I’ve had a huge art-crush on Sydney Southam for a while now. I suggested that she create a work with her partner Jiles Barrett for our performance series and their resulting collaboration is one of the commissioned pieces for our show next weekend.
Sydney Southam has a complex and diverse artistic practice. Currently a member of Vancouver based, Iris Film Collective, the bulk of her recent work takes the form of video and film installations, though she has also been a member of an international performance art dance crew, singer in a guerilla punk band in London and a professional pole dancer. Much of her work has been deeply personal, sometimes blurring the boundaries of public/private with regards to her history, sexuality and family. With a BFA from Central Saint Martins College, her work has been exhibited across Canada and Europe. She also curates a potluck dinner/artist talk called, Special Sunday Supper, during the summer months here in Vancouver.
Jiles Barrett is one of those rare characters where the distinction between his life and his artistic output is impossible to pin down. He doesn’t classified himself as an artist but concedes that he’s “always lived life as a fucking art project”. As a troubled kid, he found a creative outlet in dreadlocks and facial piercings, as well as vandalism and skateboarding. He attended film school on the island, having made videos independently since his teens. Jiles has collaborated on various projects both behind and in front of the camera and his massive output of tongue in cheek social media under the name ‘Jiles Reckless’ is an absurd deep dive into online culture.
Sydney and Jiles tease each other constantly, intermittently yelling over one another and turning to me with that, playful ‘you-see-what-i-put-up-with?’ kind of look. They explain that their collaborative process has been challenging, hilarious and full of arguing.
“We work very differently”, Sydney tells me. “Jiles has lots of ideas and is always talking. I’m slower; I like to think about the mood of a piece. I have a harder time expressing myself in words while I’m making art.” Unable to decide who is in charge, they found the camera to be an important tool in their discussions in the studio. Sydney says, “If I start to film him, all of a sudden I’m forced to listen to him and he becomes this weirdly articulate performance Jiles.”
This subtle shift into performing oneself is at the heart of their new work. The piece they are creating is about communication and relationships. But more succinctly, the piece is about their relationship, or at least, cannot be entirely divided from their relationship.
“You can’t separate us from what we’re doing on stage, it’s a heightened version of our relationship. We are just expanding on things that we were already doing.”
Sydney Southam and Jiles Barrett premiere their new work at Shooting Gallery Performance Series #3, March 31st and April 1st.