Artists With Impact: Danish Visual Artist Jules Fischer
“I believe in storytelling as a healing art” — Our exclusive interview with Danish visual artist and choreographer Jules, who’s putting authenticity center-stage.
After two years of having our collective guards up and keeping our distances from one another, there’s something extra to be said for the authentic connection that arises when a group of people gathers. One powerful facilitator of this is, and always has been, the theater, where artists and audience members come together to share an experience — something we’ve been missing during these long months. The eagerness is palpable; both for us to return to the seats, and for the performers to take the stage again. But a lot has changed in our time apart from one another.
These past years have been revealing in a number of ways, much of which has left its mark on how art is being made, performed and experienced. Conversations about representation, diversity, identity and historically oppressive power structures have been brought into the open as never before, and the spotlight is now on how we collectively intend to move forward. How has all of this affected the world of performance art — where lived experiences are given center stage with so much in flux?
To get our heads around everything, we spoke with Danish choreographer and visual artist Jules, an artist who makes their home in the “in-between” and whose last project, VANITAS, dealt with change and authenticity — two crucial (and timely) elements of the moment. Check out the full interview below the video portrait.
We know that words like “choreographer” and “artist” often contain multitudes — and that much of what you do takes place out of the spotlight. Can you help us introduce you?
I’m a visual artist and I create large scale performance works. I like to emerge the viewer in a 4-d collage of feelings, sound, music, movements and words. My works are always performed by a group of performers because the relational aspect of being in the world is a central point in my practice. I like to work with multiple perspectives, meaning the viewer has to choose what to see and what to miss. The beauty of this is the agency to experience the piece on your own terms and also generate a necessity to talk with other people after the show. Maybe someone experienced something you missed. The many focal points also give me space to play with juxtaposing different images, tempos and feelings, and I like to surprise people with small details of unexpected performance.
When I started creating VANITAS I had recently changed my name and pronouns. I was occupied with my own non-binary identity, but what became more clear was how difficult it is for people to cope with change. At the same time, I was obsessed with baroque still-life paintings. These paintings portray objects in a precarious state or objects between living and dead. Withering flowers, rotting fruit, soap bubbles, a glass vase almost falling off the arrangement. The paintings depict impermanence, vanity and the constant movement of life. Ironically they were painted in oil on canvas often with a reflection of the artist on a shiny surface. I began to see the roots of anxiety with change and death in my white western culture and this connection became the center pillar in VANITAS.
Through the soundtrack we hear a voice calming us, or maybe calming themselves; “don’t be afraid” “don’t worry” “are you listening?” The rest of the soundtrack is a collage of small loops of pop-music singing: “I’m walking out on you for the last time” or “I hope you make it home”. These small repeating melodies and words are filled with grief and sorrow alongside feelings of joy, happiness and vulnerability.
For something new to come into the world, something must die. That is also true for transitioning, so VANITAS is trying to give space for the feelings of anxiety, grief, euphoria and hope to exist simultaneously.
You spent a lot of time in this latest project focusing on the “in-between”. What is it about that place, or that idea, that resonates so deeply with you?
I’ve always been interested in the voids or the undefined cracks of language, symbols and understanding. I find an enormous potential, joy and openness in that which has no name. In VANITAS I want to shift the focus from ”in-between” to ”always moving”. Enlightened by decolonial writers and thinkers I realized that the “in-between” itself is at risk of being stagnant — much like the concept ”queer”.
I believe a language of many layers, forms, meanings, and many temporalities composed with both opaqueness and transparency is much more likely to mirror what identity feels like than any singular and defined image. The motivation to dwell in this kind of language is to be whole. Always being mirrored as fragmented by a cis-straight-world is an othering and alienation that I refuse to accept as the only option. In VANITAS the dancers all have different lived experiences — but none of them know the world from a dominant perspective — they all have been forced to articulate their identities in opposition to or in the language of a dominant culture. And so VANITAS is an attempt at letting us all feel and tell our stories without explanations or translations.
Even from the outside, we can see there’s a persistent lack of representation within the arts. We’re curious to hear more about your perspective on that from inside the creative world…
What I find most concerning within the arts is that very few gatekeepers, grants, museums, galleries and so on seem to be aware of the aesthetic and artistic homogeneity they promote or what the lack of diversity does to the artistic and cultural development in general.
Furthermore, when a marginalized perspective is put forward the institution often displays a big discursive gap and over-simplification of the artist’s practice. This position is a paradox that strains the artists, who have to spend their time educating the institutions instead of making art, and a practice that has a high risk of resulting in tokenizing and exotification.
I would like to see more institutions take responsibility for their own education and their internal competencies, especially when it comes to non-western art and art history, systemic racism and gender-expansive positions.
Your latest project ends on an incredibly hopeful note, with the dancers creating their own rhythm together. Does this speak to your vision for the future, and if so, in what ways?
I don’t know if I can say that it is my vision or expectation for the future, but it is hope. And maybe inspiration to find your way home. Healing for me is to make it home, but it can be a long journey. And sometimes home can be hard to recognize when you have never felt it before.
For marginalized bodies to experience joy and happiness and especially to put that on display is unfortunately still radical. Narratives, where a trans person is thriving and not harmed or othered, are still underrepresented and potentially non-existing for BIPOC trans people.
Much of your earlier work focused on sadness and hopelessness. Was this representative of a season in your life outside of dance — and, if so, would you be willing to share a bit about that with us?
My work always reflects my own feelings or reactions to the world. Looking back at some of my earlier works fx ZOMBIEHÅND and ROMANCE I see a lot of distance, anxiety and alienation. They were also made in a period of my life where a lot of break ups had to happen. It was a tough, but very necessary and beautiful time even though everything was falling apart. VANITAS departs where these two works left off, but I was determined to not just critique and reproduce the structures and situations I found destructive — but also suggest something beautiful.
I found a lot of inspiration in Philosopher Eduoard Glissant’s “poetics of relation”, poet Ocean Vuong’s “night sky with exit wounds” and the global trans community — both people close to me and scholars interested in decolonizing transness. In this process, I found something very beautiful. Telling your story, being seen (not being transparent) and being part of something as you are. I believe that a lot of hurts are behind me and it is time for me to heal my wounds and help others to do the same.