J R Brennan is an artist, curator and composer based in Hobart, Tasmania, working in theatre, film and music. In recent years his work has interrogated ideas of crime and virtue and has been presented in Australia, Finland, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, The United States and Poland. He is currently Artistic Associate at MONA FOMA Festival, and curator of Basic Spell, a series of experiments at 221 Liverpool St, Hobart, with Willoh Weiland.
Brennan’s work poses new and challenging provocations about the relationship between ethics and aesthetics in socially engaged arts practice. His most recent performance work The Chat received a Green Room Award for Best Male Performer (David Woods), a nomination for best Contemporary and Experimental Performance, and presented a sold out season at Sydney Festival 2019. The work is a contemporary performance created and performed by artists and ex-offenders that casts ex-offenders as experts on criminal justice and asked audience to take part in a live judgment on the performance.
Currently Brennan is producing a series of performance and video works that draw on the auto-ethnographic research collected and observed in his role as a parole officer in Long Bay Prison, Sydney, and his ongoing work in experimental theatre and music in Australia, Europe and Indonesia. Each project employs a unique collaboration between artists, ex-offenders, partnering organisations and criminologists, creating an experimental dialogue at the nexus of criminal justice practice, performance arts and academic criminology. These projects have been developed in partnership with Australian and European organisations including Monash University, Arts House and Białołęka Prison, Poland.
Brennan has presented the findings of his artistic work and research with artists and ex-offenders at the Anti-Exclusion Symposium, Singapore, The Australian New Zealand Society of Criminologists (ANSZOC) and The Reintegration Puzzle Conference with collaborating criminologist Dr Anna Eriksson (Deputy Director of Monash Criminal Justice Research Consortium, MONASH UNI Criminology).
Since graduating from VCA School of Drama (Acting) in 2000, Brennan has worked, trained and researched with Teatro Vertigem (Brasil), Ridiculusmus (UK), Wooster Group (USA), Deborah Hay (USA) and renowned avant-garde Polish theatre company Gardzienice under Włodzimierz Staniewski, where he was company member and instructor between 2010 and 2014. In 2011 he became the first outside director to create a new work for Gardzienice in its 35-year history. The work – Znak Kaina – explored community response to violent crime, and marked Brennan’s directorial debut on the European stage. It was hailed by Poland’s TEATR publication as a “landmark event”.
In 2020 Brennan’s latest work, Judith’s Return, a 3-channel video work created with Białołęka Prison, Poland, will be screened for audiences both inside and outside prisons in Australia and Poland. Brennan’s work is created with support from Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, Arts Tasmania, Besen Foundation and RE ROSS Foundation.
“An astonishing collaborative work that leaps into the deeper reality of justice”
“…skilfully captures the impossibly fine line parole officers must tread…”