Sydney-based video and projection artist Jennie Feyen creates works you want to reach out and touch. Her works are symbolic, and bring female subjects into entirely new contexts – a girl lying on a textured bed of cotton buds, a figure floating in a sea of stars, and a woman being possessed by a fox spirit. Drawing inspiration from artists as diverse as Sally Potter, Björk, PJ Harvey, and Hirokazu Koreeda, Feyen’s work ranges from short films about psychological hardship to delicate, ephemeral light projections that explore female sexuality, empathy and personal fulfilment.
For Feyen, art is a source of healing, strength and self-exploration that enables her to become ‘the protagonist in my own struggle, and not merely a victim of difficult circumstances.’ Editing rich visual imagery in her home studio in Sydney’s inner-west, Feyen is quick to reflect on the importance of her creative process, her time living in Japan, and her journey of building a new life in Sydney. We talked about the importance of context, experimenting with new mediums, and making unapologetic, expressive art.
Place has played a big role in your personal and creative journey – you’ve relocated from Perth to Sydney’s inner-west. How have you developed a relationship with Sydney?
My schedule was pretty hectic before I moved to Sydney as I was working for a big film festival and had just completed my first professional job as a video artist. All I could comprehend was that I was moving to a much bigger city and needed to make the most of it. When I arrived here I quickly filled my schedule with jobs and projects, but I found myself being driven by stress and a need to prove my worth, which deeply affected my sense of self. After a short trip to the other side of the world, I decided to cut back on my work hours to refocus on my practice and start being kinder to myself. Based on that, I think my current relationship with Sydney is one of ‘rebuilding’ – I’m learning how to enjoy the process instead of fixating on the goal.
What about Japan? You moved there when you were 18, and some of your works, for example, Fox Spirit, still seem to be drawing you back there.
Japan will forever be the first big turning point in my life. I was quite shy as a teenager, but I was also very ambitious and knew what I wanted, and that included experiencing life in another part of the world on my own. Japan offered an amazing mix of different social, cultural and spiritual experiences that really got my mind racing, and certain personal experiences have become sources of inspiration for my work. Going to see a Butoh theatre performance and photographing shrines and temples offered rich cultural insights, and attending seminars on topics as diverse as gender
equality in the Japanese workplace to the effect of HIV in developing countries allowed me to think about important issues from a different vantage point. Those experiences still inspire my work today.
You work with video and projections. Can you tell me what drew you to these mediums?
Cinema has always been a big part of my life: I started making home movies and editing with VHS tapes when I was twelve, which led to high school film projects, which in turn led to short film and documentary assignments at university. During my third year at university I found that my ideas focused more on generating a feeling rather than narrative storytelling, so I started experimenting with projectors and different surfaces. It opened my mind up to spatial designs that exist outside of the screen, and now I’m curious about projection mapping to see how I can communicate meaning in a more technically challenging context.
One of your most striking works, My Core, is really sensual and beautifully textured through the use of cotton wool. Could you tell me a little bit about the creative process behind this piece?
This work signifies my growth as an artist when I gave myself permission to explore a topic that I was too shy to explore in my filmmaking class – masturbation. I understood that a straightforward video of a girl touching herself would miss the mark, so I spent a lot of time experimenting with a projector and documenting my process in a scrapbook in which I compiled sketches, song lyrics, art theory, film stills and interviews as reference material. It was a very organic process that led me to meet two lovely creative women, photographer Natalie Blom and contemporary dancer Catherine Ryan, both of whom dedicated their time to create the final product with me.
The process was so enjoyable that I view My Core as my first complete work that truly represents who I am as an artist.
Women feature heavily in your work. Why is it so important for you to explore sexuality and femininity in your practice?
I’ve always been drawn to the female voice as a storytelling device, and in regards to female sexuality I’m very aware that it’s still relatively new for women to tell their own stories. I find that the type of female sexuality we’re fed in pop culture is often paper-thin and rarely focuses on how the woman feels, so I feel compelled to focus on self-fulfillment from the woman’s perspective. I listen to a lot of female singer-songwriters who touch on sex and sexuality in very different ways, but it always comes from a personal place, so I feel encouraged to explore similar subjects in a genuine way without having to apologise for it.
NASA’s space imagery creates a beautiful backdrop in your work Incandescence. What was it about these images that spoke to you?
I’m not a religious person, but whenever I see satellite images of space I feel like I’m closer to what could be interpreted as God. These images of star clusters and nebulae are so vast and beautiful that I’m reminded that my tiny life and my tiny problems are literally surrounded by a life force that’s absolutely beyond my comprehension. On the other side of that, I sometimes look at these images and simply think “hmm, pretty” and it just shows that there’s room to draw your own meaning and therefore I have a lot to play with as an artist.
Which female creatives do you draw inspiration from? Any artists we should know about?
I draw a lot of inspiration from singer-songwriters who have managed to maintain creative control throughout their careers and produce
interesting work, such as Björk, PJ Harvey and Kate Bush. There’s something about the way these artists often use their voices not just to sing sweetly but to shout, growl and whisper that’s really powerful to me. I’m also really interested in the work of film directors such as Sally Potter and Lynne Ramsay, particularly the way in which their films create an atmosphere that might polarise the audience, but that doesn’t stop them from fulfilling their vision. I’m also very inspired by Lee Bul and the way in which her work can inhabit both small and very large spaces – her work has taught me a lot about the importance of scale.
What’s coming up for you for the rest of the year?
My next project focuses on environmentalism in which I’ll interview primary school aged children about issues ranging from climate change to animal rights. I’ll also be showing my work Incandescence at Globelight 2016 in August, as well as working on my projection mapping skills, which are very limited right now! In addition to all of this, I’m also developing a YouTube channel called Turn On with my friend and colleague Camila Cruz. Our goal is to create visual media that focuses on positive depictions of female sexuality and personal fulfillment.
What’s the best place in Sydney to get some creative inspiration?
White Rabbit Gallery
What about the best coffee?
I’m a tea drinker! I love the chai tea from Well Co.
What do you miss most about Perth?
Kings Park, Devilles, sunsets and good friends
Which album have you been listening to on repeat recently?
Where do you want to travel next?
Réunion Island – bonjour Elodie!