TheUrgeToCreate.com Online Interview, November 2012.
Visual Artist Jenny Keane Written By Sarah Commane
Dr. Jenny Keane is a visual artist based in Belfast. She is a graduate of Limerick school of Art and Design (B.A) and completed both her MFA and PhD in Fine Art at the University of Belfast. Her solo show “Abluō and the Lick Drawings” is currently in Siamse Tire (Tralee). The show closes today (Dec 1st). If you can pay a visit, I promise, you are in for a mind opening experience.I recently got the chance to ask Jenny a few questions about “Abluō and the Lick Drawings” and her work in general.
Where did the Urge to create “Abluō and the Lick Drawings” come from? I believe they are two separate shows so could you talk about how they complement each other and perhaps each individually? Yes, ‘Abluō and the Lick Drawings’ were originally two different shows, but they were both elements of my practice and completed during my PhD research. Karl Wallace, the Director at Siamsa Tire, asked me to show them together after seeing Abluō – he had initially wanted to show just the entire collection of The Lick Drawings but when I described how Abluō was about subverting space, he wanted to see how it could be shown in different ways and we began to devise ways of working with the round gallery in Siamsa Tire. I have been working with The Lick Drawings for the past three years; they came about from different elements of my practice. The mouth was very important in my earlier work, and I had developed several videos (performances to camera) which explored a black tongue, alluding to lying and also to melancholic bile escaping from the body. As my work progressed, I began to use scenes and images from horror films to subvert the narrative within the films and began to draw different ‘monstrous’ stills from these films – but capturing the images was not enough. The filmic still needed to be changed or ruptured, and this was where the licking came about. The pressure of licking causes my tongue to bleed. By licking the drawing, I was attempting to ‘help’ the image by removing its ‘horrific’ element, but also giving it a part of me – something that is just as horrific. This action subsequently becomes a removal of the metaphorical abject into the literal. Initially, I wanted the licked drawings to be pieces in themselves, but as I developed the works I began to see the licking as a durational performative act. My first action of licking the drawings in front of an audience was in Belfast in Catalyst Arts, and this was done on a large-scale (2.4 x 4.2 m) drawing, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The scale changed my perception of the drawings, they became what I had initially intended – an attempt to rupture the filmic screen. The nature of the subverting film was also how Abluō came about. I was examining the shot-reverse-shot imagery of a filmic narrative, and took two theoretically connecting images, which were separated by different screens, timing and gallery space, so that the audience desires filmic continuity but never achieves it. The images themselves, a dripping hand leaning over a bath and a tiled floor, were meant to represent classic horror imagery, but in a confusing narrative so that the audience had to make their own sense of what had happened. The installation of the bath in the piece further subverts the narrative, whereby the mouth of my previous work resurfaces and invites the audience into the narrative-less space of the installation.
You use a lot of different media in your work ie. Drawing, video, installation, performance how does this inform your practice? I like to work with different elements, but they all relate back to subverting narrative – the drawings are about pausing narrative, the videos are about looping narrative, and the installations deal with using space to accentuate this loop. The performative work explores narrative on a different level; it works with the act of being present in the space. The action of licking does have a narrative – a beginning, middle and end – but the remainder of the act is still very much present on the paper. I like working with all these different mediums because they inform the other areas of my practice so that my work keeps developing and changing.
Can you talk about the process of making a “Lick Drawing”? I wanted to look at common tropes of horror so I drew stills taken from (mostly) mainstream horror films. Different films were chosen for different reasons, but mostly because they are well known and recognised, so that even though they are taken out of their context, thus disrupted and recreated, they still have some sense of ‘being seen before’ – this consequently creates an almost uncanny or abject experience. The images themselves are captured for several reasons, some because it is the most iconic moment in the film, some because they horrify me more than others, and some because they show the objectification of women in horror – something that I am attempting to subvert. The process of drawing the images is very important, there needs to be a relationship between the film and the drawing so the films are projected using a data projector, paused at certain points, and the drawing is traced onto the paper behind the projected image. I then begin to lick the horrific element in the image to remove it. The amount of licking depends on the image itself. In some cases, it is just a small section, and in others the licking almost obscures the whole drawing.
