Jolanda Jansen


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In her carefully constructed but direct performances, Jolanda submits her body to various
transformations, or rather deformations, to engage with the possibility of self-reinvention and
release from cultural determinations. Her work often stages the passage from a sexualized
female body to an animal-like corporeality as a way of challenging constraining definitions
of self and of femininity. And it is not only her own controlled body that the artist hopes to
disorganize and transform; her performances also intend to provoke viewers out of their routine
bodily behaviors. To do so, she often uses the camera as a tool to invade the viewer’s personal
space and engage with issues of voyeurism and gender power relations.

 

Interview VideoFocus Stigmart10

- Taking at heart the teachings of the theatre of Raffaello Sanzio Societas, Jolanda Jansen, a talented performance and video artist from the Netherlands, has developed a highly individualistic and innovative language. Her work, ranging from video installations to performances, explores the limits of the body ad at the same time clearly demonstrates the subtractive nature of the art process. Jolanda. how did you get started in experimental cinema and performance?

I studied for my bachelor's at the Royal Academy in The Hague and in my final year it all came together. I found my media in video and for the context of my work I got involved in the possibility of self-reinvention and release from cultural determinations. I wanted to challenge constraining definitions of self and of femininity. In this regard I am not only interested in my own limits, but also in the limits of my audience and the community.

I can relate to a text about the tragedy when limits get reached; it’s from Thomas Crombez and the Societas Raffaello Sanzio of Romeo Castellucci; ”Tragedy is really an unknown subject. It’s unknown because it’s obscure, and it’s obscure because it’s within us. It’s a core that belongs to everybody. And maybe everybody belongs to this core. Tragedy belongs to everybody and it is a contemporary subject. It’s even connected to such concepts as community and intimacy. ” 1
Now in modern art I feel a lot of pressure to be relevant in a conceptual and practical way for the community, as if art is holding on to concepts and keeping some control instead of confronting the tragedy.

When I began to use video, I used it rather as a direct tool, instead of capturing a image from my mind. I use my body, the camera and my notion as one instrument to create a work of art. I always use my own body, because it’s part of the creative process. During my master program at the Dutch Art Institute in the Netherlands I started to show this process for a live audience, rather than talking about it during a lecture. So this is where I did my first live performance. It was during classes of my mentor, Hans van Houwelingen, that I began to experiment with the camera as a tool in the audience. It was all power related using the camera as a performer to capture myself and projecting it live. Next I captured the audience while they watched how I looked at them. In the end I gave up control and let the audience capture me so the control switched to the audience. This investigation I developed apart from my performative pieces.

- We want to take a closer look at the genesis of your film series Perseverance: how did you come up with the idea for this work?

When I started the series I didn't know where it would end and it’s still possible for new ideas to complement the series in the future. The series Perseverance is about transformation and deformation of the body in order to create a new view on the magnified part of the body. In a very subtle and detailed way I want to show how the body, separated from the mind, shows us its own way of being. Especially when it’s limits are tested. The first one I made was the one with the hand pressing against a glass window. In fact I’m holding a glass object on top of my fingers until I can't keep on anymore. I tried to move a part of my body to create the impression of an independent life.

In the building where my studio is situated I found some spare windows I could use and together they formed a perfect glass box. Presenting the video as an installation in the glass box emphasizes the way I press my fingers to a glass window in the video. I like the contrast of the industrial material next to the nude fragile body. These materials have no personal identity in contrast to the strained enlarged limb.

- Your video installations features rarefied scenarios, dark backgrounds like in Bill Viola's early work. We love this lack of artifice, this very pleasing indifference to decors: in your experimental cinema all is sacrificed to expression, to efficacy. How did you develop your visual style, Jolanda?

In my earlier works I wanted to express too much in one piece. When doing a performative piece in a space, for instance, I added shots of moving objects or liquid to make the work more 'interesting'. When I made choices and let things go I could focus much better on the core experience. Especially by doing performances I learned to use all my attention and authenticity. When shown out of focus even the slightest movements or gestures could become very intense.

In an early letter of Bill Viola's to Michael Nash at Long Beach, Calif., June 30, 1990, Viola writes about how he was influenced by performance artists. “I was interested in the "body artists" — Vito Acconci, Terry Fox, Dennis Oppenheim, and others — who used that (camera) device to frame experience. It was one of these rare historical moments that artists find themselves in from time to time, incorporating experience itself directly into what was being called a work of art. It was a major shift, not making something about an experience, but making something of an experience, like when Acconci blindfolded himself in 1969 or 1970 and had someone he didn't know well lead him around the pier on the Hudson River in New York, not knowing if he was going to be led to the edge or not. That's a very real experience. I found myself being influenced by that. Living within the frame is living within the experience. Art has to be part of one's daily life, or else it's not honest.”

For me performance and performative video have to be a real experience in order to capture the moment of human emotion and the body in motion. When you magnify and slow down every little detail of human suffering or of the perseverance of the body, it keeps manifesting and revealing itself.

- Your quest to explore the limits of the body is a central motif your work. Can you introduce our readers to this aspect of Perseverance?
The manifestation of perseverance I found more profound than the actual limit.

When the limit is reached and the body collapses the video ends. What I want to investigate is what goes on during the process of perseverance itself.

- We have been really impressed by the balance you are able to achieve in your work between classical sensibility and pure experimentation. Could you take us through your creative process when starting a new project?

