Janine Antoni Guest Lecture

Janine Antoni at the Visual Arts Center, University of Colorado at Boulder


I was struck by Janine Antoni’s presentation, not only in the artworks she presented therein, which were all very powerful, but also by her articulation of the stories and ideas that led to the creation of these works.  Antoni is an artist who is as much interested in the discourse surrounding her body of work as she is with her body of work itself.  This was apparent in the way she described her pieces, and also in the theories that she indicated as working within them.  As she stated in her lecture, “I am an artist obsessed with communication.”  As a poet, and a student of creative writing at CU, I appreciate this connection with language above everything else.  In the way that Antoni “surrenders [herself] to the object,” those of us interested in language surrender ourselves to the various connotations and denotations of words and letters in their incalculable ways of meaning. Image

Antoni is an individual whose mere presence exudes a sense of wholeness.  She invests herself in all levels of her work, and seemingly in her surroundings as well, so that it appears that art is created almost inadvertently as she travels through the world, as opposed to art being forced into creation by the artist.  Her obsession with bodies is indicative of a certain subjectivity within her works—an emphasis on identity that reflects both the internal and external of individuals and objects.  This interest in the body is apparent in most of her work, where she herself molds herself into a piece by performance or placement.  In one of my favorite pieces, Antoni walks a slack-line perfectly aligned with the Atlantic Ocean horizon on a beach of her home in the Bahamas.  This piece itself encompasses a broad range of ideas—presented here is both a connection to nature and a will to overcome nature.  By walking along the water, she is both becoming part of and also separating herself from the ocean.  This is obviously indicative of her position as a Bahamian, who embraces nature in her mere existence living in an island, but also embraces her will to escape this encapsulating existence. 

In perhaps her most infamous piece, what Antoni calls her “exorcism from art school,” Gnaw, she constructs a completely chocolate cube, on which she literally gnaws for several weeks.  This piece has been evaluated as a critique of the absurdity of minimalist art, but Antoni rightly described it as something much simpler.  She did not intend to be in critique of these former cube structures, but rather wanted to be in discourse with them, presenting the cube in a different light.  There are certainly innumerable readings to this piece beyond the artist’s intentions, which carry their own weight, but it is important to note that artist intention is not always so charged.  The piece reminded me of the poet Dawn Lundy Martin, who incorporates the computer-based binary code language in her book Discipline.  Though readers and literary critiques have prescribed many meanings to these 0’s and 1’s, Martin’s admitted intention is simply to engage the reader in a symbolic order different than their own.  She said in a recent interview that “the binary code carries no political charge, feminist or whatever, other than my need to engage the reader in a way other than the usual 26 letters.” 

Antoni’s work holds a lot of the same qualities of contemporary poetry, in that it can be simplified or complicated almost infinitely in both directions, depending on the intentions of the viewer.  My love of contemporary art and literature stems from these non-categorizational qualities within them, in that in our attempts to categorize or compartmentalize pieces, we find that we are at an utter loss, in lieu of the multiple meanings that can enter each artwork.  Janine Antonie is a perfect example of this modern day fluidity within the art world.  It was extremely refreshing to see her lecture.

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