Today, we are pleased to be sharing the work and words of artist, writer, dancer and community worker Raynen Bajette O’Keefe. air & water; deconstructed meme, was first performed as part of EWF21 event Elemental.

Hi Raynen! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi. I find this question sometimes quite large, particularly when it comes to family, so for now will say I’m a biracial human who is trans and non-binary, and residing on unceded Wangal Land.

I have practices which span dance, media, film, and writing – all in quite broad senses of those disciplines. Amongst other bits, I have a BA in Film.

I attended Elemental and found your piece so arresting – could you tell us a bit more about the work and how it came to be? How does it fit in with your greater practice?

Thank you. The work is broadly about birthing, and began with visual experiments and gathering of visual material. Some of the footage is from a few days I had in-studio with ReadyMade Works – which is a wonderful dancer-run and independent dance space, based on Gadigal Land.

The footage from that residency was never intended to be final work but rather more a process documentation of things I was playing with at the time. In a way the piece which was part of Elemental is also kind of a temporary documentation of forms and expressions that I was surrounded by, at that time. 

I’m increasingly interested in what it means to bring material together in non-linear ways, as my mind has never quite functioned for traditions of linear storytelling, and more concrete narrative.

The edit for this piece came round in a fairly intuitive way. I owe a very large and warm thanks and credit to my dear friend Ande Cunningham for their editing and technical assistance, and support in the final moments. We had a beautiful day in the garden side by side with our laptops and edited this together from a drop-box where I had just dumped anything that was relevant and useful. It was the first time we’ve worked together in those ways and honestly – I think because of our close friendship, and cooperative-ADHD brains – it was all uncannily quite smooth. 

I figure at this point much of the work I make and dally in comes from a similar interface or intersection of philosophy/ies, politics, and lived experience (and probably increasingly methods, and aesthetics), so I didn’t worry too much around continuity. I tried to practice trusting it would find its own logic, which I feel it did. It was actually a really valuable lesson for me, that I can function in ways that utilise how my brain works and its strengths, and that will make some sense, even if I don’t (initially) know what that sense-making is, or will be. Phew.

I also came to the table with a more formed piece of writing, which I guess was an initial scaffolding or vessel to hold the overall visual structure – even though that text and it’s recording moved around quite a bit.

You work across many mediums and forms, what informs your decisions to produce work across different formats? How do you choose?

I feel like I’m only just beginning to integrate these things across mediums and allow them to inform each other. For many years I felt like I had to choose or focus, and something would eventually fall by the wayside as my focus became concentrated elsewhere. These days I worry less about what each practice looks like over time. Calling myself a dancer doesn’t mean I dance everyday, etc. I think many of these things are vessels for thinking, embodying, and sometimes, research.

I’m trying to allow my focus to drift. When I need a break from writing, or feel nothing’s coming, I return to visual stuff. They’re kind of breaks from each other – I feel lucky like that. I think it’s good for burn-out too. I try not to push myself to the medium’s dry end.

Would you like to tell us a bit more about what you are working on currently and what is on the horizon for you?

Currently I’m broiling new collaborations, and building these exchanges where I can through lockdown. A queer film I’ve co-produced is coming to Stan in a couple of weeks – which I’m slightly terrified about – (please don’t throw tomatoes). I’m currently enrolled in a continued education course through Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings, which is on Queer & Trans Reproductive Support – I honestly love it. I like to think of community work and arts based work as continuous practices which also inform each other, and can be in conversation and exchange. So I kind of consider taking this course as also being situated in a way in my arts practice, I guess in light of the themes I’ve been exploring lately anyway. I’ve never been taught by a bunch of trans folks about birth, so it’s just deliciously nice, and I keep welling up in gratitude.

Lastly, I’ve got an Ausdance DAIR Residency through Bankstown Arts Centre, which was scheduled for September and will likely now be moving online. I’ll probably be using this time to work digitally and visually, digesting some of the learnings from the BADT and perhaps foraying into some other collaborations also. We’ll see.

This is an incredibly challenging time we exist in. How do you take care of yourself – your body and your mind?

I’m falling on my arse every few days like the rest of us through lockdown. I’ve been trying to remind myself that these are pretty heightened times we’re living in, and to reason that some of my anxieties and stress make sense in context.

At the beginning of lockdown here, I stepped up my professional and external supports big-time, which I’ve generally been maintaining in the last little while. Including keeping up with health appointments, etc.

..trying to bring small pleasures in – pick flowers (put them everywhere), eat pastries, etc. Trying to gently remind myself to lower my expectations of myself, especially if I catch myself trying to ‘work myself out of a situation’, or beginning to fall back on over-working as a coping mechanism, etc. I nap, I get sun if it’s out. I sit in every possible corner and chair of the house or garden, to get a change of internal scenery. 

It’s a difficult time.

What are you reading/listening/consuming right now?

I am doing classic me, and intaking a lot of junk. A cute folk in Naarm got me onto ‘Are You the One?’ Season 8 which is the season where all the usual reality-tv hook up dramas occur, but played out with queer and trans folk – so that has been good 🙂

I’ve never been a very proficient reader (outside of non-fiction), which I’ve felt some self-consciousness around at times. I wasn’t really brought up in a house that ‘reads’ and have some pretty distracting tendencies, so I’ve always struggled with it. I do love (and have been coaxed into, appreciating) theory – so I do read from a variety of disciplines, when the time is right.


Revisit more highlights from #EWF21 over on our YouTube Channel.