JR BRENNAN is an artist, former parole officer and criminal justice activist, 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.

James’ 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 (nominated Green Room Awards for best Contemporary and Experimental Performance & winner for Best Male Performer) is a contemporary performance created and performed by artists and ex-offenders. Presented at Arts House, Melbourne, it cast ex-offenders as experts on criminal justice and asked audience to take part in live judgment on the performance. “An astonishing collaborative work that leaps into the deeper reality of justice“ (Realtime Arts) and “…skilfully captures the impossibly fine line parole officers must tread…” (the Australian).

Currently James 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.

James 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, James 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) that explored community response to violent crime, marked James’ directorial debut on the European stage and was hailed by Poland’s TEATR publication as a “landmark event”.

In 2018 James’ 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.