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Photo by Marie Haefner
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Photo by Marie Haefner
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Photo by Marie Haefner
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Photo by Marie Haefner
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Photo by Marie Haefner

Jen Rosenblit: Poetics of a Multiple Self

November 28, 2019
Text by Jette Büchsenschütz
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Photo by Marie Haefner

On the occasion of her performance I’m Gonna Need Another One at Tanzquartier Wien, Jen Rosenblit talks about crumbling pieces and dissolving identities, the role of the audience and the potential value of being lost.

Similar to your previous performances text, movement and material merge in »I’m Gonna Need Another One«. What is the relation between words and movements in this performance?

In this work, but also in general, I don’t treat every element the same. Even though I hold them similarly, they need to be treated according to their needs. But for me they all have the same potential value. I don’t abide by popular notions that speaking is a more dominant form than others, like a somatic experienced practice for instance, but it is at times that dominance arises and I have to consider measurement and dosage in order to foster the craft between text and movement. In general, I don’t assume a relation between words and movements, it’s a logic that emerges as it goes. For this performance movement is a way to try to break from the amount of space that the monologue needs. I try to construct a relation between all these elements that are floating around on stage, so that the speaking and the text is going to be as meaningful as the body in motion, or even sitting still.

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Photo by Marie Haefner

»You are curious about building a house« are the first lines of the monologue you are presenting that turns out to be more than just a conversation with yourself. It seems more like a psychoanalytic session when your stream of consciousness guides you through different ambivalent aspects of being home. Can you elaborate on the »you« you are addressing?

There is not really a »who«. The »you« came up of general writing sessions I do with myself. Perhaps as a way to analyze myself and other things happen around me, to practice paying attention to why things are occurring and how I am framing things as they reoccur. When I was writing the monologue, I had a leg injury, was in Basel for a six-month residency by myself and I was watching a lot of cop tv-shows, where they do a lot of profiling. All this profiling was somehow in my subconsciousness – a horrific but essential way to begin to organize and predict types of personalities. I began working with profiling the self and my selves as multiple.

The »you« is me as much as it could be others. The content of the show derives from myself: I am a furniture re-arranger, I am a sous chef, I am Chiron/the God of Pain, I am a soldier, I am a character from »The Wizard of Oz« (which one I am not sure, but I am definitely not Dorothy). It is a conversation with myself. It was a way for me to invite others or imaginary others in the room to locate companionship even whilst working alone. As I was profiling my different selves, I started relating them to things I could locate outside of me, places or people or events which were derivative but not my personal narrative be it poetic or not. This is a methodology I follow when making a show: how is this existing elsewhere, how is this related to something else? This is where »The Wizard of Oz« came up. When I was realizing that the notion of home was becoming a topic and needing to trouble it in terms of place or family even, I asked myself: Where does home exist in the world and in popular culture? And for a young American kid »The Wizard of Oz« is the fairytale about getting home. But in order to get home, Dorothy has to get lost first.

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Photo by Marie Haefner

At the end of »I’m Gonna Need Another One« you are directly addressing your audience. What is the role of the audience?

I am always thinking about why the audience is here. Where are they sitting? How are they looking? What is the particularity of that show, that means that they are there and I am here? The question of togetherness is at the root of my drive to create live performance for and with an audience. How and why would we come together right now? Is it just because you bought a ticket or is there something else that might occur based on these proposals that I have worked on?

Towards the end of the show the »you« was becoming very internal. So, I decided to make a very clear shift in the monologue where I say »I like«: I like the lion from »The Wizard of Oz« and so on… While doing this I sit on the ground behind a stack of green foam blocks which have been clearly breaking down the whole show and am building a miniature wheat field from straw bristles of a broom head which was cut apart earlier. The visibility of the solo-performer disappears and instead I am not just offering personal information, but I also gather personal information about my audience, asking them: »What do you like?«

The audience is the web, they are the potential for me, the web of connections that points out how absurd preference as a measuring device is. »Oh, you like peanut butter? That’s quite interesting!« Revealing oneself is not easy and it takes more often a kind of lostness which allows the particularities of the self to begin to speak, not just relate and re-relate to things based on likeness. The questions about what they like, or dislike is not meant to target anyone’s identity, but to reveal identity as something that takes time. No one would answer my question with: »I like to be smacked on my ass.« It reveals too much potential in a way. Or possibility. So, it is less about what I like and what others like but the endurance to continue to find ways to enter into proximity with each other anyway.

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Photo by Marie Haefner

Broken parts, decay, being lost, fragility and fragments that aren’t enough to stand for themselves are essential elements in your piece. What does identity mean to you?

I am not quite sure whether a singular or authentic self exists. Identity is of course pluralistic. It is influenced easily. It is learned and gathered information. If authenticity means to have a singular, essential self, then I want to avoid it. Then I want not to be authentic. I am more interested in the fictitious selves and the narratives that we make as we go.

One of the central phrases in your monologue says, »Being lost is a valid location«. In what sense could being lost be more valid than a position of stability?

The monologue rests on the line: »Parts of things which are separated from other things are, in fact, in the painful process of becoming whole things themselves.« The lostness lies within this structure of constant decay. When we imagine something as »whole«, we feel valid, safe, located and connected. I have felt that at times, but I also have – and will probably for the rest of my life – have much more of a relation to disconnectedness or part-ness. Things are crumbling and falling apart rather than coming together. Things wear down. That seems to be the nature of time passing.

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Photo by Marie Haefner

Intimacy is a recurring topic in your performances. In »I’m Gonna Need Another One« you are always shifting between wanting to be alone and the desire not to be alone: you want to marry a furniture maker but live alone in different houses. You don’t like curtains so that the neighbors can see in, but you like to live alone so that you have privacy. What does intimacy mean for you?

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. I thought I would just offer what I am constantly in conversation with: a contradiction. I think intimacy is something that is close to the feeling of being held and less about the need to be connected or owned. You can have intimacy but not be a part of something. That is why I say in the monologue: »I like when someone gently touches my lower back especially while they are talking to someone else.« For me the deepest intimacy is to feel that someone is carefully holding my body and my attention and that this offers them more space for other people as well. It is confusing or challenging at times, but this is a kind of intimacy that I am drawn to and driven for and want to offer to other people.

Let me finish the interview with a question you asked your audience. How do you treat your windows? Most of my windows have white curtains. They are a little transparent, so they cover what happens inside, but light can still enter the room.

I do not treat my windows. But it is something I think about almost every day when I am at home. I need someone else to get me these curtains.

Next article

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Sylvia Palacios Whitman »Green Hands and Other Performances«, Kunsthalle Wien in Kooperation mit Burgtheater, 2019, Foto von David Avazzadeh

Die Poetik des Alltags: Sylvia Palacios Whitman

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture.