IO: Sara, I can see from your website that your artistic endeavours comprise a rather broad range of mediums. I intend to focus this interview on the performance side of your work. Why did you take an interest in performance and how is it different from the other mediums you are working with?
SJ: Performance is an amazing medium because the body is the instrument, conduit and work, in and of itself. What is different about performance for me is that I seek a particular kind of experience. The process is very vulnerable and visceral – there is nothing material to hide behind. I also find it exciting to embody ideas directly though physical movement, duration, and experience.
IO: There is a constant preoccupation with feminism and feminine issues throughout your work whether you choose to bring this aspect forward, or keep it in the background. In the case of the latter, works such as the video performance Sew and Wash (2012), focusing on neurotic repetition, or the performance Embodying Lola (2012), where you re-enact of a series of you grandmother’s daily rituals, ask for feminist interpretations, amongst other. Can you expand more on this subject? What statement do you wish to convey through pieces like these?
SJ: Out of curiosity, which feminist interpretations come up for you as the viewer? ‘Feminism’ is so broad and continues to expand, especially in relation to queer theory and gender politics.
I was more interested in exploring psychological undertones around ageing, fear of death, and the anxiety of impermanence. My grandmother became a symbol of certain underlying human conditions as well as a mirror and reminder of the inevitable passage of time and the decline of the body. I am fascinated by daily rituals and nuanced coping behaviours around psychological fears. I am also interested in revealing a non-linear narrative and ambience of an aging woman’s life. I am interested in the extraordinary that occurs in mundane, every day human lives. I was also aware of the silence and invisibility of the elderly, and was interested in making visible details of her life that seemed to be taken for granted.
IO: What role does the ordinary have in your performances, in so far as it becomes central to some pieces? What should we, the members of the audience, think of routine and daily rituals in the context of your performances? And furthermore, in a world saturated with feminist statements and rituals, how does your work stand out?
SJ: When I begin creating a performance, I usually think of an experience that I would like to have or there is a conflict that I would like to explore. For example, one conflict I am interested in is the relationship between the body and the mind, the conscious and the unconscious ways gesture, emotion and habits are expressed. I am most interested experiencing vulnerability or using my body to re-experience a routine from a completely different perspective. There is something about daily, simple, and familiar elements that become fascinating, uncanny and unfamiliar with a slight shift in behaviour. For example, washing an object like a cup is a common activity, but the act of obsessively washing it, or even witnessing the absurdity of this act, allows a re-conceptualization of one’s relation to time, objects, and daily social constructs. I am interested in creating a pause for the viewer – either a moment of vulnerability, a moment of identification, or a pause to reflect about the choices one makes in constructing a day.
IO: I want to ask you now about the Tape Body piece (2011). I think it is the coming-out-of-the-studio, so to speak, that caught my eye at first. It also seems to me the piece where public interaction and audience participation are providing raw study material. How do you rationalize public participation and how does it relate to your work? What did you expect from the public and, in an ideal scenario, what would public participation look like?
SJ: Tape Body began as a curiosity to accumulate physical residue of a daily routine. As a child, I used to take scotch tape and press it to my body or other objects to remove a layer of dead skin, or dust. I liked that the tape became an abstract reference for a body part or an object. I wanted to take that idea and extend it. I wanted to go throughout a day with a body that was sticky and pick up the residue of my activities. The piece became something else however. I realized I simultaneously repelled the public, as I was physically attracting dust and dirt. There was a tension between visibility and invisibility (disguising my identity by being covered, yet attracting attention because of my odd appearance), as well as between connection and disconnection (wanting to touch and accumulate physical matter, while repelling others away from me). My body became a character in the tape, of someone who was dealing with these psychological conflicts.
Public participation became an integral part of the work. At the beginning of the day when the tape was clean, people were curious. But as the day went on, no one wanted to touch me. The video captured people’s reactions – from intrigue, to disgust, from amusement to discomfort. The audience’s raw responses to my foreign form are an important part of the video piece. In the ideal scenario, the audience responds the way they truthfully want to respond – what happens, is what happens.
IO: Your statement for the same piece mentions: “Over the course of the performance the tape suit became a different kind of body – a body that wanted to touch but was also shielded by a thick skin; a body that wanted to connect, but also created repulsion; a body that masked identity but also was marked as very visible.” I find this duality fascinating. How do you think this duality affects the artist and the public and how did they perceived it?
SJ: I think the duality was inevitable. It reminds me of the character that emerges when anyone puts on a costume or a secret identity, whether it’s the Superman/Clark Kent or someone dressing up for Halloween. There is something about disguise and costuming that not only allows the wearer/artist to take on a new persona but also allows others to respond in a different way. For Tape Body I think the audience’s reaction was mixed and I am totally content with various reactions. I think that that is the most interesting, seeing different personalities emerge when they are confronted with the unexpected.
IO: Coming now to the collaboration between Redell & Jimenez: it is a partnership that both challenges and adds to a series of themes present in the contemporary art world. Can you both expand more on this, describe the concept of “inbetweeness,” as well as the manner in which it blends your individual artistic identities?
KR: The concept of “inbetweeness”* stems from our shared interest in the fluidity of identity. We both come from mixed backgrounds and are interested in how the categorization of the body – with regard to race, gender, nationality, etc. – becomes a process of constant negotiation for individuals, who do not fit solely into one category. Even though our individual artistic identities interact with each other in order to make our work, the concept of “inbetweeness” comes from a shared interest – in more of a psychological space than an interest in creating a literal representation of a collaborative process. Equally I feel like the artistic identity of our collaborative work becomes an entirely new entity that is stylistically pretty separate from either of our individual practices.
