Something You Always Knew; Something You Were Fearful To Face

Interview with Jess Holly Bates

Robyn is an Auckland-based performance artist and film-maker born in South Africa who is driven by contemporary literature to make horror-comedy or unstructured narratives in her work. She has a trail of exhibitions in her wake, and returns to performance for PAWA after a string of film works. Her work Every Knot Has Memory will be performed at Island Bay on Sunday 12 November at 4pm. Here she speaks to us about an activist core in the art scene, how performance art prints onto your retina and getting out of bed like a bird (or not).

What will get you out of bed in the morning?

Everyday is different. Some mornings I genuinely can’t get out of bed, but other mornings its like a bird in flight. I think it’s people and exchange. It’s also knowing that I may accomplish something exciting that day – or absolutely nothing – and that’s okay.

Hah. That is okay. How do you define yourself artistically? 

I have gone through many different descriptions. One was a performative filmmaker, another a performative sculptor, but as of current I am a performance artist and filmmaker. I see the world as living through one of my own films. What makes performance art for me is the fact it is equanimous, transformative, never in situ. It morphs like the currents of our politic tides. It has so many faces and is art at is rawest form. When seeing a performance artist, YOU WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER – because they are putting their bodies and minds on the line and telling you something you always knew. Or something were to fearful to face.


Where do you call home, and why is that place meaningful for you?

I am an immigrant from South Africa and as of late I feel no attachment to a particular place but my home is where my people are, I have come to realise. My soul, my people and my mind are in Aotearoa.

Aotearoa is so young and so rich in history, yet due to its young age Māori are still fighting for their history to be respected. This place is meaningful to me as it contains  a site for change. Inside the art community people are fighting for this!


What made you want to be a part of PAWA?

To explore more of my performative side. I’ve been making films involving performance but it has been awhile since I engaged in the live essence of performance. It’s a festival in its baby year and the more arts in Aotearoa the better, I say. I had a vision and needed to share it with others. My heart and mind felt connected to this time for performance and this is why it is important.


Who are the artists that are vibrating for you right now?

Hmmmmm tricky… here’s a list:

-Faf swag (Fa’ aafa)

-Georgette Brown (Painting)

-Daniel John Corbett Sanders (LGBQT politic, Curator)

-Florian Habicht (Film; Spookers)



Strong list! Do you feel as though New Zealand respects the arts? why?

I feel as though New Zealand has a community which respects the arts but monetary institutions do not actively go about funding the arts. CNZ make it very difficult to get funding if you are not already funded. The respect side of things is a very interesting question, because I wonder what sort of respect we are talking about. There is a small performance community which is slowly being respected, but the inner “art world” has already chosen their artists from friend circles, which makes it very hard to have an open, safe and equanimous space for people of all ethnicities, culture and practice. I do feel New Zealand respects the arts, but there is still a lot more room to grow.


What other works are you cooking up at the moment?

Im currently working on my largest film project to date. It is a series of three films. (titles secret) These three films are working with the blind and deaf community. A film for everyone.

It’s all really a little bit secret so can’t spill to much.

How do you feel about your upcoming performance piece at PAWA? Why is it important to you?

I feel excited and nervous. It is important to me as I will be sharing a part of myself and my mind, commenting on a historical myth linked to the public space I will performing in and diving into a new instrument I have been learning for a couple months.

In Conversation with Jess Holly Bates


Robyn Jordaan’s performance work Every Knot Has Memory takes place at Island Bay on Sunday 12th November at 4pm.

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