@YOUREMERALDLIFE @HOSTBARNABAS @WINTERPRIDEUK ART AWARDS FINALIST JANEC VAN VEEN

KEZIA DAVIES TALKS TO ART AWRDS FINALIST JANEC VAN VEEN

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Tell us a bit about yourself and your practice
I’m a taxidermy artist. I use taxidermy to tell stories about things that interest me, often in an anthropomorphic way that reveals something about human nature and how bizarre we are as a species, but also as a way to describe worlds of pure fantasy or dark dystopia. I am also a performance artist.

What made you decide to apply for this year’s Winter Pride Art Awards?
Recently it’s been important for me to look at my practice and my identity holistically and entering a competition like this was a chance to be proudly visible and to contextualise my identity as a gay artist.

Why do you think it’s important that art is used to open up the discussion around LGBT+ issues and how do you think your practice interacts with these issues?
Whereas my sculptures are not overtly concerned with LGBT+ issues there is a queer aesthetic that runs through it. A toad with pink lipstick, a dancing devil with ruby red slippers, butterflies and beetles arranged in perfect rainbow spectrums, a bird with a fabulous hairdo and a pooch in her handbag; all these motifs are intentionally campy.
Also, the animals I create are shapeshifters; they are fluid, androgynous and not easily defined. They are quite literally putting on new skins, new surreal identities. A lot of people can relate to this need to shapeshift, either to fit in socially or to push against what is considered acceptable and I see a direct connection between the surreal nature of my sculptures and my obsession with dressing up, performance and drag. Drag is very much part of the current zeitgeist and as a political act and as an art form I feel like it’s affecting positive social change.
Drag teaches us that ‘we are not what we think we are’, that all identities are accessible to us, that we can morph into whatever persona we chose. My sculptures reflect this; they are breaking free from the normal rules of evolution, they are trans-animalia. People sometimes get stuck over which pronoun to use when talking about my sculptures, which is interesting because it reveals the need to put things (and people) into neat binary categories. This also happens to me personally. Am I gay, am I trans, am I a ‘he’ or a ‘she’? As an art maker and as a performer I like to blur the boundaries of male and female, with the intention of challenging the dominant social narrative as a means to promote diversity. I think that ultimately there’s no real distinction between what we do and who we are; whether I’m making objects or performing it’s all part of a wider picture and staying true to my particular means of unique expression, a large part of which boils down to being unapologetically queer.

Can you tell us a little about the piece you’re exhibiting in reference to this year’s theme of ‘Beyond the Binaries’?
Light Bearer (Athene prometheus) is a fantastic, androgynous being from another dimension that embodies and encourages diversity, offering a beacon of light and hope to anyone and everything that is different from the norm.

Janec van Veen - Light Bearer (Athene prometheus)

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