Interview with Craftivist Casey Jenkins

Casey Jenkins is one of the 15 artists featured in a Huffington Post article about Censorship of the Female Body published this past April. She is an activist (craftivist) and performance artist. She got a lot of attention for her piece titled “Casting Off My Womb” in which she knitted a scarf for 28 days with yarn that was inserted and fed from her vagina. A beautiful nod to Carolee Schneeman’s Interior Scroll, and an intimate experience touching on tropes about craft, the female, and genitalia. Her most recent project “Body of Work” also intrigues me. Her website features cursive neon letters that state “I will do any work for $” And she did! For one month Casey was available for hire where payment would change daily corresponding with a worker doing similar tasks and their daily wage in another part of the world. 

The body is a powerful thing. It acts, it moves, it feels, it is. 

How did you begin working in performance?

'Performance' is a word that sometimes doesn't sit quite right with me. I have a history of activism which I'd consider a lot more performative than any of the more personal gallery-based art pieces I've done recently. When involved in activism - in trying to make changes to opinions and policies and events with few resources - I've used what's been available to me; vocal chords, stomping feet, ideas shaped into words. Because the intent of activism is not just to express my own opinions but to influence others' - the aesthetics and methods are geared towards being as palatable and influential as possible. I adopt roles and actions that I think will be communicated effectively and cause pragmatic results: I perform. With my personal art pieces, while I do value connection and intimacy with others dearly, my main goal is to strip away artifice and pretense. It's almost the antithesis of performance. I want to create pared back and un-doctored expressions as far as possible and can only hope they resonate with some,  though the language no doubt often sounds raw and discordant at first.

What does your practice look like? How do you begin working on a project? Do you have any rituals to begin or end a performance?

For me my art projects are much like my human relationships - sometimes I fall into them suddenly, other times there is a slow flirtation with an idea that I court with gradually deepening intensity. Often I'm attracted to projects that have some similarity to past loves, other times those similarities repulse me, sometimes they exist as beautiful little vignettes that nurture me and help me grow, other times they rip at me and tear me to shreds. Always there are feelings of obsession, desire, and fascination.

The body is a major trope in performance art throughout history and in present-day. How is the body important to you and your practice? To me your work touches on the idea that the body is personal, like you are looking inward, but you also address the body as a thing, a machine, something to be given away. Can you talk a little bit about this?

When I put my own body central to my work, it's connected with my ideas of feminism and the importance of self-determination and self-definition. It's an acknowledgement that I can only truly speak to my own experience, other people may relate to that experience, but I feel a real resistance to presuming to speak for anyone other than myself. I guess I would like to avoid exploiting or making assumptions about the experiences and identities of others, but by putting myself on display I am inviting them to judge and assess my own. The disjunct or correlation between their assessments and my personal understanding of my experience is often where the grist of the work lies for me.

What kind of research and planning goes in to conducting a specific project? What kind of difficulties did you encounter?

Casting Off My Womb was a natural progression from other works I have made exploring and subverting crafts and activities associated with women and how bodies associated with women are perceived. There was such an unexpected internet furore that my initial response was to avoid doing any piece that related to cultural shaping of identity for a while. The ideas for Body of Work had been brewing for some time though I was worried about community response, I decided to forge ahead with it.  I decided that before I put myself out there I wanted to be really emotionally steady so I spent a long time beforehand trying to be healthy (with varied success) and working to save cash so I wouldn't be scattered and stressed during the show (also not entirely successful!). I also spent months building up to and working as a sex worker because that was going to form an element of the discourse of the show. It's such an extremely stigmatised, silenced, and denigrated field of work, which is no doubt why it fascinated me. It took me a long time to be comfortable being open talking about participating in it. It's still challenging, actually.

What kind of reaction did you expect from the community and from people that might hire you for 'Body of Work'? Were you surprised?

I expected a largely negative reaction, to be honest - probably because of the bombastic response to the media's 'Vaginal Knitting' video of my “Casting Off My Womb” work and because of my understanding of general attitudes towards sex work. But the response I actually got was measured and considerate and deeply engaged. I felt incredibly honored and moved by the community response in fact. Over the course of the exhibition 53 different employers engaged me to work for them on wildly varying tasks including data entry, hair cutting, child-minding, printing, an erotic photo shoot, reading poetry, making prank phone calls, selling t-shirts, food preparation, and a mild bondage session. Once I had set up the structure and the parameters of the work, the creative element was largely in the hands of the public so it was a truly collaborative piece, and their generosity and inventiveness astounded me.

Do you have any future projects in the works?

Yes - I'm collaborating with Neuroscientist Marc Seal and Computer Scientist/Artist Greg Wadley to create a work that explores visual perception and intimacy.I'm also working with Expen$$$ive, a super group that concentrates on all the elements of band culture aside from music making (we've just released our first song-title video clip). An artist who I've long admired for her work in many mediums, Tam Hua, and I are also kicking off a collaboration that we hope will result in a collage book. I'd like to get back into doing some more activist things with Knit Your Revolt collective too because the state of politics in Australia is abysmal at the moment.

Who are your favorite contemporary artists at the moment?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Carrie Reichardt, Cake Industries, Yayoi Kusama, Tom Nicholson, Mars Drum, Ad K Hok, Dolly Parton.