Performance Art as Therapy

I first met Jackie Overby over the summer at Zelick’s, a local bar, where every week artists come to sell, trade, and perform their art. I bought a small piece from Overby that was relatively simple, two male figures in matching black suits, one with a red explosion for a head, the other’s blue. I followed her Instagram, thanked her for the work, and left. We didn’t see or speak to each other again until our classes paired up this semester so that my class could help her class edit their artist statements. Obviously, I wanted to work with the only artist whose work I actually owned, so I paired with Overby and her statement blew me away; she was thoughtful, intricate, wild, and a little eccentric. I gave her some tips and she was very receptive and took criticism well, a must for an artist. We meet again weeks later. I signed up to interview her in another class crossover – I knew she wouldn’t disappoint. We sat in front of (then inside) her thesis project and immediately connected.

CM: I have a ton of questions.

JO: Oh fuck yeah!

           I knew this would be fun.

CM: Can you first just give a brief overview of this project?

JO: Well this is GAIA, my thesis project. It involves me putting on a black morph suit, getting into a plastic enclosement, and using clay to physically transform myself in order to meditate and cope with some childhood trauma as well as personal anxieties.

CM: What is your inspiration for this?

JO: Oliver Desagazon is a huge inspiration for me, he puts on these live performances of where he meditates and bangs against metal to make noise with his body. I am also interested in the Butoh dance, where the shamans would roll around in and paint themselves with mud in order to descend into one’s own darkness. But they didn’t see darkness as necessarily negative, it was more like diving into one’s own subconscious.

These forms of meditation interested me because I have been dealing with my own personal anxieties and this allows me to channel those anxieties and to overcome them by descending into this dark primal place. By actually covering my eyes and transforming myself, I am able to take on this primal persona. I also wore ear plugs to help with the sensory deprivation.

I worked myself into a panic attack and each performance was different, some panic attacks more extreme than other, and it shows in the videos for sure.

CM: Can you explain your process?

JO: I did four performances total, the second one was in September or so and I took a lot of still shots of that one. I did this one first, GAIA One, and then I did the one with the still shots. Originally, I was just going to do to two but then I was talking to Tommy and he convinced me to do a third one and I felt it was appropriate because it was still going with my theme of threes, you know?

So I have the square panel in mind so I know I need a square format…ish. I pick out the gestures that I like. If I am watching, I’ll pause it and take a screen shot. If I’m like “ooo that was really cool, I liked that” or “oh look at that spit strain that’s really cool, I’ll take a screen shot and save it. Then I went through my screen shots and selected 15 or something that I liked. Then I went through those and selected the first three that were my favorites at that time and that was GAIA One and then I cut the figures and their shadows in Photoshop, just what I needed, maybe the baseboard if I wanted it because I really liked the corners. I would just put multiple corners and it was a cool way to play with the space. I would arrange them in Photoshop and when I was done, I would project them and then do the charcoal drawing and I fix what I need to and then I do a wash of red. It’s like its undercoat and you can see it in some parts, little bits of red.

And while we’re here, I actually forgot last minute….to take this tape off *chuckles* I don’t think anybody even noticed.

            Overby strips GAIA One of its tape and the interview continues.

But yeah okay, so I had picked out my colors, I wanted a very limited palette. There’s this color “Nickel titanite” that’s really cool. I used a lot of that, green, gold, and this castle earth I really like; it’s like a purple brown.

I mix that palette and I just set those paints aside because I knew I wanted to stick in the same family of colors. Whenever I was done with GAIA One, I began GAIA Two. I developed the composition wanting it to be more zoomed in. I was like “okay so this one is kind of square and steady, now let’s mix stuff up. This one will be a little more crooked and topsy turvy.” I really loved the shadows. I used really strong lighting, I got the silver clamp lights and used halogen bulbs. You get really beautiful shadows and nice photos. I repeated the Photoshop process from the first one and then I was playing around with painting a little bit thicker in the face area to emphasize it.

CM: You have three figures in each painting, are they from the same performances?

