MAY 15, 2020


Liquid inspiration dispersing into fragments, Janna Jay unleashes us and discusse their self-prescribed punishing therapy.

In Washington Square park, over a lunch break salad, I sonically screenshot Jann Jay’s artistic analyses of humanity’s adorability. Bending taboos, they create new youths to source freedom.

So, when you perform, you focus on sexuality, but do you think you have any tendencies in the concepts you gravitate towards, or do you do what feels natural to you at the time?

I gravitate towards whatever is going on in my life at that moment. I can really get into my head and want things to be perfect, but when I do that, the original idea loses it authenticity, and I have to start from scratch…I’ll get in the shower because water makes me think, and then I get this new idea or the same idea reframed. It’s always about what I’m obsessing about that I may not have realized was something relatable or interesting up until that point. 

Kembra, my mentor, always says “performance art is not entertainment”. It’s more of an exploration for the audience and for the performer, and I agree that the purpose is to explore. Through that exploration comes what makes your performance piece captivating. If people connect with your emotions or work, or even if it just makes them uncomfortable, it’s done its job.

Would you say it’s the same with your writing… what does your methodology normally include?

I focus on short stories and fragmentary pieces. I’m working on a novel but it’s very hard for me to do long form writing, so I’ll get visuals and then write those down. For example, this morning I was on the subway and I had put on sunscreen and I looke under my nails and I noticed that there was all of this white grimy sunscreen mingled with dirt, and it made me think of a story idea based on that, based on someone having really long nails and the grime that collects under it.

So, whether that’s like a poem or a story, I’ll find out later. I just write that little visual down and then work from there... cause even when I read stories that I really like, even the shitty white male modernists that I was forced to read in high school, there were these brief visuals that captured a mood or some human essence in a snapshot.

In one of my favourite books, Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson has this visual of the main characters mum ashing her cigarette on her wrist and that stuck with me. I really like these little moments. I’m obsessed with being on the train, when you get a seat you get the best visuals. You can get a glimpse into people’s heads. Especially when they don’t know they’re being watched, not to be creepy, but you see something intimate, you connect the dots between the mannerisms, ticks, and worst habits that they display outwardly, and their inner life. These are things you get to write down and turn into characters no one has seen before.

(Here we further discuss listening in to people’s conversations on the train and imagining their lives)

Have you heard of the author Valeria Luiselli? She’s an incredible author who lives in New York. She’s Mexican and writes books in Spanish and English. She’s volunteered to help immigrant children with their court cases, she’s taught… but one of the jobs she had was collecting the soundscape of New York. She would listen for unique sounds to record, whereas most people try to tune them out, like the sounds of kids playing basketball near Washington Square Park, or the sounds in the summer when the air is thick and hot underground, and people are waiting for the train.... she says to record sounds you hear because typically people forget to add sounds in their writing, or they can’t recall the sounds because noises are so ephemeral and easy to forget. It can have a monumental impact on your writing to be observant with all of your senses.

I used to record subway performers, buskers, as the train was coming into the station because it makes a really weird noise when the two sounds collide, it’s kind of tragic. It’s like a collision between two big moans, until the train wins. I never did anything with the recordings, but I still collect these snippets that I find kind of adorable about humanity when my phone has the space.

When you capture something it mentally emphasises it, I think. Phones are so instant, and you think it’s a private thing, but it’s completely tracked, so it captures what you’re thinking in that exact moment.

I have a lot of siblings. With one of my littlesisters who still lives in California, when we would really miss each other, and we couldn’t see each other because I couldn’t get enough money to fly out there, we would send each other screenshots of what we were doing on our phones every once in a while. But it had to be one of those double taps of the home button where it shows the last three apps you had open. You can see the first app clearly, but only a sliver of the others. We’d send that to each other and then talk about it. A snapshot of each other’s inner lives.

So then apart from writing, and performance art, do you participate in other artistic practices or whatever feels natural or…

Yeah pretty much whatever feels natural, but I cycle through everything because I have a hard time focusing. I’ll read and do book reviews and then I do portrait photography, I pose for some friends of mine who are also photographers. I make short films, usually experimental short films about sex and violence, whatever feels risky or scary for me to explore.

I had one video about masturbation because I grew up in a repressed Christian cult-like household and didn’t masturbate until this past year. I paint a little bit, and I’m learning how to sew. That’s one I’m really obsessed with because it’s so useful… having that craft is really important to me and gives you freedom with other things. I’m a perfectionist, but because I can’t control how bad I am at sewing, it gives me this new type of freedom to fuck up and to cut and paste.

Kathy Acker, her professor told her in college “if you think you can write something, someone’s already written about it, and they’ve written it better than you so just go plagerise”. But he also wanted them to make it their own. She basically cut and pasted from authors she admired in a lot of her books. She wrote well too, so she would just work from all these different authors and mould them together with her own obsessions. I love that aspect of cutting everything you can find and putting it together, taking something that’s already been made like a piece of clothing, but re-working it to be your own… writing on it in marker, adding a button, a snap, something sheer, using grimy fabric, or something ripped.

Do you see your practices as intertwined or is there one thing that comes naturally to you and the other things are things that you’re interested in and so you persevere with them (for example)?

I do whatever is in front of me. So, if I see a submission date for a writing project or if a friend invites me to perform or someone needs photos for their escort page, that’s what I’ll work on. But almost everything that I do is really… it’s kind of painful so I don’t always like making art, even like performing… no I like it, I love it, it doesn’t make any sense…  but it’s so painful to do any of it because it’s so much work and it’s so much of you. I mean I do get excited about stuff, but I also usually have to confront my own pain to make anything I deem worthwhile. I cry a lot. You just kind of have to work through it. I think it’s my punishment for wanting to be an artist, but it ends up being my therapy.