One element of “Abluō and the Lick Drawings” that really interested me was the placement of the projector, and how its placement interacted with the space, and people within the space. In particular how shadows are created by the audience passing front of the projector. Could you talk about this? This position of the projector is very intentional. I created the installation in that way so that the room became an encroaching, yet inviting spatial area – the screens are also so large and angled in a way that disorientates the viewer, and positions them in a situation of never-quite-seeing the entire installation. I have positioned the screens and projectors to incite corporeal movement, in opposition to the passive spectatoral position of the black-box of a typical film theatre or video piece. As I said before, my video installations are all about narrative, and in particular, Abluō deals with disrupting the filmic suture that binds audiences into narrative. Suture theory is the term to describe the ‘stitching’ of narrative that film tries to achieve; due to its two-dimensional quality, a sense of coherence must be made in terms of spatial awareness and thus filmic techniques such as shot-reverse-shot spatially position the characters in the diegesis. Abluō attempts to rupture the shot-reverse-shot technique, because this method is traditionally formatted so that the audience can become involved in the imaginary reality presented on screen – in a film, we must ignore the fact that the image is a construction of reality, immerse ourselves in the narrative, and subsequently identify with the characters. But, as feminist film theorists such as Laura Mulvey note, the only characters that can be identified with are male. Where is the feminine positioned in these sequences? They have no presence; they are nothing more than an image. In Abluō, I attempt to rupture these unconscious sutures, expand the gaps, create new gaps for the audience to explore, and to examine and subvert filmic narrative that has become a format to positions the feminine as lack or less than the masculine. The audience in Abluō can rupture the screen at any time, either intentionally or accidentally; they subsequently become aware of the illusion of filmic narrative, and avoid immersion that takes away their own bodily presence in the space. The installation tries to create a juncture, a suspension of linear narrative, so that the sense of liminality can be expanded and prolonged. How long depends on the audience themselves – they may stay in this spatio-temporal loop for an extended time, they may stay for mere minutes, but the intention is to construct that in-between moment for as long as they wish to engage with it.
I know that that horror film and the portrayal of the female body within the genre, is a theme which is prevalent in your work. Could you talk about this in relation to “Abluō and the Lick Drawings” ? The representation of monstrous women is a very difficult subject, I have been working with it for a long time, particularly through my PhD thesis, and I have examined the feminine in relation to monstrosity through various historical and contemporary modes – the horror film being the most contemporary example. My main interest began with dealing with the representation of ‘other’ – a fear of the other turns what you don’t know into monsters. This can be seen throughout history, with race, sexuality, class and gender. I took this research on in terms of the depiction of women and I developed my practice to try to find ways to reinterpret the monstrous-feminine as a positive and subversive representation. In The Lick Drawings, the images are taken from horror but reinterpreted through the licking action, and unlike horror, the female body is repositioned as an active, rather than passive, role in the work. For Abluō, I was interested in the bathroom, the space for cleansing which is a prevalent trope in horror, and alludes to society’s fear of abjection and dirt. The title itself is Latin for ‘cleansing’, but it also means (in a figurative context) ‘I remove darkness’. Like The Lick Drawings, Abluō explores aspects of visually representing the feminine, but is more focused on bodily space and movement in relation to the audience. The installation, in some ways, is an attempt to blur the rigidity of the phallocentric binary, to create a space that is in-between, liminal, and therefore ultimately feminine. And Finally what’s next for you? I intend to continue with these two bodies of work, to explore Abluō in different formats of installation, and to develop a larger series of The Lick Drawings in different sizes, formats and mediums. I am also working on a new three-part video series, Galatea, and it is based on the Greek myth of ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’. Interpreting Pygmalion’s literal desire for his sculpture, the pieces contemporize the myth and translate the marble carving into the most debased image of the feminine – the sex doll. The first video was recently shown in Tulca 2012, and the second will be shown in B L A C K, the Platform Arts Member’s show in Belfast opening on 8th Dec. The third video will hopefully be shown sometime soon, when I get time to make it! Thank you Jenny for answering my questions. Best of luck with your future work!