(Performance) JENNIFER VANILLA
Jennifer Vanilla is a bright ball of energy existing mostly outside of temporal time and space, but sometimes she manifests in vibrant human form via the performer Becca Kauffman. Kauffman is a video artist, performance artist, dancer, voice over actor, and musician. She is also a longtime member of the experimental New York band Ava Luna.
How did Becca Kauffman find you? Or did you find Becca?
We seem to have found each other. I was, at the time, desperate for a host body — I’d answered every listing in the Jennifer Report, our local paper, but none of the available real estate felt quite right. I was almost ready to resign myself to another cycle of formless existence, when one afternoon, I heard a sonorous voice, from very far away. It was calling what I instinctively came to understand as, my name. Up until that point I hadn’t had a name; energy bundles hold no title until they are successfully identified and planted in their biopods. But there was something about the shape of the words — I just knew the call was meant for me. “Jennifeeeeeer Vanillaaaaaaaaa.” It echoed up and over the peaks and valleys of Mount Vanilla; it blew through the trees, and made the leaf upon which I was positioned, quiver. Suddenly, the dew drop in which I had been encased my whole existence, popped magnificently, like a bubble! A current of vapor whisked me down the rainbow trail to meet my vessel. It’s a rite of passage, this event. Every jennifer waits for it: the call of embodiment.
Where does the line between Jennifer Vanilla and Becca begin or end? Is it ever a consistent or clear demarcation, or does it shift or blur? Does Becca ever resist you?
When the energy source and the host body share a particularly harmonious union, it is natural for the two to blend, the way water inevitably picks up bits of color from the paint when one dips their brush into it. Hence I am inflected with Becca’s artistic DNA, the influence of which I transmute into doable action. Mostly, Becca and I commune for theatrical events, as I am activated by the presence of light, people, and public attention. It’s always great to see her; I realize how useful I am!
You're such a confident and vivacious presence. You don't display a drop of irony or protective artifice. Are you here to exist as a counterpoint to the cynicism and guardedness so many people put up as a defense?
I suppose I am, Tyler. From what I understand, irony is a form of detachment; it’s a rejection, in a way. There’s no irony in perfect union, in pure joy. And there’s no irony where there’s no ego. And thankfully, I was born without one of those.
With your dancing and bright clothing and fun-loving vibe, you're also the essence of playfulness. Adults lose touch with the sense of spontaneity and improvisation that comes so naturally to children. Is one of your key purposes to rekindle a crucial sense of play in adults?
The truth is, I don’t have a much of an agenda, Tyler. I really am just grateful for the opportunity to be activated by a willing surrogate of flesh and bone. Each time I am summoned, my virgin eyes are delighted by a new attraction. I suspect there is something about my sense of wonder that heals those who behold it. What is an adult?
In your music track “Jenniferland (Audio Brochure)” you say that in Jenniferland, “Separateness is secondary, togetherness is the prime condition.” Did you choose to base yourself in New York because the city can sometimes be isolating and lonely? Are you here to act as an antidote to urban seclusion?
Becca, my host body, was already here in the Big Apple, and so I sojourned here in order to complete the union. Did she choose it because it can be isolating and lonely? Well, if you ask me, New Yorkers love to suffer, but they also love to dream. It’s baked into the guiding principles of this city. Perpetual dreaming can cause misery and sluggishness, however; which is where I come in. I serve to put these fantasies into action. Dreams made concrete, and translated to transformational experiences.
Sometimes you take your show on the road. How is your motivational message and overall aesthetic received out on the road versus on your home turf in NYC? Are there any noticeable differences in reception?
Oh, the people love Jennifer. Don’t you? Wherever I go, we’re sure to be a hit. I was imbued with a natural charm which the people find very magnetic and inspiring. Jennifer is a universal language. In New York, the people are loyal and supportive; they are my peers. I sense in other parts of the country, the act of jennifering is a much rarer occasion, and so the people are very thirsty for novelties such as myself.
What sort of venues are best for you? Do you usually play bars and clubs, or have you ever performed somewhere more unexpected?
I was at a laundromat in Taos, NM recently, wearing my favorite red sweatshirt that says, “JENNIFER AT THE CLUB.” A man asked me, “Who’s Jennifer?” “That’s me,” I gaily told him. “Where’s the club?” He demanded, perplexed. “Wherever Jennifer is, naturally,” I explained. What is the Club, you ask? The Club is the place where we all belong; the Club is where it’s effortless; the Club is where we are all set free. And so, yes, I have performed on stages big, small, and nonexistent; bars, art galleries, museums. On a cliff, in a river, and on the town green; in a haunted house and a Mexican mall; at an auction and in a Chinese restaurant; even a bra shop. The party is within! Brought to you by your undivided attention.
You make your merchandizing personal and fun in a way which seems to remove aspects of overt commercialization. For example, you sell t-shirts with sayings such as “When Jennifer Calls…I Answer,” “I’m Trying Jennifer," and "What Would Jennifer Do?" When a shirt is ordered, you send it out with a saying of your choosing. There is a fortune cookie inspirational aspect to many of these messages. Is this a means for your products to act as a whimsical muse to others?
I truly appreciate the fortune cookie — what’s better than an edible divination! When you spend your life in a state of perpetual questioning, any answer, from anywhere and anyone, is a comfort. Jennifer t-Shirts are indeed very much like a fortune! They are gentle prescriptions, friendly forecasts, lite ideological anchors, all seeking to expand our working understanding of the verb, the adjective, the noun that is: Jennifer.
What’s next in Jenniferland? Will there be more Jennifer Vanilla: Live at the Bar (JVL@b) performances at The Ridgewood in Queens? Are there any new residencies or upcoming performances planned?
I am currently engaged in a tour of the many Wonders of the World: the Grand Canyon, the Las Vegas strip, and Times Square! I let the cameras take portraits of me there. I call it, “Jennifer en Plein Air.” I am also famous now (see episode 7 of The Jennifer Vanilla Hour), so as you can imagine, I sign a lot of autographs. I just had my headshots printed on 8x10 glossy, and I do mail them, by the way!
As I write, I am en route to Hollywood — I’m trying to make it! I will also be greeting an old friend, Hollywood Boulevard. I might give The Hollywood sign a call, too. And of course, you can expect new music from me. I have two brand new JV singles that will be hitting the airwaves very soon ~ stay tuned. In the meantime, may you jennifer all the live long day.
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