The Coded Body

Part of The Offing's National Minority
Mental Health Awareness Month Spotlight


Throughout July, The Offing observes National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month with a spotlight, across genres and departments, on work that considers the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, and mental health and illness. This is one of our spotlighted works.

Working through a number of digital mediums, conceptual artist E. Jane interrogates what it means to be Black and Feminine and living in America in the age of the internet, where we can just as easily hide as we can connect.

E. Jane lives with Bipolar I Disorder, and though it isn’t addressed directly in her/their art, it informs the work — and reminds me of how the symptoms of the bipolar patient mirror those of any Othered person who has been confronted with an aversion to who they are.

I think of racial melancholia, the effects of state, domestic, and cultural violence against POC bodies, Queer and Trans bodies, women’s bodies. The frequency of assaults and murders, the accessibility of violent images, the trauma upon trauma.

E. Jane questions what safety means to a Black, Feminine, American body. Her/their approach interrogates the idea of safety as something clearly definable; she challenges the notion than any individual can look to an Other to provide it.

It’s the beauty of what art can do: not provide answers, but provoke questions.

— Aricka Foreman, Enumerate Editor

Interview in Fragments
with Artist E. Jane

I’m from Prince George’s County, Maryland/Washington, DC. my parents were transplants from the district. I went to undergrad in New York at 18, and now I live in Philadelphia.

However, I’ve always spent a lot of time in my head. I suppose the cities I’ve lived in have informed my work because cities generally allow people to daydream a lot. In New York, I was constantly around people, but mostly everyone seems to be daydreaming or preoccupied and so people tend to leave you to yourself.

Some people would call that isolation.

 

Ephemeral Instagram

Spending my formative years as an only child in the suburbs with internet and cable means that I’m probably very good at isolation, which makes working digitally easier. I also went from a predominantly black space to a predominantly white space and now I sit somewhere in between. I go back and forth past the border of 50th street in West Philly, into University City and out again. It’s like going pass 125th street everyday. I suppose that informs my work, too.

 

E. Jane

Avatar1_EJane

My “I” is bad at connecting with the world. “I” feels thoroughly othered to a degree that any attempt to connect on a “human level” with the viewer feels futile. In order to connect I had to begin generalizing myself, searching for the commonalities I had with others.

 

E. The Avatar, Ep. 2

I came to the conclusion that I am black and I am a woman, my body is thoroughly Black American and it is perceived as woman.  Then I realized that means my body is not a “safe” body. My body is an unprotected body. I started asking myself how we protect unprotected bodies? What if the body were code? What if the body were only a simulation? What if I could exaggerate how inhuman I feel? E. The Avatar came from that questioning.

 

E. The Avatar, Ep. 1

Or rather, the realization that I’m less interested in human interaction than I am in digital interaction and how the digital realms both protects and consumes us and what would it feel like to devote yourself to that consumption.

 

E. The Avatar, Ep. 7

Digital interaction fascinates me because online I connect with many people. I have many friends and acquaintances and when we speak I feel closer to them than I do while standing in front of a corporeal body.

I sometimes prefer interacting with an Avatar (the image that appears as one’s representation on social media sites). I’m interacting with yours right now. The Avatar becomes all of our representatives to a point where you can meet someone IRL and maybe they aren’t really looking at you.
EJane_Clothing1
A few years back I saw a video with Adrian Piper explaining that she was collecting her own detritus and preserving it via the Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation. Mendi & Keith Obadike auctioned Keith’s Blackness on Ebay in the 90s. I reflect on other Black artists negotiating agency and survival. Then I think of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece which is arguably about a sort of depression and the feeling where you no longer care to keep anything for yourself.

 

EJaneLocks2

But selling my hair means something very different than the clothing. Hair sheds and grows. It’s a crop. A resource. I’m interested in thinking of one’s own body as a resource or commodity. If hair is a commodity, it is one that can be replenished.

 

LocksEJane

The body on the other hand, is finite. Selling my image means just that. It’s an image. To me, it barely feels like mine. It’s a body that I own, that I’ve created and then captured via a camera. It now exists separate from me and can be reproduced ad infinitum. There’s comfort there. Also, if the Black female body must be commodified, why can’t the body it derives from have agency over its commodification?

 

Handled Bag

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Then I ask again, what do you do with the Black female body? What do other’s do with it? How does it best exist in our collective world? How does it need to exist for me to feel safe? In a way, I am searching for safety.

 

EJaneLeatherBodyDress

The selling of my body’s image completes two tasks, the body now acts as a decoy that you can’t kill, and there’s agency in self-commodification that feels like safety. When you see Tupac’s face on a pair of underwear, you don’t imagine that he put it there. There’s comfort in knowing I make some decisions about where the image of my body exists.

 

wifihoodie

Another depressing realization: How can a Black Woman reflect the world within herself? Maybe she can’t. Maybe that’s why the viewer and I have a complicated relationship. I’m not providing the proper service. What if I gave the viewer their own reflection instead? In that way it’s another negotiation, but it’s also one of many gestures that could be perceived as absurd and arrogant.

 

handmirror-4

Who is to say what the philosophy of the world is? I consider myself an absurdist, in that I think we construct meaning and large collective truths are generally impossible. So the text was the afterthought. The sentence was the sketch. The object makes the sentence true. The text itself is Lorem Ipsum mixed with Kanye West Lyrics roughly translated to Latin via Google Translate. The song, “We Don’t Care” from his first album, is significant for me; it’s a survival song. It’s also irreverent. I like the way it rubs up against the uptight latin. Some words from the black vernacular refuse to be consumed by the latin. They don’t translate. They stand out. I think about Glenn Ligon’s text pieces and their refusals.

 

handmirror-3

Sure, the audience is always a part of the process in a sense. But there are also multiple audiences and I’m trying to speak to all of them through one piece. I would like to believe that these works are entries in the canon of Black existentialism and force us all to investigate our own subjectivity.

 

EJaneInstagram

Mental health issues are systemic issues. Studies have shown that illnesses like Bipolar Disorder are much more nurture than nature. What type of society are we nurturing? I think that is something we should ask ourselves.



New Rule

*reference: dark like dirt but not like dirt


Initiation

"Your friend has entered the tribe / of those who’ve buried their mothers"