Blurring gender lines in Crossfade
Jessi Lewis is a performance artist, arts writer and a reviewer for Melbourne Arts Fashion. He’s coming to Brisbane with Crossfade, a series of “interconnected vignettes” about gender. He spoke with Andrew Shaw.
Jessi, you moved to Melbourne in 2007 and became involved in the arts scene there. Were you involved in the arts before that?
Yes, before Melbourne I was living in Brisbane, and my first creative explorations were with Zen Zen Zo youth actor training and with the dance company, Urban Ignition. I was performing from about the age of 15 in all sorts of places around Brisbane, including Metro Arts in the city and even a shop front in the Valley. It was the time of the SOOB [Straight Out Of Brisbane] festival, and there was a whole bunch of other amazing things taking place in and around Brisbane. It’s great to see a resurgence here and also to be apart of that with Crossfade.
What’s the concept behind Crossfade?
‘Crossfade’ is originally a production/editing term, which means to fade between two images, but here we’ve adopted it as kind of metaphor for what it is we are exploring; to crossfade between and within gender roles. The work is composed of interconnected vignettes, highly visual and drawing from different periods in time. With such varied cultural references, be it sound bites or segments from films, news hours or pop culture, there is plenty of material for audiences of all ages and backgrounds to identify with.
‘The role of costume in defining ourselves’ – would that be an accurate way to describe Crossfade?
In a way, yes. With costume we can successfully mask and shape our identities through image and dress, to fit within or bust out of social constructs. Crossfade is very much based on costume, with this being the primary focus during the first few days of development. The costumes are a big part of Crossfade, and we are borrowing heavily from different eras in time. They have been sourced over the years by both AnA and I, from op-shops, friends, and on our travels, so the look and feel is very eclectic.
For Crossfade you’ve collaborated with AnA Wojak. Could you tell us a little about her?
AnA and I met in Malaysia in 2013, while we where performing together in the Melaka Art and Performance Festival. I guess the rapport between us was instant, with our ideas connecting, both conceptually and visually. What grew from this was a collaboration in Cairns in August last year: RISE, a performance in response the environmental threats faced by the Great Barrier Reef. And we worked alongside each other last November in Malaysia, again with the same festival, so this is our fourth collaboration.
AnA is a senior visual artist who has been exhibiting her painting, installation and assemblage for over 40 years, as well as designing for theatre. Her performance work has been highly influenced by her sense of aesthetics – she trained in Poland – and the pushing of physical boundaries, so we complement each other both with our commonalities and the contrasts in our work.
There’s an age difference between you and AnA – how does that affect your collaboration?
Yes, AnA and I share a 34-year age difference between us and I think this informs our collaboration, in essence making our work more knowledgeable and layered. This generational distance us helps give our collaborations a greater sense of place and time, not singularly focused on the here and now. Also in terms of physicality this affects things, giving greater contrast between us as individuals on stage.
There used to be strict lines of gender and sexuality, but to an extent, in the west, these have been dissolved. Is gender and sexuality inherently dramatic/theatrical these days? How do you (re)make it relevant?
I think it’s a myth that these constraints have been dissolved. Masculinity or feminity are still quite defined, and what we are addressing is not strictly dictated by sexuality and gender. Dress describes us within our own subcultures and every step of our lives, be it power dressing, wanting to belong to a group or trying to blend in and disappear into anonymity. How we dress and present ourselves creates that first impression upon which people are most often judged or categorized.
Crossfade, New Globe Theatre, 220 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Bookings: www.thenewglobetheatre.com