Art

Artist and Musician E. Jane Embarks on a European Tour

Sable Elyse Smith

Photography by Matthew Morrocco

E Jane
E. Jane, styled by Eric N. Mack, wears a metallic coat by Calvin Klein, zipper shirt and skirt by Prada (all from the David Casavant Archive). Socks and shoes are the artist's own.

Sirens, ethereal synths, an 808 vibrating in the center of bone, flesh and stomach pit—a music that takes over. Here, in E. Jane’s music, is an aesthetic embodiment of what poet Fred Moten describes as “hapticality”—“the capacity to feel through others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you…”

A body can be a vessel for all of this. A body has been a vessel for all of this. I first met Philadelphia-based artist E. Jane a few years ago, maybe it was 2014, standing outside of a party somewhere in Brooklyn, smoking, the sweat from dancing just beginning to dry. I think this was before MHYSA, the visual artist’s alter-ego. Or maybe MHYSA was already conceived, or has always been. Deep in the belly, feeling, vibrating back out with every speech, every act.

MHYSA is Jane’s brain child, a musical artist wrestling with the athletics of mainstream pop while channeling the legacy of black R&B divas. Audre Lorde and Saidiya Hartman are as big of influences as Kandi Burruss, Diana Ross or Motown. Jane, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, deftly peels apart theory and time signature in the same breath, illuminating paths toward utopian dreams and demands. Jane crisscrosses between performing MHYSA as a solo act and as one half of the electronic duo SCRAAATCH, along with producer (and collaborator) lawd knows.

I recently Skyped into the studio with Jane, on the heels of their fantastic solo exhibition at American Medium in Brooklyn. They were gearing up for their Super Sexy Stay Blessed Tour, a five-week jaunt throughout Europe beginning in late March. Tour highlights include Rewire Festival in the Netherlands and Counterflows Festival in Glasgow.

There is a reason MHYSA’s debut album fantasii popped up on almost every year-end list you can imagine, including “Best Songs of 2017” and “Hidden Gems of 2017: great albums you may have missed.” The sounds that MHYSA creates conjure ecstasy, the power that music has to jump up in the body and stop you. MHYSA commands this viscerality and swaddles their audience in a thick sonic landscape that is more architectonic than atmospheric. This is world building, working across modes of performance, installation, video, sound and pop music (but these strict categories barely scratch the surface). Total art—or gesamtkunstwerk—is a phrase that comes to mind, and one that Jane uses often.

The genius of this work is its rigor and its slick ability to fold into itself. It is shape-shifting. On top of the fact that it’s just gotdamn sexy. Jane’s work and MHYSA’s music ask us, as Huey Copeland has before: “Imagine what might be possible if we tended toward blackness—in all of its sensuous and imperceptible unfolding [providing] a different horizon from which to take our bearings?” And in doing so Jane tells us: through sound we can travel, breathe, be free and dream up new worlds.