Jenny Abouav presented the performance Enveloppe at the Performance Crossing Festival 2019 in Prague and received support from D.D.A. Contemporary Art.
Enveloppe is a progressive performance that questions the hybridization of a body both present and absent that mutates in form while interacting with the space around it. Details of the surrounding environment pass through the epidermis and plunge the audience into changes in scale and perception. The performer’s distorted shape projects and absorbs variations in light from the surroundings. This living sculpture slowly transforms in perpetual movement.
Interview by Constance Meffre
Constance Meffre: Jenny, in Prague at the Performance Crossings Festival you’re going to present a performance called Enveloppe. Your approach to this performance reminds me of the lines spoken by La Femme aux Chiffres, a character from the play by Valère Novarina Vous qui Habitez le Temps: “The exterior is the exterior of the exterior. The interior is the exterior of nothing. The interior is the exterior of the interior. The exterior is not the exterior of it…” Tell us when you first came up with this performance? Can you explain its genesis?
Jenny Abouav: I imagined this performance two years ago. It came out of another performance focusing on posture and involving the architecture of a stairway where my body was projected as a shadow on the architecture. I had to think about how to adapt this performance to an exterior space in full sunlight located in the courtyard of the Mac Arteum Museum. It required a complex device to take in the sunlight in order to create a shadow on the architecture. Also, I imagined a counterpoint, a fantasy explored in different aspects in science fiction: How to have body that is transparent and also reflects light and the world around it. It’s a body with the same qualities of a chameleon but with mirrored skin.
Constance Meffre: You present a reversible, moving sculpture shrouded in metal, a shape that turns in and on itself with an interior and an exterior that blend through different processes. How did you develop this performance and what are the different aspects of it?
Jenny Abouav: After a long search, I found this mirrored fabric that is both flexible and rigid that in a way resembles mercury, but also has a mineral appearance. It’s important to think about this skin as a sculpture, a volume that can take on different shapes through manipulation. For its design, I worked with the costumer designer Marie Pierre Morel-Lab. We made several modifications, taking into account every new experience from this performance.In this piece, I’m interested in the ambiguity between the body and the machine, and I worked with that. The audience can also look at it as a mechanical or even electrical system that causes this volume of material to move and shift. And even if the audience knows that there is a body inside making the material move, the perception and the experience that they have of it makes them doubt whether it’s a body or a machine that makes this unidentifiable form move.It interrogates the body’s sensitive intelligence. The skin is the largest organ of the human body and it has a multitude of sensory receptors. This performance questions the hybridization of a body both present and absent that transforms while interacting with different spaces. Details of the surrounding environment pass through the epidermis and plunge the audience into changes in scale and perception. The distorted skin projects and absorbs variations in light from the surroundings. This reflecting body slowly transforms in perpetual movement. It is demonstrative and evocative of the sensory interference between the body and the surrounding landscape. This living sculpture visually develops through each performance.
Constance Meffre: How do you feel when you’re inside this material and how do you perceive the outside world? Do you feel distant from it, or is it the opposite, do you feel its presence close to you? And once inside, what do you understand and what do you do with what you perceive?
Jenny Abouav: I don’t perceive the same reality as the audience. I am surrounded by darkness without any temporal marker, like in a small capsule located outside of time. Sometimes I can see people’s feet. I, however, am in a moment of presence and absence.I’m locked in a dual state of corporeal control and abandon. I shift between a place of corporeal control like a puppeteer and one of abandonment where my body becomes the material. I become each fold, each movement, becoming more and more attentive. I am wrapped in the hollow, plastic sounds of the material and my breathing. I try to react to the comments I hear depending on the acoustics of the venue. At the same time, this material becomes my skin and I become the material. I am its folds. My perception is exclusively sensory because I am surrounded by darkness.
Constance Meffre: Lastly, this envelope seems to move in a continuous manner. How do you deal with the obstacles you encounter? And where is the notion of time found in your work?
Jenny Abouav: One of the obstacles I deal with is not always having the time to relax and concentrate before the performance.Going through these slow, continuous motions requires special attention. Also, certain interactions with the audience can feel more exacerbated because my body feels like millions of antennas. I absorb the different energies, comments and sonorous atmospheres of the venues. For example, in Besançon, for the 10th edition of the Excentricités Festival, a woman wanted to communicate with me and started touching the material all over. She had good intentions; in fact, the people can touch it if they want. This occurred three and a half hours after the start of the performance. At that moment in the performance, for me in terms of sensations, these touches had an intrusive effect. It can be difficult to manage oppressive sensations that I feel strongly in the presence of the people who are close up in the venue.Yes, the notion of time has a vital place in my work.Slowness is one of the essential aspects of my work. This slowing down provides special focus and attention. The length of the performance, between three and four hours, provides the time to invest in another temporal aspect. This stretching confronts the audience in drawn-out, almost suspended time, offset from the surrounding pace.
Interview – 24 April, 2019 – Translated by Graham Cox
Jenny Abouav, born in 1991, is a young artist how creates performances, installations and immersive experiences that use sound, light and sculpture to illuminate the links between a space’s acoustics and architecture. Her pieces look at slowness, emptiness, silence and trembling. After doing her undergraduate studies in cinema at the university in Bordeaux and in sound art and new media in Montreal, she earned her masters in plastic arts from École Supérieure d’art d’Aix-en-Provence. She has presented her work at the Festival Parallèle in Marseille, at Ardenome in Avignon, at the Mac Artenum Museum, at the International Digital Art Biennale in Montréal, at the International Documentary Film Festival in La Rochelle, the Nuit Blanche du Festival Montréal en Lumière. She has worked with Camille Renarhd for the installation Voix #2 at IAC in Villeurbanne.