillongley, in England, and it was last mentioned in the "Domesday Book," so that's the mentality.
I was raised by my grandparents, and they were antiques dealers, so I grew up surrounded by history and beautiful things. I had the most amazing dress-up box. So as you can imagine, it started then. I moved to London when I was 17 to become a model. And then I went to study photography. I wasn't really happy with myself at the time, so I was always looking for escapism. I studied the works of David LaChapelle and Steven Arnold, photographers who both curated and created worlds that were mind-blowing to me. So I decided one day to cross over from the superficial fashion world to the superficial art world.
I decided to live my life as a work of art. I spend hours, sometimes months, making things. My go-to tool is a safety pin, like this —
They're never big enough.
And I use my fabrics time and time again, so I recycle everything that I use. When I get dressed I'm guided by color, texture and shape. I rarely have a theme. I find beautiful objects from all over the world, and I curate them into 3-D tapestries over a base layer that covers my whole body shape ... because I'm not very happy with my body.
I ask myself, "Should I take something off or should I put something on? 100 pieces, maybe?" And sometimes, I do that. I promise you it's not too uncomfortable — well, just a little —
I might have a safety pin poking at me sometimes when I'm having a conversation with you, so I'll kind of go off —
It usually takes me about 20 minutes to get ready, which nobody ever believes. It's true — sometimes. So, it's my version of a t-shirt and jeans.
When I get dressed, I build like an architect. I carefully place things till I feel they belong. Then, I get a lot of my ideas from lucid dreaming. I actually go to sleep to come up with my ideas, and I've taught myself to wake up to write them down. I wear things till they fall apart, and then, I give them a new life. The gold outfit, for example — it was the outfit that I wore to the Houses of Parliament in London. It's made of armor, sequins and broken jewelry, and I was the first person to wear armor to Parliament since Oliver Cromwell banned it in the 17th century. Things don't need to be expensive to be beautiful. Try making outfits out of bin liners or trash you found out on the streets. You never know, they might end up on the pages of "Vogue."
There's over 6,000 pieces in my collection, ranging from 2,000-year-old Roman rings to ancient Buddhist artifacts. I believe in sharing what I do and what I have with others, so I decided to create an art exhibition, which is currently traveling to museums around the world. It contains an army of me — life-size sculptures as you can see behind me, they're here — they are my life, really. They're kind of like 3-D tapestries of my existence as living as art. They contain plastic crystals mixed with diamonds, beer cans and royal silks all in one look. I like the fact that the viewer can never make the assumption about what's real and what's fake. I find it important to explore and share cultures through my works. I use clothing as a means to investigate and appreciate people from all over the world.
Sometimes, people think I'm a performer or a drag queen. I'm not. Although my life appears to be a performance, it's not. It's very real. People respond to me as they would any other type of artwork. Many people are fascinated and engaged. Some people walk around me, staring, shy at first. Then they come up to me and they say they love or absolutely hate what I do. I sometimes respond, and other times I let the art talk for itself. The most annoying thing in the world is when people want to touch the artwork. But I understand. But like a lot of contemporary art, many people are dismissive. Some people are critical, others are abusive. I think it comes from the fear of the different — the unknown. There are so many reactions to what I do, and I've just learned not to take them personally.
I've never lived as Daniel Lismore, the person. I've lived as Daniel Lismore, the artwork. And I've faced every obstacle as an artwork. It can be hard ... especially if your wardrobe takes up a 40-foot container, three storage units and 30 boxes from IKEA —
and sometimes, it can be very difficult, getting into cars, and sometimes — well, this morning I didn't fit through my bathroom door, so that was a problem.
What does it mean to be yourself? People say it all the time, but what does it truly mean, and why does it matter? How does life change when you choose to be unapologetically yourself?
I've had to face struggles and triumphs whilst living my life as art. I've been put on private jets and flown around the world. My work's been displayed in prestigious museums, and I've had the opportunity — that is my grandparents, by the way, they're the people that raised me, and there I am —
So I've been put on private jets, flown around the world, and yet, it's not been that easy because at times, I've been homeless, I've been spat at, I've been abused, sometimes daily, bullied my entire life, rejected by countless individuals, and I've been stabbed. But what hurt the most was being put on the "Worst Dressed" list.
It can be hard, being yourself, but I've found it's the best way.
There's the "Worst Dressed."
As the quote goes, "Everyone else is already taken." I've come to realize that confidence is a concept you can choose. I've come to realize that authenticity is necessary, and it's powerful. I've tried to spend time being like other people. It didn't work. It's a lot of hard work, not being yourself.
I have a few questions for you all. Who are you? How many versions of you are there? And I have one final question: Are you using them all to your advantage?
In reality, everyone is capable of creating their own masterpiece. You should try it sometime. It's quite fun.
(Applause and cheers)