The Body Fantastic: A conversation with Edmonton artist Brittney Roy

by Monika Viktorova

From painting to sculpting to using neural impulse-based technology, Brittney Roy’s emerging body of work spans an impressive breadth of mediums and sources of inspiration. A classically trained artist who continues to defy expectations and push creative boundaries, Roy’s constant remains her boundless and mercurial curiosity. When she started her studies at MacEwan University, her focus was on the fundamentals, and her primary medium was drawing. After transferring to the University of Alberta, she chose a print-making and drawing stream, expanding her work into a more tactile realm. She studied techniques in screen printing, which still features heavily in her practice, as well as relief printing, lithography and etching. She sometimes resents the the involved and multistep process of printing because it’s not as immediate as drawing, which allows her to ‘pump through as many ideas or concepts’ as she wants. Having recently moved into a spacious artists’ studio in a creative loft space above the Mercury Room, she now has dedicated space for both printing and illustration. Roy is letting herself  ‘play and not worry about the concepts’, allowing her creativity and the new environment guide and refocus her art.

When I ask about her artistic inspirations, Roy talks about her strong connection to the body, and especially the female body. We chat below about the current feminist and surreal themes running through her art, collaborations with animators, and her upcoming artistic residence in Toronto.

[Conversation edited for length and clarity]

Q: You said you found representation of women’s bodies lacking. Did you mean art in general or specifically in printmaking?

A: I don’t see a lack, per se, but I appreciate women portraying women in art. I think there needs to be more of that.

Q: Less male gaze-ey?

A: Yeah.

Brittney Roy, 2017. Ink on paper. Photo courtesy of Moh Zee.

Q: Is this piece commentary on compulsory body hair removal? On shaving?

A: [The inspiration for that] came from my niece, actually. She’s almost three. I don’t really shave my armpits and I don’t really think we need to. Her mom does- my sister does. And [my niece] is always so fascinated by [my armpit hair]. She points to it and asks ‘What is that?’. She doesn’t know what it is. That kind of makes me sad and it makes me want to show that more. She doesn’t know that women have the same body hair that men do because it’s so socially integrated that even a two year old [has never seen a woman’s armpit hair] before. I think we have a job as women to show our body hair and not give a shit. If that’s all [little girls know] then they grow up to think ‘I shouldn’t have body hair either’. But really it’s your choice. If you do want to wax, that’s your choice, go for it. I have a lot of friends who tell me ‘Good on you, I could never do that’, and I think ‘Well, you could. You really could.’

I’ve been thinking about hair a lot. I’m more of a visual person and I like to draw it [first] and then figure it out. The hair idea just keeps coming back to me. Trying to make sense of it – growing out of all these different areas. Like growing out of your mouth- maybe it doesn’t look like hair anymore but what does it look like? Creating the abstract darkness.

Q: A pushback on hair policing.

A: Yeah, I guess that’s true.

Q: I follow a lot of artists on Instagram who feature body hair pretty heavily and their subjects are mostly female. I find it empowering to see images like that because we don’t usually see images like that. Body hair is so common that most 14 year old boys don’t know that women have hair. It comes to these really bizarre moments where you’re watching a post-apocalyptic show but all of the women are smoothly shaved. So, while they were running from the zombies, when was there time [for the women] to make sure they shaved? The lack of the representation of [body hair] is bizarre, so seeing it for me feels normalizing.

A: I think it’s important to show it and it’s fun to show it.

Q: And I’m not sure a male artist would show it because they don’t have the same experiences. Having women draw women is very powerful.

A: Having a female body and thinking about it every day – men don’t think about it. Just walking down the street and being a woman you think about things men don’t.

Brittney Roy, 2017. Ink on paper. Photo courtesy of Moh Zee.

Q: The Wanderer did a piece on the AGA Refinery party in the spring, and you were part of the featured exhibits. Which of your pieces was at the AGA refinery party?

A: That was an animation I did in partnership with Jason Gordon. He does a lot of animating work for companies. He wanted to do something different and fun and he mentioned one day that he wanted to animate my drawings. It’s a process that I eventually want to learn so I was like ‘Let’s do it!’. He took my drawings and he animated them in whatever way he wanted- I didn’t give him any instruction. I wanted to see what he did with them to give me a new perspective on my own work. He sent it to me the night before the opening- I didn’t have a chance to tell him to change anything. It wasn’t what I thought – it had a lot of colour, and I think more in black and white, and maybe that’s the maker in me. The animation was pumped full of colour and it was perfect. The drawings that I’d done [for it] were all of women getting ready for parties juxtaposed with women looking at their worst. Throwing up, looking awful, versus putting on lipstick and foundation. I had both of these things competing with each other and he took it and combined it in the animation. I’m really interested in the preparation women do in the morning. Daily living for women is so interesting to me. It’s so different than for men. It’s a ritual, a process. Every morning, I think about it -this is such a weird thing that we do. I am fascinated by this process.

