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ACADEMIA: BRENDA JANSONE

Swimming around in your thoughts? We talk to young artists about mental health and the challenges they face.

IMAGES JEZGA & COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

JEZGA_BrendaJansone_16JEZGA_BrendaJansone_16

To celebrate 100 years of the Art Academy of Latvia, the school has flipped the script and is looking instead to the future. Celebrating the work of current students and recent graduates the exhibition ‘Academia’, at Exhibition Hall ARSENĀLS, provides a stunning overview of today's cultural pulse. As the exhibition has been running during mental health month, we want to explore the challenges of a creative career with some of the participating artists.

From around the corner, Brenda Jansone’s installation “Wet Wishes” sounds like a pure and innocent summer vacation, but the striking visual of blood pouring from an Italian fountain harshly subverts expectations. A ring of splattered red on the floor keeps viewers in orbit, a skilful choreographed dance of morbid curiosity. By allowing nostalgic echoes of mediterranian summers to mingle with the macabre, Brenda has created a memorable spectacle that only becomes more arresting over time. She speaks to us about rules, boundaries and opening herself up.

Did you have any tricky moments whilst preparing for this exhibition? What have been your ups and downs?

Actually, this installation didn’t require any of my creative meltdowns. Besides the fact that I had to learn everything about buying, preparing and installing a fountain from YouTube videos, this is one of the rare pieces where I was happy with the process and the final outcome. I had a problem solidifying the final concept as the deadline approached – to understand what needed to be added or cut off, but I always make things harder for myself.

Tell us a bit more about your work within the exhibition.

“Wet Wishes” is an installation and a performance piece. The whole story is about a guy – Roberto Cercelletta, also known as D'Artagnan – who scooped out coins from the famous Trevi fountain in Rome for more than 30 years. He was then banned from even approaching Trevi. In 2002 police pulled him out of the fountain after he climbed in and deliberately cut his stomach in protest against his ‘unemployment’.

There are two objects – a fountain with a red substance flowing through it, and a white coat hung beside it. It’s not just an installation but also a two month period performance, where by putting on the white coat I transform myself into the character of D’Artagnan. During the exhibition’s opening hours viewers can participate in my performance by making a wish and throwing a coin in the bloody liquid. The colour of blood reduces a chance to see other coins, so it’s unknown if there is actually something inside.

I come by whenever I please, put on the coat and start to scoop out coins from the fountain and gather them in my front pockets – just as casually as Roberto would. The pockets, which are located in the stomach area, slowly stain red over time – more and more intensively showing traces of my ‘actions’. Next time I become more selfish and use all those gathered coins to make my own wishes.

This is where I’m left wondering – is it ethical to steal someone else's wishes? Is it a crime to take from a ‘public’ fountain? What are the rules and boundaries for an artist? Who can determine what is right, what is wrong?

Is there anything you’re holding back due to being worried about what others might think?

There was a time when I wouldn't trust my instincts. I wouldn’t bring ideas to life because I was worried about what others might think of me. To get feedback, I would share new ideas and concepts with my friends – they mostly reacted with shock or disgust. But, over time, they got used to my fucked up thoughts, and I became more confident to publicly display my weird affection of the grotesque.

How do you feel about being in a line of work where your persona is interlinked with your work?

I enjoy it! I’m a bit of a narcissist, so showing off my thoughts, myself, and my ideas gives me an unknown satisfaction. Maybe I feel so comfortable because it’s actually an opportunity to take my mental side and transform it into art.

How do you handle the pressures of being an artist?

This is the subject that triggers me the most lately. I try to concentrate on what I want to make or what to say with my art – I can’t say that I can always handle it, but what else am I to do? I guess people and society expect more and more and better and better. It’s a bit ridiculous, but most of that pressure comes from my parents or other people who are not related to the art world.

"I believe everything is interlinked – emotional state with process."

Does your work bring you any challenges with your mental health?

I could say no, but on the other hand I believe everything is interlinked – emotional state with process. And to be honest, I can only generate ideas when I'm not in a shitty mood.

How do you get through a bad day?

You know, I have this mentality: I expect less, so that when things go bad – I was prepared. But if they went better than expected – I end up even happier. However, if everything is bad in general – I stay sad. Maybe the next day will be better.

Do you feel the world today creates a more positive or negative environment for mental well-being than previous generations?

In my opinion, society nowadays is more open to different ideas, including mental well-being. It could be because the world is more connected, people are more educated, they have more access to unknown information. I mean if you look back just a few decades, people who were just a bit different and misunderstood were treated like they had no place in society whatsoever.

Has you mental health ever affected your ability to create work? Or have any experiences inspired you to make something new?  

Yes and yes. I remember a time when a relationship pressured me so much I closed up and you couldn’t get anything out of me. It really fucked me up mentally and creatively.  So, I decided to try something new and radical for me, and get rid of all the boiled up negative emotions inside me – I created my first performance. Now that I look back, that negative experience somehow helped me to open myself up, to share everything that’s inside me and to step out of my comfort zone.

'Acadamia' can be seen at Exhibition Hall ARSENĀLS, Riga until Nov. 18 2019 https://www.lnmm.lv/en/aeh
See more of Brenda's work @brenda_trash