The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

ASSASSINATION: Joelle Jensen, Artist Represented by wall space gallery, Art Critic, and Curator

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Photograph of Joelle Jensen consuming an ice cream. Courtesy of Joelle Jensen.
Joelle Jensen: Repose: Easter, 1974-2005, 2005, c-print, dimensions variable. Courtesy of wall space gallery.

Getting a chance to meet with Joelle Jensen, a conceptual photographer, art critic, and independent curator based out of the New York area was quite a fascinating experience. Her two major series “Interiors” and “Repose” caught my eye on its meditative approach to design patterns, sharply delineated characters, and the timelessness of memory. There is a sense of family history that pervades each element within the photographic frame that intrigues me like a William Faulkner short story where the character of a place lives strongly within the simple objects of a dresser or a floral dress from the early 1970’s.

Apart from her profound photographs that encompass her private world, Jensen has written various articles for art journals such as Hot Shoe International or NY Arts Magazine. She has worked also on challenging curatorial programs at various venues such as the Henry Street Settlement/Abrons Art Center, Stay Gold Gallery, and NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc. I was excited to be able to have this chance to talk with an artist with a powerful and poetic vision within her meditative photographs infused with a gentle self-referential humor.

If you have any questions about Jensen’s artwork, feel free to contact her gallery wall space gallery at (206) 330-9137 or at gallery@wallspaceseattle.com.

And this is the moment we all have been waiting for. So here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Joelle Jensen: As far as art-writing goes, Camera Lucida (Barthes) is one of my favorites and I often return to it. Currently I’m looking to The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (Jonathan Spence) and The Art of Memory (Frances Yates) for reference/inspiration.

My favorite magazine is Cabinet. Two all-time favorites books include The Tin Drum (Günter Grass) and Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky). I read a lot of mysteries and like methodical, somewhat dry crime novels – there are a few good ones on that list and quite a few that are just pulp and somewhat trashy. Motherless Brooklyn (Jonathan Lethem) was great, and books by Henning Menkell are guilty pleasures.

I participate in critique groups with local artists. One group of photographers meets once a month, currently at the Camera Club of NY, although we’ve also held meetings at Pochron Studios and Daniel Cooney’s gallery. I follow contemporary photography and try to stay informed about artists showing in NYC photo galleries as well as a few spots in LA, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia and Boston. I’m in the process of putting together a curatorial proposal for the Camera Club, which will feature four photographers.

Historical artists of influence include Claude Cahun, Francesca Woodman, many of the artists who are considered part of the Pictures Generation (Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Louise Lawler…), William Eggleston, Jan Groover, Ana Mendieta, Rineke Dijkstra, Hans Bellmer, Hannah Höch, Morandi

I recently saw both The Pictures Generation and the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Met. I’m excited to see what happens as more photographers/galleries continue to populate DUMBO (Brooklyn). Klompching Gallery is worth mentioning and I look forward to seeing what develops at Kris Graves Projects (opened by a Purchase alum).

Other recommendations:

Two great photography websites: iheartphotograh.com, humbleartsfoundation.org

Non-profits: cameraclubofny.com, nurtureart.org, pcnw.org, cfeva.org, newspacephoto.org

qi peng: What is the methodology behind your photographic work from start to finish, from preparatory studies to the completed work? What types of camera and computer editing equipment do you use to create the final work? And what is an average day like within your studio?

Joelle Jensen: I shoot 4 x 5 film with a Toyo view camera. I use a cheap digital camera to do tests –Polaroid tests are much better, but the film is no longer available.

I just started working in my studio again – after taking some time off from the darkroom while pregnant and becoming acquainted with my new role in life as a mother. I am far from figuring it all out, but now I am in position to spend a few days either in my studio, darkroom or writing/working on the computer each week. I feel like it’s still somewhat taboo for female artists to admit that childrearing affects their studio practices, but that’s ridiculous.

I often start new work by looking through old family photographs. I’m very interested in the role of photography in domestic spaces. I think a lot about growing up in front of a camera and the way family narratives play out on film. Sometimes I get lost in this process. It can stir-up a lot of joy and laughter alongside pain and personal humiliation! There is a sadness associated with unrealized expectations, and also great appreciation and admiration for the accomplishments. I look for the characteristics in people that span time through several albums. Also, affectation and posturing reveal a great deal about people – sometimes the façade is as equally revealing as what’s behind it.

The changing role of photography, the function of memory and the domestic uses of photography/family photography are all interesting subjects. I’m currently thinking about tangibility as it relates to photography and memory – especially as photography often remains in a digital format as temporal screensavers or online photo albums. I’ve started making three-dimensional/sculptural objects in response. They are made from and based on family photographs. It’s a new project, so I don’t want to discuss it too much just yet. I hope to post some of the new work on my website at the end of September/October.

I print my own c-prints when I can at the Camera Club, if I can’t print (pregnancy, time constraints, etc…) I use Color Services in Massachusetts.

qi peng: How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of conceptual photography, which seems to be part of a more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes? Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the cliches of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human in a world where relationships are created on MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube?

