An interview with Justine Bellefeuille

The studio arts student sat down with our assistant arts editor to discuss ceramics, working with chicken flesh, and more

Multidisciplinary artist Justine Bellefeuille is in the process of obtaining her BFA in studio arts at Concordia, where she previously completed the contemporary dance major program. Her practice revolves around the themes of feminism and violence against women, ideas she explores in both of her preferred artistic mediums. Bellefeuille is currently working on the dance piece OVERLOAD, which will be presented at Tangente from April 9 to 12. The choreographer first created this piece for five dancers in December 2019, and will now present an evolved version on stage.

Comfortably seated on a wooden stool, with her elbows resting on the marble counter top of a café, Bellefeuille shared her current passions and fascinations with The Concordian. 

The Concordian: How would you describe your artistic practice?

Justine Bellefeuille: I do dance, as a choreographer more than a performer. I am also a visual artist. I work a lot in painting, oil painting more specifically. And recently, I have started to work with ceramics. 

TC: How did you decide to develop those two artistic practices?

JB: It was really instinctive. In CEGEP, I studied visual arts. When I completed my degree, I wanted to study dance and to dive into this other medium, but visual arts was always in the back of my mind. I really liked it; I was very passionate about it. So, it is passion that led me to mix both. I think they inform each other. I don’t necessarily use visual arts objects in my dance projects, but in the movements’ aesthetic and in the costumes I create, my visual arts background appears. On the other side, movement can be very present in my paintings, and in my sculptural pieces. 

TC: Have you created projects that mix both disciplines?

JB: I think both disciplines are omnipresent in one another, but my ultimate goal would be to purposefully combine them. For instance, [for] my piece Pulpeux, which I created in March 2020, I started with painting. My goal wasn’t to work with dance, it was to create an image. Finally, after talking with a friend who is a dance performer, I realized that we could use [the painting] to create movements. Movement appeared from the shapes, the in-between spaces, the negative spaces that were created between the shapes and lines of the painting. The performer really followed those shapes to create other shapes in her body.

TC: What themes are you interested in?

JB: More and more I’m developing a feminist approach. Currently, I’m interested in violence against women, be it extreme aggressions or imperceptible daily aggressions. Recently, I also started to question myself about my own relationship with my body as a woman. I am questioning myself about if we perform our femininity, what defines this femininity, what is it exactly. Is it influenced by the pressure of men’s gaze, or is it a pressure that we constantly put on ourselves?

TC: You are currently working on the dance performance OVERLOAD. How does your feminist approach appear in this work? 

JB: For this piece, I am interested […] in the violence against women, how we experience this and how we perceive this personally. Some of the performers in the piece may have experienced such violence, others may have only witnessed it. But to be a witness is also something that is very hard to deal with. […] In the dance piece, each of the performers explores what this means to her. There is a lot of rage that comes out, there are a lot of contraction movements, spasms. During most of the piece, the performers are grouped together, which brings forward this idea of solidarity. They are a group, and they are [in] solidarity, but they also all live different things. 

TC: How would you describe your creative process for this dance piece?

JB: For OVERLOAD, the initial idea was rage. I was looking at harassment at first. With the performers of the initial piece, we worked a lot with improvisation. There were more sensorial improvisations and more formal ones related to images. We tried to represent something, harassment for instance. It slowly diverged towards something more minimalist, more abstract. That was the beginning of the process. Now at the start of every rehearsal, we sit together to chat. We share situations that we have witnessed, information we have seen, statistics related to violence against women. 

TC: Can you tell me about your recent discovery of ceramics?

JB: There is a very physical and tactile aspect to ceramics that I really like. There is also the aspect of reconnection with nature. I am currently taking a class during which we talk about the origins of clay, and where it comes from since it’s a material that comes from nature. Working with this material and knowing where it comes from creates a connection to the body, and to Earth. It’s very physical. Also, with ceramics, there are no limits. I can create what I want. It is a very fluid material. I can work however I want. And the glazes give me even more options. I am interested in the texture of chicken flesh. Therefore, I work with glossy glazes that can give a flesh-like effect. I had been looking for a long time for a material that could create this kind of effect and now that I’ve found it, I explore it. 

TC: How did you start working with chicken flesh?

JB: I have been working for a long time on this and I still question myself about it. It started with a project I did with chicken flesh in 2020. I took pictures of a raw chicken. I used these photographs to edit and cut them in Photoshop. I then recreated this new image in a painting. Since then, I [have been] fascinated with it, for its colour, for its connotation. I titled this first piece Cocotte. There was a connotation, a critique of women’s place in society. Through my current explorations, I try to understand why I’m so fascinated by chicken flesh. I think it is very, very visceral. There is something cruel, since it is raw, it is dead. I think there is something very violent also. It is sensual and delicate, but also violent. 

TC: Do you have artistic projects in mind for the future? 

JB: I want to rework Pulpeux. I would like to go back to this creation, there is really something to explore there. Also, the ceramics aspect was recently added to my explorations. I would like to combine dance and ceramics. Ceramics also have a historical aspect related to women and their work and I would like to do more research on this side and to see how it can articulate itself in a more formal manner. 


Photos by Catherine Reynolds

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