Jane Glennie’s exhibition Fear & Yearning (and the sliver in between) takes place in the Alison Richard Building from 7 August to 15 September 2023, with a film screening and discussion on 14 September 2023.
Q: Jane, what are the themes of your exhibition and how did you conceive it?
The title of this exhibition – Fear and Yearning – came out of the title of a talk that Toby Martinez de las Rivas gave earlier this year in Cambridge. He screened one of the films we have worked on together, and as he gave his talk, I realised that his notions of fear and yearning were the words I was looking for to sum up the underlying threads to the work I wanted to show here. It underpins much of the experiences I was trying to express through my Tilly Losch film.
I was also very influenced by Mary Ann Sieghart and her 2021 book The Authority Gap: Why women are STILL taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it. Many of the fears that women face, I believe, stem from, or are exacerbated by, the lack of being respectfully heard and acknowledged. It was shocking to read the relatively recent examples of women who could not be in higher or more authoritative positions, such as Mary McAleese as President of Ireland, or US Supreme Court Justices, that do not receive appropriate respect.
The positive message, I hope, of Because Goddess is Never Enough is that you can achieve and keep going in life, if you can find yourself, or move yourself, in between those points of fear, and points of yearning – both of which can be equally paralysing. While the films made with Toby and Neda are an embodiment of that fear and yearning itself, disconcertment, and the uncanny. And they reflect back strongly to earlier works in which I had explored ambivalence in motherhood, fears of death and suicide, and the uncanny appearances of horses as a symbol of yearning.
The ‘sliver in between’ is this wedge that perhaps can exist between fear and yearning. It might be contentment, or ‘flow’, or happiness, or experienced as something else or nothing, and yet so much of life feels like it crashes from one to the other that I realised the sustaining thought of my life is to try to eke out more space in that sliver. To register and enjoy the in-between, and to nurture it whatever that in-between is.
Q: Who are your collaborators, and how did you come to work with them in this exhibition?
Collaboration and inter-disciplinary modes of working are at the heart of my practice. This may be because, before becoming an artist and filmmaker, my background was as a typographic designer, and working with other disciplines, and with writers, therefore just feels very natural. But essentially I’m always excited to learn from, and be inspired by, others. The first of my collaborators here is writer and performer Rosie Garland. When I first heard Rosie talk about her writing and met her at a conference, I secretly wanted to ask her straight away to work with me on my ideas around Tilly Losch – the project that eventually became Because Goddess is Never Enough. It took me about a year (and a mentor to egg me on), to build up the courage to email and ask her. Later I discovered that Rosie had coincidentally thought that she would love to make a film with me – so was, in fact, delighted when I did get back in touch and we went on from there.
My other collaborators are Toby Martinez de las Rivas and Neda Milenova Mirova. I also heard Toby talk about his work at a conference, and was fascinated by the visual and abstract approaches he was taking to his poetry writing. He had already begun experimenting with Neda on sound pieces, so when we met later to chat about what Toby was doing visually, and he connected with the visual layering he saw in my work, it seemed natural to explore what might happen if I worked on films with him and Neda. Unlike with Rosie where I had set myself an objective to create a particular body of work, the work with Toby was very much more open and I had no plan or idea of what might happen with it. But from the moment I heard the first sound piece from Neda I was entranced by it, and the visual work just flowed from there.
Q: You have an unusual style of filmmaking. Can you explain your process?
Yes, my work has been described as a ‘blizzard of images’. Or, in a more mundane way, as a really fast slideshow. Film or animation are also still images screened at a similar speed (typically 25 frames per second), but the difference is that the intention is to create seamless movement in moving images. Whereas I construct the majority of my films from separate still photographs. The still photographs are layered and manipulated in various ways to create the result you see. Films will consist of hundreds or thousands of individual photographs.
Q: Apart from those interested in art, film and photography, who would this exhibition be of interest to?
Personally, I would like to think that my work appeals to those who are interested in feminism. In particular in Because Goddess is Never Enough, the message for me is the idea that women have come a long way since Tilly Losch was in her heyday in the 1920s and 30s, and yet … there is still SO far to go. For example, recently a highly regarded music producer told me that female artists in the music industry are frequently considered ‘difficult’ to work with, whereas in reality the producer said they simply have opinions.
I think this exhibition might also be of interest to those in the humanities, in particular social history and anthropology. Both films come out of a lot of research and interrogation of cultural history and archives. Though she is largely forgotten now, the visual culture surrounding Tilly Losch is particularly huge – from newspaper clippings, Vogue and Tatler magazines, to her connections with the art world, and photographers like Cecil Beaton. She appears in a collage box by Joseph Cornell, and the spoof book My Royal Past by Cecil Beaton. There is also more to Tilly’s story in her experiences with the film world, in particular the issue of whitewashing in Hollywood. It was outside the scope of my short film when it was made, but later I realised it would have been interesting to have been collaborating with an anthropologist at the research stage, to interrogate more questions around Tilly and the images that remain of her and I presented a paper discussing this at the 2023 Royal Anthropological Film Conference. While the Toby Martinez de las Rivas films come out of the archives of Eric Guy, a photographer who documented changing agricultural and social practices in the English countryside in the inter- and post-war periods (a collection held at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University), and I think this project would be of interest to those who are interested in work that is developed from social archives and social history.
Q: Is there a book or catalogue to go with the exhibition, and where is it available?
Yes! At the completion of the film for Because Goddess is Never Enough, I wanted to see how the film might look if it were transformed into a book. Previous films I have worked on have been from poetry already published, and I wanted to see what would happen if I worked in the opposite direction from screen to page. I’m also a book designer and typographer, and I’m really interested in how material has a different feel and response in different media. There was also a significant amount of poetry that Rosie Garland had written for the project that couldn’t be included in the tight 10 minutes we decided upon, but could appear in a book. One brilliant poem ‘Most yarn is on the surface’ didn’t quite fit with the rest of the sequences in the film and was left out at the start, but other parts of the writing had to be edited or cut as the film developed and was tightened up.
I designed the ‘book of the film’ Because Goddess is Never Enough, and it is available through most online booksellers, and will be available at the screening and speakers panel event ‘Herstories: problems and solutions’ on 14 September at CRASSH.
Toby Martinez de las Rivas’ book Floodmeadow, which includes the poetry of our film series, is available at all booksellers, published by Faber.