I talked with Jennie Feyen recently at the launch of her exhibition ‘My Core’ at Free Range Gallery. Jennie exhibited over three days last weekend with one piece, her graduating work from art school at Edith Cowan University.
The piece consists of a projection shining onto a mat of cotton balls on the floor. The projection is of a pale woman, possibly naked, twisting in a slow dance. The cotton balls cloud the figure, rescuing the piece from the bluntly sexual into the softer, suggestively sensual. On the wall behind the mat is a dark projection of twisting hands.
At first I thought it was Jennie featured as the figure in the work, but she tells me the dancer in the piece is a WAAPA student with experience in Japanese Butoh theatre. This style of dance has been around since after World War 2 and features dancers painted white but is otherwise hard to describe – it aims to subvert traditional concepts of dance, but can range from scenes that seem straight out of horror movies with jerky movements moving as if controlled by an outside force to more sexually subversive pieces such as the twisting figure in Jennie’s work.
I had a brief chat with Jennie about this aspect of her work:
PC: What is Butoh theatre?
JF: Butoh theatre is quite underground… to the point where a lot of Japanese people don’t even know what it is. When I went to study in Tokyo and teachers would ask me why I liked Japanese culture I’d say Butoh and they had no idea what I was talking about.
I found out about it through various films… Baraka, the 1992 cinematic piece… it has a scene of Butoh. And Madonna, of all people… her song Nothing Really Matters (which I loved when I was 12)… has Butoh performers in it. To be honest I thought the performers were mentally ill.
It’s quite a strange thing to watch. Then I got a bit older and I realized I liked it and there was more to it than just strange movements… The performances I went to in Japan were so sensual.
PC: Did you direct the dancer and ask her to perform as she would for a Butoh performance?
JF: No it was so much more collaborative, like a workshop. I would draw a word cloud and said “Can you fill it with everything you associate with Butoh”, and then another cloud and said, “Can you fill it with everything you associate with ‘erotic’?” We really went through everything that was going through her mind together.
Unfortunately Jennie’s exhibition has now ended but you can see the MyCore promotion video on her vimeo below and the photos from the opening night here.