Joelle Jensen: I really don’t have a direct answer for your question. I’m waiting to see what happens as digital modes continue to take over, while both photography and personal relationships become, literally, less tangible. I’m participating in conversations about these changes by creating work that questions photography’s role, while a new cultural understanding of communication between family, friends, and a social network is developing. As mentioned above, I’m playing with the tangibility of photography, while it appears to be slipping away.

qi peng: As a graduate of both the Kansas City Art Institute and Purchase College, State University of New York, what were those school days like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your photography? How did your studies in contemporary art criticism and theory influence your studio practice? Why is art theory important for artists?

Joelle Jensen: I applied to Purchase because a professor I had at KCAI taught there, Cassandra Hooper. She introduced me to a blend of photographic and printmaking techniques. I entered Purchase as a printmaker and soon found that photography was a much better medium for the kind of work I wanted to make. They don’t have a graduate photography department, so I took photo classes with the undergrads and loved it. I primarily studied with Jo Ann Walters and Jed Devine who introduced me to large-format photography. They are both fantastic. Overall, the photo department at Purchase is outstanding and it’s really too bad they don’t have a graduate component. I also worked closely with Nancy Davidson, who I admire.

I developed a critical dialogue about photography through the art history department. I completed a combined program: a Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Art Theory and Criticism with an MFA in Visual Art. George Baker taught there during my first year in the program. He is a fantastic teacher and introduced many of us to artists working within a conceptual framework including Sharon Lockhart, Pierre Huyghe, and James Coleman. Baker, Aruna de Souza (another professor who taught only during my first year) and Janet Kraynak brought in concept-heavy guest speakers for our seminars.

I believe thinking critically about art is more important than reading art theory, which often comes across as elitist or pretentious. I appreciate writing that combines philosophy and art theory with personal narrative. For example, Gregg Bordowitz is an artist/writer who is able to combine these things. He mixes personal narrative with theory to address cultural phenomena and to incite action. His writing is explicit, aggressive, self-reflective, culturally relevant, personal and smart. I think art is successful when individuals demonstrate or metaphorically enact the grand themes of humanity: love, life, death, loneliness, companionship, power, brutality, beauty, loss….

qi peng: Do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?

Joelle Jensen: I prefer following recipes and like to bake more than create meals. I have a great cupcake book by Julie Hasson, 125 Best Cupcake Recipes. Baking them makes me feel like a domestic genius, which is far, far from reality.

I enjoy everything about eating in restaurants – the escape, freedom from responsibility, the white noise of other conversations, the ability to focus on the person/people I’m with because I’m not distracted by all the things I haven’t had time for on display in my home.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around Seattle or Kansas or New York, where you are based out of or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Joelle Jensen: In New York I love going out for Japanese noodles. Manchenko-Tei and Momofuku are my favorites. There’s amazing Thai food at Sripraphai and Indian at Jackson Diner, both in Queens, Enid’s in Greenpoint/Williamsburg is great and affordable (friends from Kansas City own it and there are often many wonderful mid-westerners inside), sushi at Aki, an amazing artichoke dish at Dumont… I could go on and on. As far as bookstores in New York, I love The Strand.

Kansas City has great BBQ and home-style cooking: Gates, LC’s, Stroud’s.

I lived in Providence for a couple of years before NY. I worked at a great non-profit called AS220 (www.as220.org). Most of the interesting artist spaces that I knew about while there were disbanded soon after I moved, including Fort Thunder (my husband lived in a warehouse space right behind it with several artists and paid a very minimal rent for an enormous space). I’m sure others have popped up, but I’m not aware of them any more. Myopic Books in Providence is also worth checking out.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the work that you pursue? With your personal interests, is your photography a mirror of those hobbies you enjoy best?

Joelle Jensen: Although I’m not sure I would call these hobbies (seems like that minimizes them or something), I also curate and write.

qi peng: How has life been working in the gallery system, particularly with Wall Space, a gallery in Seattle that represents your work, for displaying and promoting your wonderful artwork? What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? Does working with non-profits and museums differ much than working with commercial galleries? So will these new artwork be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or perhaps a different direction instead?

Joelle Jensen: Well, I have more experience with the non-profit world than with commercial galleries. I really like working with non-profits and my work does well in that context. I recently completed a fellowship with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists in Philadelphia and have exhibited work in several non-profits in the area as a result. I’m about to participate in a member’s exhibition at Newspace in Portland, OR.

Wall Space has been great, but they are now down-sizing and eliminating the gallery space. Crista Dix, the owner, will still represent artists and put on exhibitions, just not in her own space.

My new work is an extension of the work I’ve created since about 2005, but it’s manifesting in a different way. I’m still exploring memory, family, photography, architecture, and self-portraiture, but it is visually different from both Repose and Interiors. Again, I hope to post some of it on my website at the end of September/October. I should mention that the form the new work is taking is partially inspired by some of my husband’s paintings (www.jeremywillis.com).

qi peng: Recently you have been called to be an independent curator for the NURTUREart 2009 Annual Benefit to take place at the Claire Oliver Gallery this fall. What is the story of this experience? As a curator, what are the elements that you look within that art that touches you emotionally and/or intellectually? How has the NURTUREart organization help emerging artists and curators find new opportunities to further their own career and opportunities in a rather competitive art world? What was doing the show “Mad Cow: Absurdity & Anxiety in Contemporary Culture” show like for you?

