Meet the Artists – Jennifer Summer Ashley

Jennifer Summer Ashley is a dancer, lawyer and stripper with a varied history of performance. She started dancing at the age of 3, training in ballet and Chinese dance and eventually branching out into modern and contemporary dance, entering many dance competitions and exams in her youth. At the age of 18 she discovered pole dance and eventually started stripping a shortly after that, and in the last few years she has trained in various disciplines of aerial arts.

Her dance training has both helped and hindered her in her life as a stripper. While it has provided her with great proprioception and the ability to pick up skills quickly, it has made her overly aware of technique, to the point that she often finds it difficult to immerse herself in the flow. “For me, my awareness of technique takes away from my flow…do I want to be perfect or do I want really good flow? And for me, I seem to not be able to do both at the same time” she says. For Jennifer, performing as a stripper becomes a balancing act between good technique and immersive flow and musicality, which makes her a compelling performer to watch.

3o4a4928            Her piece for Shooting Gallery examines the judgements that all dancers face, not just strippers, although the societal stigma faced by exotic dancers is an added level of denigration that they must reckon with. Although she has received some judgement from outsiders around her status as a stripper, there is an extreme level of objectification that one must face as a dancer of any kind. “Both industries are very hard on women, and the talent in general. You’re disposable. You work so hard, you just want to perform, you just want to be on stage, you just want to do your art, but you get all this pushback from the people in charge…you’re not skinny enough, you’re not flexible enough, you’re not strong enough…as a dancer, that’s your reality, but as a stripper, that’s your reality PLUS the stigma” says Jennifer. Combining contemporary dance and exotic dance styles of movement, Jennifer’s piece attempts to draw parallels between the experiences and the movement styles of these two types of dance, using voiceovers to highlight the unhealthy judgements faced by female performers using their bodies to make their art.

With her piece for SGPS, Jennifer is making a concerted effort to transition into making “art” performance, although she believes that working as a stripper is one of the greatest ways for a performer to get paid a good wage to work as an artist. She calls herself a “bad stripper”, as she is much more concerned with creating a compelling performance on stage than she is with making money. “For me, stripping is just an opportunity for me to develop my art every night at work” she says. Stripping has enabled Jennifer to grow as an artist and to come into her power as woman, but it has also made her a much more empathetic person due to her exposure to such a wide variety of people with different lived experiences. She describes stripping as her own “ethnographic survey, which is really cool for me”.

After years of experiencing misogyny from both the dance world and the strip world, Jennifer really believes in the power of art to express these ideas to people who may not be aware of the parallels between these two worlds. “This is part of the story of so many dancers, and I have a way of expressing it, so if it works out it works out, and if it looks pretty, even better” she says.

Jennifer Ashley will be performing her new piece for Shooting Gallery Performance Series at Left of Main on March 28, 29 and 30.

-Sydney Southam

Meet the Artists – Jennifer Summer Ashley

Meet the Artists – Olivia Fauland and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro

Olivia Fauland and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro are two artists with very different artistic backgrounds who also happen to be in a relationship. Together they started the dance company Sapiens Sapiens, and their piece for Shooting Gallery combines sculpture, sound art and various “non-dancerly” movement practices including meditation poses , warm up exercises, trust falls, contact improv, and jiu jitsu.

Olivia graduated from Emily Carr University in 2014, focusing on sound art and immersive installation near the end of her time there. The contact microphones used in the piece were developed by Olivia while she was at Emily Carr, and she is reworking the technology for Shooting Gallery. After graduation, she took a concerted step back from the “party scene” art world and began her career at the Portland Hotel Society. Sapiens Sapiens marks her return to making things, this time in a different context.

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Lucas has trained in classical ballet for his whole life, and eventually moved into the contemporary dance world upon moving to Vancouver in 2015. He studied in the post-grad programme at Arts Umbrella before being asked to apprentice with Ballet BC, and even appeared in Centre Stage 3. He now freelances in Vancouver, working mostly in the contemporary dance scene, and trains in parkour and acrobatics.

Sapiens Sapiens includes a rotating roster of artists and was born out of a desire for more experimentation and play, and a feeling of dissatisfaction for Lucas with the work that was being produced in the contemporary dance and ballet scenes. The two artists have similar tastes and trust each other implicitly, which for an artist like Olivia who usually works alone, are very important components to a fruitful collaboration. Coming from such different backgrounds, both artists feel a sense of freedom working in a new space, with each of them bringing something different to the projects. “For me, the dance world, especially with language, is kind of like a freedom because I’m so new to it…to me it’s kind of fun to play with what a dance company could mean” says Olivia. Sapiens Sapiens is aiming to blur the lines between “dance” and “art”, and their piece for Shooting Gallery incorporates sculptural tiles fitted with contact microphones, and the types of movement available to them will be largely dictated by these complex surfaces.

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Their relationship dynamic plays a large role in the piece as well. “We like this idea of baggage and history and our entire history with each other, artistic or otherwise, is part of it and we allow it to be a part of it, even if we aren’t necessarily making it about that” says Lucas. Their working relationship is predicated on a deep trust with one another, and each of them has various techniques they use to help one another when they begin to spiral into anxiety and self-doubt, as most artists do.

Olivia and Lucas are influenced by Michael Schumacher and others in the live improvised dance world, and are interested in smelling the room and letting their senses dictate their movements. Lucas says “it’s about just being in a space and experiencing it and how if you are cued in very sensorially, it helps you keep your brain straight in a very sensitive place as opposed to a performative ‘oh my god’ place…it’s about a situation, it’s about you experiencing something, it’s not about you doing the moves”. They are interested in the natural improvised and unconscious methods of movement that we engage in, and Olivia has recently become obsessed with YouTube videos of mosh pits; “I had thought about this thrashing movement, and letting things be the echo of that” says Olivia.

Olivia and Lucas also have an Instagram page called @gooptubes that documents the intimate moments of their life together with various film cameras. The resulting images are beautifully shot and the love between them is palpable, with each of them being their most beautiful when viewed through the others eyes.

Sapiens Sapiens will be debuting their new piece at Left of Main on March 28, 29 and 30.

-Sydney Southam

Meet the Artists – Olivia Fauland and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro

Guest Curator – Sydney Southam

headshot (1)Sydney Southam is a visual artist, filmmaker, performance artist, and professional pole dancer. She often works with archival 16mm film, exploring themes of nostalgia, death, memory, and identity. Her current work explores the backstage and domestic lives of exotic dancers and how their private and professional lives are defined through ideas of Feminism, objectification, power, and love. Sydney is one of the founding members of Vancouver-based Iris Film Collective, and the curator of the potluck dinner and artist talk series Special Sunday Supper. Her films and artwork have shown across Canada, Europe and Asia, at venues such as MOCA Taipei, Gabriel Rolt Galerie (Amsterdam), Athens International Film and Video Festival, Antimatter Media Art Festival, Aesthetica Short Film Festival, Access Gallery, Emmedia Gallery, Yinka Shonibare Guest Projects, Vivo Media Arts Centre, Cinema Spectacular, Western Front, Cinemateque Vancouver and the Haida Heritage Centre. She graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA Fine Art First Class Honours in 2011 and from the University of Toronto with a BA in English, Philosophy and Cinema Studies in 2007.

Guest Curator – Sydney Southam