Jaz Blain is a University of the Arts (UArts) student and HPI 2018 artist whose performances start with play. They have brought countless forms to HPI this semester, toying with the overlaps in the imaginative realms of clown, drag, animation, sculpture, and comedy. Jaz looks ahead to the final showcase hoping to work in collaboration with their peers.
So we’re at week ten of this semester, I’m wondering if you can describe your experience, thinking back to fall break [in October], until now? What did it feel like to come back to HPI?
I don’t know what it is about this place but it just feels like time is so much more expansive. When you said ten weeks I was like, “only ten?! Wow”. But yeah, coming back from fall I felt like I was very excited to jump into whatever was going to happen next, but I also was feeling artistically blocked personally. I was having trouble coming up with ideas and I felt weird reaching out to people just saying “hey do you want to make something” without having an idea to reach out with. But it was kind of fortunate, people were like “hey, do you want to work on this thing?” “Do you want to be part of this”? I was like, “yes please, give me something to do”! I’m really grateful to everyone for that. I’m still coaxing myself towards not always feeling that I have to have an initial inspiration to bring to the table, it can just be like, “let’s see what’s happening” and make from that place.
I’m wondering if you brought in different ideas and pathways from before Headlong that you’d already been working on or if more of the semester has been sparked by being here in this place? Or if it’s a combination of both, can you talk about that?
In the moments when I was feeling artistically blocked, I found myself being drawn to old ideas I’d done outside of Headlong. I thought maybe I could do something with that, or something in that vein. But the more I thought of that I wanted to close it down. I want to just focus on what comes up here, what is happening now and leave that sort of outside. And I feel like Headlong has given me space to just mess around, a lot of the pieces I’ve found myself making are-- I grab some things and go into a room and just do stuff, and whatever comes out of that is like, “oh I’m curious to see how people would be engaged by this”.
And part of me has curiosities about how other bodies doing these things would work, or having multiples bodies doing these things. But I’m not completely sure of the things themselves and not really sure if other bodies would be interested in doing them. I think they would!
You’re working in a bunch of different media. You have your acting side, clowning side, visual art side, your drag side. How do all those things collide right now (or not) at Headlong?
I do like to live in all these media realms and I’m very interested in the collision of those things. At different times I’ve either felt them being compartmentalized into their own things and at other times I’ve felt a little bit of overlap. And with the clown, I mean clowning class has just been fantastic. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for me and I’m very glad it happened. It’s unlocked a lot for me in that realm I hadn’t really been thinking about before. It feels at the same time like that work connects to my performance work in one way, but in other ways I feel like it is just that realm that the work lives in. But in this piece, today, [created for Shavon Norris’ Mindful Making class] I felt more of a collision between my sculptural, visual art, puppetry realms and my performance realms. And even though I felt like this particular performance was very sculpture heavy as opposed to performer heavy, I’m not sure if it came across that way. I found myself letting the sculpture and the environment that was created sort of dictate what was happening. I’m used to more having a set of events that I can structurally improv within, but there were things that happened that I wasn’t thinking about. Most of the time when that happens I’m like how can I technically or creatively utilize this in the piece. But in that moment, the unexpected bits, brought up some personal emotional things for me that I also had to deal with in that moment, and changed how I explored that piece. It helped me explore that sort of performance that I don’t usually get a chance to in the worlds that I live in because they’re more character driven or it’s other people’s work that I’m collaborating with or contributing to or being a vessel for. So to have a piece that was very personal to me, and be outside my control at the same time, was a wild experience.
You’re taking a semester from UArts, I’m wondering if you can talk about the creative relationship that you’ve felt going back and forth being a UArts student and a Headlong student.
It is a very different relationship I will say. Which has been really lovely at the same time. Headlong has felt sort of like an artistic retreat for me where I’ve been able to be around other like-minded performance artists. Where we’re all experimenting and making space for each other and that work. I definitely needed that. Just a nice break from the conventional school structure, so I could focus on expanding my art making. But at the same time I’ve been workshopping UArts students’ pieces at Headlong and back at UArts. So I’ve still had that tie, which is nice, I still feel connected. It’s the people at UArts I really love, even if the structures aren’t the best. So I’m glad I can still be connected to them even while I’m here.
So we have four weeks left of the program, what are you curious about going forward in that time?
I’m definitely curious in whether or not- I’ve sort of been conflicted about if I just want to be a part of other people’s work for our final or if I want to imagine a piece. I haven’t really had any final piece ideas yet. One thing I’ve been beating myself over the head about is “you should reach out more even though you don’t have ideas in the moment, just use this resource to work with other artists and get bodies in the room and see what happens.” Instead of me and some objects going into a room and figuring it out how about you and some people go into a room and just figure it out. So I might push myself to do that in the weeks going forward.
Is there something we don’t know about you that might be fun to share?
Hehe, I haven’t really gotten a chance to do this recently, because being in the city and all, but when I’m back home I like to go into the forest and commune with the trees. I like to talk stuff out with the trees or like do little shows for trees. I used to do that a lot as a kid but because I don’t have those environments around I can’t so much lately.