IO: Due to its inherent site-specificity, what are the criteria by which you select the performance space(s)? How do you adapt each performance to be site-specific and how are the “suit” and the “inbetweenness” changing from one site to the other?
KR: In the past we have tried to research and perform in spaces that somehow relate to a space of “inbetweeness” as well. For example we have made work at such sites as the Gobi Desert and Twin Island (at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx). We were interested in the Gobi Desert, as a contested site, that is geographically labelled as existing in two places; if you look at Mongolia’s map, Gobi is always claimed as an integral part of it; and the same happens with China’s map.
In the case of the work we made at Twin Island, we were interested in the shifting categorization of the site. Twin Island at one point was an island, but now – due to environmental changes – has become part of the mainland. We were interested in the manner in which it continues to be named an island, although it is technically no longer so. In general when we choose the sites, we try to make sure that there is some relevancy or relationship to our underlying interest. The performances themselves are choreographed both by a bodily reaction to the suit and the site itself. We usually set out loose parameters for what the action/movement will be, but they often change once we are performing and responding to an unanticipated reaction to the landscape or to the tension in the suit.
I would say because the notion of “inbetweeness” comes from a pretty specific psychological space, the concept itself does not change from performance to performance. However, the particular representation or metaphoric action of that psychological space does change from project to project, depending on what particular facet we want to explore. For instance, areas of “inbetweeness” we have explored in the past range from restlessness to exhaustion or to physical tension, etc.
IO: The border between the house – the interior, the confined, the feminine – and the backyard – the outside, the masculine – in Negotiating Bounds (2012) or the analogy represented by the phallic motif in Wrap (2012) are, once more, overt feminist signifiers that keep surfacing in your work. In your opinion, how important are these signifiers in correlation to your genders and your feminine identities and in what way would they have changed if your partnership would have been mixed or opposite sexes?
KR: Part of the reason we are interested in concealing our faces with the suit, is so that the viewer can consider a metaphorical and amorphic body that is actively resisting categorization, versus specifically female “other” bodies.
I have no problem with the work being read as feminist – it absolutely is – however I think it is really important not to close off the conversation to typical masculine and feminine signifiers just because we are two feminist women making collaborative work together. We are two feminist artists producing a body of work about what it means to exist as individuals, whom are constantly subjected to a series of racial and gender assumptions based on our appearances.
IO: Looking at the last in the series, Bounded (2012), the viewer witnesses a struggle for liberation from two opposite ends. Bound by the same shell – the “suit”- the body located on the inside finally prevails. How can you comment on this piece and its outcome, conceptually, and in relation to the border between the inside and the outside?
SJ: We were interested in exploring a state of tension and restlessness, as well as expressing an idea related to indecision – wanting to be in two places at once and the impossibility of attaining that goal. In the video, the two of us enacted a power dynamic where one attempted to pull the other one into a different space. Through the body suit, our identities became intertwined, where the tug of war became a metaphor for our internal conflict, as well as the tension of occupying and claiming one’s space.
IO: Sara, what does the future hold for you in terms of performance art? What are the future concepts and themes you think of approaching?
SJ: Performance art is an integral part of my practice. I would like to explore more durational and site-specific pieces as well as eventually create larger performances, where I would hire other performers to become part of the choreography.
IO: In what formula is the collaboration of Redell & Jimenez going to continue?
SJ: Redell & Jimenez is an ongoing collaboration that we are both mutually invested in. The concept around blurring the boundaries between racial and cultural identity will remain consistent, but we are expanding our mediums to include collaborative drawings, video installations, and more mixed media projects that explore the distance between us as we work from opposite coasts. Most recently we did a live performance at El Museo del Barrio where Kaitlynn was present in a video projection, and I simultaneously performed live in front of the audience. We hope to continue to explore new methodologies to incorporate the tension of working long-distance.
1. Expansion, 2012, digital C print, 32 x 18 inches, collaboration with Kaitlynn Redell
2. Documentation from Question for Revolution and Universal Brotherhood Exhibition at Arnold and Sheila Aronson Gallery, 2012
3. The Conversation, 2013, Digital C print, 20 x 30 inches, Ed of 5
4. The Imposer, 2013, Digital C print, 20 x 30 inches, Ed of 5
© Image copyright Sara Jimenez and Kaitlynn Redell. All rights reserved.
Sara Jimenez is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York. A graduate of the University of Toronto and of Parsons the New School of Design, her practices revolve around drawings, paintings, installations and performance art. Together with Kaitlynn Redell, they created Redell & Jimenez.
Kaitlynn Redell combines mixed media painting and installation with collaborative performance in the form of Redell & Jimenez. Born and raised in Santa Cruz CA, she graduated from Otis College of Art and Design and from Parsons the New School of Design. She lives and works in Los Angeles and New York.
* “Inbetweeness” is a central concept in the collaboration between Redell & Jimenez, defined as “a reconstruction of the concept of ‘identity’ […] a fluid, active construct, not a static fixed one,” under which the artists are creating a “new body […] a new living form that is unable to be categorized as a specific body,” in http://sarajimenezstudio.com/Redell-Jimenez.