Brittney Roy and Jason Gordon, 2017. Film. Photo courtesy of Matt Simpson.

Q: Was that the first time you had exhibited at the AGA?

A:In that space yes. But I did have some work at Enterprise Square Gallery, it was called ‘DIY show – replace with: Do It Yourself: Collectivity and Collaboration’. I started an artcenter with my friend and colleague, Connor Buchanan (now Tice) called ‘Creative Practices Institute’ a couple of years ago and while I was in the thick of it they wanted to feature artists from each of these centers that were popping up. There was a place called Ficus, and the Drawing Room, and they pulled us together in one show. So for that I did a show called ‘Pussy Platitudes’. For that, I created these concrete plaques. I was messing around with concrete, which I was really interested in -it’s sculptural, tactile nature. It was a text based piece. I found money quotes online and replaced the word ‘money’ with ‘pussy’. It commented on monetizing women’s worth. It turned out to be a really interesting show.

Q: Do you remember any of the quotes?

A: One of them was ‘Pussy is power’. I’m hoping I can build towards a body of work with these illustrative-type things. In art school I had more of a photographic focus, getting inspiration from the body by taking photographs of it. My show at SNAP Gallery was about the absence of the body. It was more performative, too. I would go in people’s houses- some were acquaintances, some were close friends, some were people that I only kind of knew. I would go into their closets and sift through all of their clothing and lay out outfits that I thought went well together. Then I would photograph these outfits on their beds. It was such a weird process, it felt so personal. Some people were cool with it and some people were not. Some people chose which clothes I could use. One friend I asked said “No” [emphatically].

Q: It’s a personal space – we do have attachment to those things.

A: Yeah and the bedroom is a personal space. The friend who refused said ‘We don’t let people in our bedroom,’ and I thought ‘What is in there?’. But other people were so comfortable. Some of the beds were made, some were unmade.

Q: Did you change anything about the beds?

A: No I left them as is.

Q: Did you pose the clothing?

A: Yes I laid it out like a person. It was almost like the person was abducted, and all that was left of their clothing.

My go-to [inspiration] is the body. I like to think about it in different ways and approach it in different ways. I do use a lot of different mediums, and I love to try different things and experiment. I still very much like an emerging artist so it’s good for me to experiment. And to see what comes out of that experimentation- it’s like being a scientist.

Brittney Roy. Photo courtesy of Moh Zee.

Q: Are you doing more collaborations now?

A: I have a residency coming up in Toronto and I’m doing a project that is more technology based. I found this technology called ‘human to human interface’. Basically, you connect electrodes between yourself and another person and you’re using your brain to control another person. There is this ability to control someone’s physical movements. I’m really interested in this technology and what I can do with it so [in] this residency I’m going to explore using it, doing some drawing and doing some performance as well. Performance is a new medium for me but I want to eventually move into it a bit more. There is something really beautiful about being in the immediate interaction with that person. You can’t get that with drawing as much.

With the residency I will be interacting with people a lot because you need a second person for it to work. It’s like a study. I’ll be using the technology, seeing how people react, documenting what their experience was and my experience was and documenting it through drawing, writing, and some video. Being in a different environment too is really important for me to evolve my practice.

Q: Are you preparing ideas of what you want to physically do with people?

A: I was thinking it would be interesting to do an instructional thing where I instruct people, almost like an illustrated book. It’s pretty exciting.

Q: How does the technology work?

A:They’re electrodes: you place electro pads on a part of your body, preferably your arm or your leg and the pads go on someone else. Basically the brainwaves activate the electrophysiology tech and causes that electricity to contract the muscle. When I move my arm, it’s my brain telling my arm to move through a neural impulse. [It’s amplified by the technology] and goes directly to the other person, and makes their arm move. I’m fascinated by what it can do.

To follow Roy’s artistic journey and use of human-to-human interface technology, check out her new project, The Creative Throb. You can also follow her art on social media:

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