Pretty Ugly Calm Down Dear / Exeunt Interview, 2013

- interview with Bojana Jankovic

-       Do you think feminist discourse has shifted in the last couple of years? And if so, how do you situate your performance practice within that changing discourse?

 I think there certainly has been a renewed interest in feminism that has appeared over the last two to three years.  I think a kind of ‘pop’ feminism has emerged thanks to prominent figures in the press speaking out as feminists, and also with the help of the internet. I’ve been pleased to see a new wave of teenage feminists find their voice with the help of twitter and blog sites etc. I’m not sure how much the discourse has changed however. I think its interesting to look at how the internet can simultaneously give voice both to a new generation of feminists and also the widespread institutionalised misogyny which is out there.  I always try to present work which clearly shows how deeply embedded our politics are in pop culture, and how much that can affect us on an almost subconscious level. Indeed, it is a point of contention in my pactice: that I make deeply feminist work and yet struggle to live by the standards that I feel I should. It is important to me that my work can present this struggle.

 -       Is the ‘feminist theatre/performance’ label something that you identify with, or do you think it can limit the ways in which your work is seen, received and discussed?

  I have always made what is widely considered feminist work, and often describe myself as a feminist practitioner.  Today I am happy to describe it as such, but I do remember a few years where my work was often described as ‘angry’, which I believe is mostly to do with the fact that it was brazenly feminist. I think I struggled with that then, and worried that this might deter people, or distract from the message. Now however I think it is a really important thing. I firmly believe that we need to re-embrace the ‘F’ word. I would hope, of course, that the work could be considered within other contexts too, but if I’m making work which explicitly deals with political issues that I feel need to be discussed then I’m not going to shy from being categorised as a feminist practitioner.

 -       Similarly, how important is the idea of a feminist festival? On one level it is significant that this discourse is being offered a platform, but is there also a danger that, by collecting this work together in the context of a festival, it is seen as something alternative and cut off from mainstream discussion?

I’m sure there is a part of me which hates the idea that a festival might be jumping on a bandwagon of ‘fashionable feminism’ and cashing in on that [shudder], and yet, even if that was the case (which it’s not!), I truly believe anything that can bring more awareness to such important issues can’t be a bad thing. There is so much feminist work being made at the moment that doesn’t get seen, that I think bringing a festival together to shed light on this movement is a great thing- it says: ‘we’re still here and we’re still fighting’. I think that’s so important to show, even if its just to dispel those myths that feminism is no longer necessary.

 -       In what ways does your piece engage with contemporary feminist discourse?

Pretty Ugly shines a light on a dark corner of misogyny on the internet, and deals directly with what the current generation of teenage girls are struggling with. It presents two years worth of research in this field; one of which I spent living as 3 teenage girls online. I think I always knew it would be a difficult year, but even I wasn’t prepared for the level of violent, institutionalised misogyny I was to encounter. The show asks many questions about the findings of my research, and questions my position as a researcher within it as well. I think it problematizes these issues, rather than seeking to give any answers; and in that way I hope to present issues which are consistently discussed in the press (especially sensationalist journalism such as the Daily Mail) in a new light. I hope it teases out the complexity of these issues. In this way the show deals with current feminist discourse in the way that it shows an immediate and urgent need for feminism in our current socio-political climate.

-       Do you think it is important to see feminism within the context of a wider conversation about equality, both in the arts and beyond?

Absolutely. I think any conversation about feminism must be contextualised in this fashion, if only to give a clearer perspective on the current political context we’re living in.