On Tuesday 27th June, hurrstory was made at Backlit Gallery for The Laganja Estranja Showcase Event. 14 talented artists from around the UK and Europe came together to explore what it means to express gender in our society. Through a 10 hour workshop, with the direction and support of the incredibly talented Jay Jackson (and Kristen Lovell though a digital platform due to transportation challenges), an intimate and immersive exhibition was created.
Aja Ireland (Uk Young Artists Marketing Assistant) and also a sound and performance artist, participated in the workshop and shares her experience with us.
A little bit of background about what I do first – I create dark experimental electronic music using vocals pushed through effects pedals and try to challenge the audience visually and sonically through an intense immersive experience, exploring themes of sexuality and gender. I lose myself when I perform and feel at home when I'm in that environment. However, I've always wanted to explore expressing myself through my body, which is something I have always struggled with.
Laganja Estranja (Jay Jackson) performing at Backlit Gallery brought tears to many eyes in the audience. Dressed as a beautiful androgynous angel and doing things in high heels that seemed to defy gravity, she was completely exposed. Demonstrating a strength through the vulnerability, she had me memorised with every movement.
After the performance, we all sat in the beautiful Nottingham Contemporary space, strangers, anxious, entering into the unknown but all connected through a shared core of openness to explore ourselves and the themes around gender. Jay invited us all into a circle and instantly, I felt safe. She introduced herself and humbly explained that this workshop was not only to benefit us, but to invite us on her personal journey of exploration to her relationship to gender and what that means to her. From the very moment, a safe space was created and people instantly opened up.
We went round the group explaining our perspectives of what gender means to us and how we connected to certain labels. There were tears, laughter and secrets shared and it was the beginning of our journey together as a new family.
After warming up, we were taught to breathe together in unison, communicating through listening and responding to each other's inhales and exhales. We were given a piece of text to read through (The Origin of Love - Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and were asked to choose a section and respond through movement. To my surprise, this simple task triggered some deep emotional issues from me, but Jay took me to one side and gave me his love and strength which I sucked up like a little energy vampire and used to break through and daaance.
Muscles I didn't know I even had were aching on day 2 after rehearsing a routine the evening before but I was excited and couldn't wait to continue! We were split into groups of different creative art forms and Jay started carving the path of creative using our strengths and the things we wanted to work on.
D-Day! After only 10 hours of creating and rehearsing - the show begins. The audience enters the first room of the beautiful Backlit Gallery, darkness and silence surrounds. A projection of Jay and Kirsten's bodies; baring all; genderless, fills the first room. Fresh grass turf lines the floor as naked bodies lay, morphed and contorted as one. Jay gives a heartfelt and humble introduction and the audiences starts to hear rain, and the sounds of hellos and goodbyes.
The bodies rise and connect with each other, the projections turning their skin into grass as they represent humanity and connections beyond the body, beyond gender. They lead the audience in the next room. Three figures stand, lit up by phones from the bare bodies, umbrellas open and red metallic confetti fills the room; celebrating unity. Heartfelt words are sung, a cappella harmonies resinate through and voices are heard. "Gender is a construct, let's tear it apart".
Following the voices into the next room, we are met with 5 people wearing red heels on their hands. Exploring the walls with a dance that plays with perspective. The performance represented a disassociation of the feminine concept of heeled feet. Taking the heel to a different part of the body examined the object outside of its preconceived construct. The heels then guide the audience into the next room.
We stand in unison, holding onto nude fabric in a line with vibrant pink visuals by Christos Gkenoudis projected onto us. The sound of masking tape triggers the movement. I am focused, I feel like I'm part of the fabric, part of the visuals, everything feels in sync and my body moves with no mind. If someone had told me at the beginning that I would have been doing something like this I would never have believed it. But Jay saw through my insecurities and pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to make him and the group proud.
Bursting through the fabric, a celestial being hosting a holographic wig expresses a poetic spoken word piece; "beyond this body, I am not male, beyond this vessel I am not female" ending with a message of love. "Love, Love, Love" which rippled through the dancers into the next room.
The finale brought everyone together in the stunning Backlit Gallery main room, the sun shining through huge original feature windows. The music started, I was honoured that my song "Marbles" was chosen for us all to perform to. Jay had directed the piece, his crystal clear vision allowing him to produce a story. His positive attitude and belief in all our our abilities giving us the courage to be a part of the creation. A mixture of different genres gave everyone the chance to express their individuality, from spoken word and contemporary dance to vogueing, a story unfolded. The end brought us all together, merged as one, slowly walking down the space towards the audience before we melted to the floor. This experience had allowed us to truly open up, to be vulnerable together and support each other, to communicate through expression and learn what it is to just be human, removing all labels and expectations.
This experience not only allowed me to learn more about gender and sexuality, but also unlocked a new door in my own live performance. A huge thank you to Jay Jackson and Kristen Lovell for directing and providing the safe space and support to make this happen. To everyone involved in the workshop - Lorene Abfayer, David Benjamin, Hayden Cooper, Damien Higgins, AJ Sanders, Alex Puszczynska-Phelps, Annasofie Moxon, Christos Gkenoudis, Matteo Golotta, Elley Mann, John Milburn, Kimberley-Rose Gardner and Theo Knight for being incredible performers and inspirational energies. To Kitty Tray for photography, Timothy Chesney for filming and emotional/technical support (Check out this amazing video/production skills from the Franko B performance at Backlit here)! Matthew Chesney for allowing us to use Backlit Gallery and helping us along the way, Nicola Harness for camera and technical support, Ellie Bradbury - fabulous make up artist and Nottingham Contemporary for providing an amazing space to rehearse in.
This is an adventure I will never forget!