More Potlucks, Less Sad Frozen Instant Meals

Interview with Jess Holly Bates

VCrof is a Chinese/European artist based in Auckland, whose practice spans the boundaries of installation, poetry and performance. She self-identifies and is identified by others as “introspective” and “on fire” and lately she has risen to local glory winning Best Storytelling/Spoken Word and the ATC Here and Now Award (Ak Fringe 2017). Her work Fortune 500 takes place on Wednesday 8th November, in the opening night of PAWA performances at Play_Station gallery from 6pm. Here she critiques our nationalist pohutukawa aesthetic, offers eight adjectives to describe performance art and the safety of a counter-top herb population.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The pressure to be productive. Coffee with someone I care about.

Is ‘performance artist’ a title you use/like? How do you define that?

I used to define myself in the canon of performance art, but now I just identify broadly as an artist, who manipulates skills from different genres. These include performance, text and installation.

For me performance art is about action and activation (material, space, people). It can range from the theatrically hyper-realised to the banal quotidian. Performance art is durational, humble, invisible, flashy, direct, obtuse, impermanent and laborious.


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

Home is where I feel safe. That’s my mum, dry bedsheets and dying basil plants.
In concrete terms, home is the space where you feel understood in relation to a close-knit social group. That’s incredibly meaningful in a time of instability and precariousness – having a security blanket to feel grounded within is very, very powerful.


What made you want to be a part of PAWA?

I think performance art offers really interesting possibilities to conversations around art and theatre. PAWA, as a platform, brings recognition to a genre of creation that tends to be dismissed as unmarketable or isn’t taken seriously. It’s recognising its value and hybridity in the context of Aotearoa.
I also just believe in creating work in context, conversation and relation!! When you’re constantly working in isolation, being part of something bigger than the individual is mad refreshing. More potlucks, less sad frozen instant meals eaten alone at 10pm on a forlorn and soggy sofa.


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

In general, I feel very lucky to be in friendships and similar networks to people who are constantly up to cool shit. Witch Bitch. Fresh’N’ Fruity. White_mess. Activist groups like People Against Prisons Aotearoa and Auckland Action Against Poverty. The Town Centre. Ann Hamilton inspires me! You inspire me!

The feeling is mutual. You’re a delight. What are you up to outside of PAWA?

I’m finishing my degree in Sculpture, working on an install for the upcoming Performance Arcade, running events and plans for Thursday Girls, doing some features in Wellington and uh…    staying alive and nourished! (That’s the most expansive project)

How you feeling about your upcoming performance piece? Why is it important to you?

I feel good about my performance – it’s a pretty humble offering, one in which I play the role of a giver. Because I’m operating in the background there is a lot less fear and far more interest in observing people’s reactions.

Fortune 500 comes from artistic inquiries I’ve been investigating throughout the year, critiquing authenticity under governing social structure. There’s such a tense, oppositional relationship between the words ‘Creative’ and ‘Industry’, yet we all exist within that framework. How can we form genuine relationships when we’re supposed to be peer networking?


Finally, do you feel as though New Zealand respects the arts? why?


That’s a loaded question lol. I think New Zealand likes to think it respects the arts. 

In reality that definition of ‘the arts’ is pretty narrow.

It’s easy for an average New Zealander to respect something that is already shown to be respectable, like a work which is already in Auckland Art Gallery. The public also tend to respond well to a semi-realistic canvas painting painted by a semi-well known painter who produce portraits of pohutukawa tree silhouetted against gold leaf sunsets featuring a small realistically embodied child running into the crashing waves.

Respect is also a tricky term, because what does that  even mean? It’s easy for the arts to become the breeding groups for diversity checklists, used to commodify, placate and ‘showcase’ ‘respect’ for different communities but under really specific lenses. There’s less public support for radically political art, lo-fi art, art that can’t hang on your living room wall, no-budget contemporary fringe art, because we don’t get the education that teaches us to value these as much.
And no, there’s also still not enough funding / support for anything outside of chosen disciplines, marginalised artists, artist run spaces, labour, security, recognition of our time and the skills we hone.
But that’s why it’s so interesting to me, to investigate these social relations – why we value what we value.

In Conversation with Jess Holly Bates


Vanessa Crofskey’s performance work Fortune 500 takes place at Play_station Gallery on Wednesday 8th November from 6pm. 

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