Finding a balance between an aesthetic and sensible image and the raw experiment of the body and mind is for me the exact definition of my continuous quest when I start a new project. If it has the best of both worlds it will be most effective as an artwork. Mostly when I start a new work I am in search of a movement or still moment that could convey a state of mind. Sometimes a space can be the starting point and I find myself crawling in a showcase of an old factory kitchen or a closet in a abandoned home or on the floor of a men's toilet.

Another starting point I sometimes find in video clips and television programs that are crossing limits. Crossing limits regarding the female identity, but also with regard to the private and the public. The images that are portrayed and how people portray themselves I find particularly interesting because they deal with their subjective identities. What makes people cross borders is very interesting to me.

- Your art is rich of references. We have previously mentioned the Italian director Romeo Castellucci, however your visual imagery seems to be closer to Bill Viola cinematography. Can you tell us your biggest influences in art and how they have affected your work?

In 2009 I had the opportunity to have Ulay as a mentor and in half a year we had several meetings. I think he has been the biggest influence on my work. We talked about the issues of body and minds and discussed this in an interview.

Ulay: In your short introduction you wrote that “body and mind are a unity.” I would like to add that body and mind can be ‘one’ in harmony, but that the mind is transient by nature and ultimately independent of the body. You know the expression ‘out of your mind’: when you are very angry, for example, you are usually ‘mindless’. Someone in a coma is also quite ‘mindless’. When you fall, for a split second you’re a ‘mindless’ object. We are also familiar with all the stories about ‘out-of-body’ or ‘near death’ experiences. The fakir in India controls his body but has a small mind. The yogi controls his mind and perceives his body as something that is totally subordinate and insignificant. How do you look upon these ‘entities’ and how important are they for your performative video registrations?

Jolanda Jansen: Because I consciously work with my body these are crucial questions for me. In my experience it is possible to separate your mind from your body. Physically, you can experience your limits and transcend them. The mind doesn’t have the sort of limits my body has. But if I, for example, learn to control my body and my mind, both could grow and benefit from each other. Apart from the mind-body ‘romance’ or ‘paradox’, I am also interested in instinctive actions, that I certainly allow to enter my work. They often arise in a flash without warning and make me do something or react in a way that wasn’t planned in my concept. Apparently our instincts are often quicker than our minds let alone our bodies.

- We appreciate your ability to echo intense mind, without favouring imagery and symbolism over serious formal experimentation. A recurrent theme of your work is passage from a sexualized female body to an animal-like corporeality. Can you introduce our readers to this fundamental aspect of your work?

This term is used by Plato in his philosophy on the basic opposition between the soul and the body. The soul is corporal in the sense that Plato cannot help adopting a vocabulary of animality when he speaks of it. It is wild and feral, irresistibly prey to reproductive and alimentary impulses and obedient to a vital principle that by now appears pre-human. Dreams bear witness to this nature, allowing the return of an animal-like corporeality. This is a corporeality that craves food and sex in the frightful unruliness of boundless hunger and sexual desire.2

You could interpret some of my work as such a dream. A dream of going back to a corporeality in which human boundaries are stretched. In my videos I do experiments that originate in impulses and I am subservient to the moment, my surroundings and my physical limits. These impulses also refer to our fear and when we are scared our body reacts with an impulse to the threat. We all have the desire to lose our developed human consciousness. In gender power relations this is played out in a lot of different ways. Both female and male are very aware and they have to discover this over and over again. In my performances it isn’t just my own controlled body that I hope to disorganize and transform; my performances also intend to provoke viewers out of their routine bodily behaviors. To achieve this I often use the camera as a tool to invade the viewer’s personal space and engage with issues of voyeurism and gender power relations.


- Thanks for sharing your time, Jolanda, we wish you all the best with your filmmaker career. What's next for Jolanda Jansen? Have you a particular video installation project in mind?

I did a workshop with BBB. Johannes Deimling at his PAS – Performance Art Studies in Kaunas, Lithuania. Johannes Deimling not only works with his body but also with all different sorts of material. “It is not the action that makes the performance, but the quality of an image created in combination with materials, objects and action in correspondence with space and time” To begin the creative process Deimling forms single images. The so called ‘acted images’ consist of reduced, simple actions often with only one object, one material or one gesture, with a passion for details. 3
I am inspired by his full awareness, the awareness in details of the surrounding, the objects, of himself as the performer and his audience. He gave me the opportunity to not only use my body and my surroundings as tools to create.

With a simple material element I aim to find out once again how I could create limits for my body with subtle and classical sensibility. Or how to use a simple action with a material to test my perseverance. So my next work will be an investigation, rather than a completed work of art.
At this moment I am curating and organizing the Performance Art Festival in The Hague, The Netherlands, where I can start this process including a new performance by me.

https://performancesite.wordpress.com and at facebook: P.S.

Notes

1 CRUELTY IN THE THEATRE OF THE SOCÌETAS RAFFAELLO SANZIO, by Wouter Hillaert and Thomas Crombez, lecture delivered at the conference on “Tragedy, the Tragic, and the Political” (RITS/VUB/KUL/UPX), 24 March 2005, in Leuven

2 p. 66, Stately bodies; Adriana Cavarero, Literature, Philosophy, and the Question of Gender.

3 Biografie Johannes Deimling; http://www.bbbjohannesdeimling.de/index.php?/about/biography/
and intervieuw with Johannes Deimling http://www.performanceartoslo.no/interview-deimling.html