Joelle Jensen: NURTUREart is a fantastic organization providing opportunities for artists and curators. It’s a refreshing alternative to the commercial gallery in that they want to see unsolicited material and all artists are welcome!

About curating: when I’m inspired by an artist to look deeper into a concept or idea – often very different than my own artistic pursuits – I start looking for other artists working in a similar fashion. I then try to figure out why the works strike me at a and how they might be culturally relevant at this particular time in history. I put together Mad Cow because I couldn’t stop thinking about Kate Clark’s work. I started to notice artwork involving animals popping up all over the place and decided to put together an exhibition. I was not the only one looking to these themes either – after I started putting together Mad Cow, I noticed several animal-themed exhibitions taking place – I think something was in the air at that time.

The proposal I’m working on now includes the work of four photographers who unite drawing and photography to test visual modes of communication. I haven’t fully developed my concept yet, but I was initially inspired by both Athena Waligore and Cynthia Greig to put together this exhibition. I’ll keep you posted as the project comes into fruition!

qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? What things do you like looking when you are at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of artwork does your personal tastes gravitate towards?

Joelle Jensen: I have very broad interests in art. I love 17th century still-life painting, surrealist works, abstract expressionism, performance art and a variety of approaches within contemporary photography (documentary, still-life, portraiture, conceptual, etc…). The Met is my favorite museum because you can find everything there.

qi peng: You mention that “[your] work reveals a dark sense of humor as [you examine] family life, memory, and loss. What draws your intellectual spirit towards these particular ideas? Your photographs of what seem to be matter-of-fact interiors seem to uncover a hidden narrative within walls, furniture cabinets, and the pictures that residents hang on the walls. What is the arc of your narrative? By the lack of human characters within the frame, how do your mysterious compositions address what humanity is about?

Joelle Jensen: My dad has a dark sense of humor – I must have picked up on that as a kid.

I think that the pictures within pictures literally frame facets of the human condition – they function like the prick of a pin within each image, instantly and painfully reiterating our temporality. The images suggest larger dramas that unfold in every family relating to death, loss, beauty, class, posturing (what we want to present about ourselves to others)… At the same time, the settings are fairly generic – clean, very white, middle-class – almost functioning like model-homes rather than lived-in spaces; leaving them open, like memory palaces where specific and significant details are to be placed and later recalled.

qi peng: Your series “repose” seems to reverse the paradigm of the “interiors” series. Here you focus directly your lens on humanity, particularly the conceptual idea behind the family. For example, your photograph “Repose: Portrait 1979-2005” is very surreal in self-appropriation where a pair of young girls in patterned clothes are re-photographed in those same clothes, except larger, as women. Why is there an eerie yet familiar feeling, at least for me, upon viewing this particular piece and others in this series? Like Proust‘s huge multi-part novel, what do you believe about the recovery of such memories using strong visual cues?

Joelle Jensen: I hope that the photographs tap into an uncanny realm and challenge ideas about temporality. I think in part, the eeriness is caused by the suspension of time (inherent in all photographs) as the mirroring suggests a rupture in the subjects’ psyches – as if caught in an endless loop. The clothing is also very strange, and, I’ve yet to receive a satisfactory explanation for the origin of the original outfits!

I think that strong visual cues are very effective as memory aids and I’m currently reading more about memory palaces, which use visual cues to recall content. However, while tangible items – specific objects, patterns, rooms, toys, the lyrics to a song, etc… — can be recalled, memories related to the intangible or metaphysical, including feelings, or our perceptions of the world as a child, remain fleeting or transient. When we recall these things, we can only catch glimpses – we cannot fully return to them.

qi peng: How does the artistic environment in New York City differ than that of Seattle, where Wall Space is located at? Do the public’s tastes vary much among these areas? What was it like working with juror Paul Kopeikin at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, Washington? How does conceptual photography differ from commercial photography in terms of method and intent?

Joelle Jensen: Unfortunately, I did not work directly with Paul Kopeikin, who selected my work at the Photographic Center Northwest and was unable to attend that exhibition. Commercial photography is different than all other forms in that the photographer is selling someone else’s product. Fine art and conceptual photography are self-driven and often not rewarded monetarily! It has to satisfy a strong personal urge to communicate.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your photography, curated projects, and forthcoming exhibitions here?

Joelle Jensen: Well, I’m just getting back into the swing of things. I’m participating in a member’s exhibition at the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland next month and am currently putting together a curatorial proposal. I hope that anyone who is interested will check my website again this fall for more information as my new work develops (www.joellejensen.com). My work was recently (somewhat recently at least) published in the Photo Review and shown as part of a group exhibition curated by James Leonard called, Home.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

September 8, 2009 at 12:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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