JO: All of them are from the second performance. That one had the best lighting and the best shots for painting. The other ones were more for the performance and the videos. The third one was too dark for me and it was from above me.

The fourth one was one at my eye level and I’m thinking about painting from that one later on.

CM: Why did you switch to this type of performance and angle?

JO: I had been talking to my boyfriend about what the show needed and we talked about a bust shot and a head on angle. Also, during my second performance, which I did in the sculpture room, someone mentioned that they were glad that I was behind the plastic because they wanted a barrier between us, otherwise it would have been too scary. So I wanted to push that a little bit.

So on the last performance, I set up a two foot by two foot square of plastic in the stairwell.

CM: Here on campus?

JO: Yeah on the fourth floor of the art building. If you saw a lot of dust on the ground, it was me.

Then I cut a little square out of the plastic in front of me, kind of like a TV screen size. It was kind of like “I can get out if I need to, I can get out and reach you”.

I liked that you could focus on the face more.

CM: You get that great shot of the clay-spit drip from your chin.

JO: Dude the spit-clay was my favorite! It got so much in my mouth, it was so gross.

CM: Do you consider yourself a photographer, painter, performance artist, all of the above?

JO: I think all of the above. I don’t want to insult photographers, I’ve never taken a photography class, but my mom’s boyfriend was a photographer and I used to have this old old camera, like with crank film and exchangeable lenses. So I like photography a lot, I like angles, perspective, light. I feel like it all kind of goes hand in hand.

CM: Did you find it difficult to use these mediums together?

JO: Actually no, when I first had the idea, I just thought of this big screen and this big painting and that’s what I wanted. I wanted the conversation between the two mediums. I think that was a pretty vital part of it for me, having it explained and portrayed in different ways.

CM: Why did you feel the need to include the drop cloth?

JO: Well, I really wanted there to be something else toward the end of the project and this was the same drop cloth that I used for every performance. It’s in the paintings, it’s in the videos, I really enjoyed painting it too. I used it like a prop in some of the performances. In some, it is a cape or a blanket and other times, I am holding it like a baby. I felt like it needed to be in here, it is a character in the work. I twisted it, threw it up there, and the past few days I have been going back to it and twisting with it more and more and adding more clay to it.

CM: So the cloth is from the videos, is the plastic?

JO: No this is new plastic, I got six sheets of ten feet by twenty feet and hung it from this steel rod that I bent so that it would have a hook in the middle. Then I draped it over and moved it around as I needed to down here.

CM: Was the visual potential of the plastic floor something you were interested in?

JO: Definitely! When I first set it up, I made it all billowy but then people were tripping on it, then I was tripping on it. I had to change it because I just kept thinking about if someone fell into the TV and knocked it over. I have to return that next week! So I knew I had to do something and I really liked the wrinkles. I pinched and twisted where I needed to and put little bits of tape down.

My friend asked if I was going to put pillows under the plastic in front of the TV and I was like “No, but I am now!!” and I ran and got some pillows and put them underneath the plastic.

CM: Are people welcome to walk through the plastic and sit on the plastic?

JO: Yes, definitely! And I actually kind of liked that the plastic was tripping people up, it kind of went with the project and my own physical restrictions inside the plastic. During the performances, I kept getting stuck to it.

We sat down on the pillows, put on the headphones, and gave the video a watch.

CM: It sounds like the sound overlaps at the end, is that intentional?

JO: Yeah I would layer the audio tracks and create the transitions, with them overlapping more and more as the video goes on. I really liked the laugh at the end of the video, I knew I wanted it to end with that playing over the other audio.

CM: Would you do anything differently if you were exhibiting alone?

JO: If I was by myself, then I would probably do the actual performance here in the gallery space and have the paintings in the background.

We continued to talk for another hour, getting into the fine details of her thesis project, past projects, and dreams for the future. Jackie Overby is definitely an artist to keep your eyes on as she further experiments with performance and video art. Overby hopes to attend graduate school to continue her education and eventually live as a full-time working artist.