Issue II, August 2003
The elusive Janieta Eyre by Selena Cristo
Surreal photo artist moves into filmaking
A friend and I stood in the caf? where, waiting to meet the artist Janieta Eyre, the same thought simultaneously occurred to us. We had no idea what she looked like, which was ironic since we were both rather big fans of her work. "This wouldn?t be a problem if she really was a Siamese twin, with Mickey Mouse ears and eight breasts," Clint quipped, referring to her work which consists largely of surreal self portraits. It turned out she was already there, staring at us in the way that people do when expecting to meet someone they don?t personally know.
We were meeting that day to discuss Janieta?s current project, a short film that had been shot in mid-July, and was now in the beginning stages of post-production. In So Now We Understand Each Other the main character, played by veteran actor Kate Trotter, converses with twin dolls she believes are her daughters, recounting past loves and infidelities.
"This film is made up out of a short story I wrote when I was seventeen about an older woman who believes these two dolls are her children, and a play I wrote in my thirties about family violence."
Janieta?s career until now has been rooted in photography, with solo exhibitions at the Diane Farris Gallery in Vancouver and at the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto. Her work has been shown internationally in the United States, Iceland and Italy. When asked why she moved into film she explained, "I?ve always written things but since being part of the art world, not done much with them." Janieta also liked the idea of working with a crew made up of people who specialized in areas of interest other than fine art, and described working on So Now We Understand Each Other as a three-dimensional experience.
Visual artists sitting in the director?s chair giving instructions to actors and working with cinematographers are hardly a new phenomena. Matthew Barney comes immediately to mind. This past spring the Idaho-born artist mounted an elaborate show at the Guggenheim Museum which was the talk of the art world (for better or for worse). The exhibition featured Barney?s sculptures, drawing and photography along with five feature length films. The five films, together called The Cremaster Cycle were screened simultanously in all their twisted, baroque and baffling glory.
When asked about his work, Janieta chose her words carefully. "I understand his films intuitively and love them on this level, and it?s also the way I work and love to work, but at a certain point when I?d looked at all the Cremaster films together, I realized they?re as maddening as they?re brilliant and that in the end I find them more punishing than revelatory."
Unlike Barney, whose taste for the outrageous seems amplified by the magic of film, Janieta?s sense of the bizarre becomes restrained when translated to celluloid. The bright monochromatic environments, face and body paint, and harlequin costumes of the past are gone and what remains is a more subdued, internalized, and less symbolic madness.
Of course, there are the twin dolls. Twins prefigure in most of Janieta?s past work. Her disquieting self-portraits are always accompanied by a mirror image of herself, the practice fostering the myth that the second entity is actually her dead sister. The myth is neither entirely true nor untrue it turns out. During the delivery, shortly after Janieta was born, an afterbirth passed from her mother?s womb. The doctors didn?t know what to make of it but Janieta suspects she had shared her earliest moments in the womb with a twin. The artist looks on the myth of the twin with a certain amount of pleasure, appreciating the way that history and the imaginary have blurred together.
The twin dolls seem to be a way of linking her past work with her new venture. Dolls and surrealism have long gone hand in hand. Although Magritte and De Chirico both incorporated mannequins in their paintings, it was Hans Bellmer?s grotesquely reconfigured dolls that were the biggest influence on her story. Janieta commissioned artist Jason McClennen to make the dolls look as realistic as possible, based on the likeness of her own two year old daughter. Describing them Janieta says, "They are very lifelike. They look like dead children."
However, Janieta sees So Now We Understand Each Other principally as a drama, and stresses that the film is less an exploration of the surreal as it is an examination of the human psyche and relationships. Motherhood was the theme of her last series of photography and the darker aspects of the role are further explored in the film, notably the idea of a mother bearing children she doesn?t like.
Janieta expects the film to be completed by December 2003, after which she will enter the work in various international film festivals. While she plans to produce new work in photography, she already sees a feature length film in the future.