Sunday, November 17, 2013


Last Thursday I attended a talk by Janine Antoni. It goes without saying that her work is genius. She has no inhibitions around expressing with her body, what it is to be human.  Her installations are incredibly approachable and accessible in concept. She gets to the absolute essence of what she's saying in both performance and medium. I'm in awe of her thought process and perspective on life. She is also a very approachable speaker and teacher. As the visiting artist at B.U.'s School of Fine Arts, Janine is also teaching some workshops to the students. Boy, what I would give to be a part of that experience!

She led us through a timeline of her work beginning from graduate school at RISD where she established her theme about separation. Below is a work about separation that takes you through the stages of breast to prepackaged bottle nipples.

Then her amazing forays into chocolate and soap with Lick and Lather and Gnaw where she uses her mouth and the activity of eating or chewing to carve two 600 lb cubes, one made of chocolate, the other of lard, then used the chewed out bits to create chocolate boxes and lipstick tubes, which she then displayed in a mock store front.

More body art with drawings made from eyelashes and mascara in butterfly kisses, cover girl thick lash mascara, 1996-1999

Her process is labor intensive, methodical and transcending. It was interesting to hear about how people are always trying to make it easier for her by offering suggestions for shortening her process. She explains how living through the long process is vital to her experience. That she wants to change as much as the object changes and that the experience informs her for her next work.

Janine spoke often of her daughter who is now nine years old. As someone who is so self-aware and prolific about commenting on the day-to-day experience of who she is, being a mother provides her with a ton of material. One of her fascinations is how babies put everything in their mouths without any reference to what the object is used for. This is their way of learning about the world (and often Janine's too). She wants to remember these early primal and visceral relationships - especially in light of the indirectness of experience that is happening in contemporary society.

She also talked about the triangular dimension of her life - being placed in the center between her mother and her daughter. She is honest about her dread for the inevitable losses that come with aging and the loss of aging parents. I can't wait to see how she translates these ideas. Her approach is so intimate and personable, it's easy to feel like you're one of her close friends, even though the closest I really got to her was 10 rows from the stage.

I'd like to close with one of my favorites...

JA: What if the apparatus for peeing while standing up was a gargoyle? And what if I actually cast this apparatus as a sculpture and used it to pee off of a landmark building in New York City? Gargoyles fascinate me, not only as hellish creatures but because they signify the mythical, shadow side of our psyche. There’s no consensus on the source of their grotesque configuration. They are functional, though, designed to disguise a funneling system that reroutes rainwater away from a building. I chose to sculpt a griffin gargoyle, which is a hybrid—a mythical composite of different animals. It occurred to me that to use my invented apparatus was to make myself into a hybrid, because as a woman my anatomy doesn’t enable me to pee standing up. See more of this interview here.

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