Visiting Artist Program- Janine Antoni (Camille Paley)

Visiting Artist Lecture

Janine Antoni

Janine Antoni is an infamous contemporary artist whose work questions the distinction between performance and sculpture. Antoni is native to the Bahamas, but she currently resides in New York where she continues to work on her controversial pieces. After receiving her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Antoni explored subject matter having to do with gender issues and scenarios relating to her childhood and upbringing. Antoni always incorporates her body into her pieces. Although a raw physicality is present in her work, there never ceases to be a lack of vulnerable sentiment.

One of Antoni’s most coveted pieces is entitled Gnaw. For this project Antoni underwent the laborious process of molding two six hundred pound blocks; one composed of lard and the other of chocolate. Next, Antoni persisted to chew off chunks from each sculpture over a period of time. The debris accumulated from the lard was molded into lipsticks, while the material extracted from the chocolate was re-melted and turned into candy boxes. When transferred to a museum setting the massive cubes were displayed, showcasing the gnaw markings, and the lipsticks and candy boxes were exhibited in a glass case mimicking a storefront. Within our culture chocolate and lard are symbolic because the represent a love, hate relationship of the feminine consciousness. Chocolate signifies lust, while lard (or some form of fat) is vital to consume for an individual’s diet. Antoni juxtaposes these concepts in Gnaw by creating a grotesque performance, but turning the by-products into objects that are desired and sought after by women in the context of our society. Antoni called this project her “art school exorcism” because she compiled everything she learned from her education into this piece.

Another piece Antoni talked about was a performance called Loving Care. Antoni dipped her long hair into hair dye, called Loving Care, as a metaphor for utilizing a paintbrush and pigment to create a work of art. In a gallery setting Antoni got down on her hands and knees and covered the floor with the dye. Consequentially, the audience who came to witness this spectacle would move out of her way, and eventually would leave the gallery space in order for Antoni to complete her process. I think it is so amazing that Antoni had such a direct impact on the audience. Ideally there is meant to be some sort communication between the artist and the viewer, but usually the effect is not as suddenly apparent. I believe that this is a result of Antoni incorporating her body into her work, which forces the audience to engage, but not invade her space. Antoni also spoke about how Loving Care was an ode to Abstract Expressionism. The way Antoni vigorously dipped and mopped her hair across the floor was similar to the action Jackson Pollock displayed when he violently applied paint to his monumental canvases. She also mentioned Franz Kline, another Abstract Expressionist, who created black and white paintings that were seemingly dramatic, but rooted in careful strategy. My favorite insight Antoni revealed when talking about Loving Care was her desire to simultaneously take on the role of the model and the master.

As one can gather from studying the work of Janine Antoni, the artist enjoys incorporating her body into performances that relate to day-to-day activities. One of her more complex pieces where this theme is manifested is entitled Slumber. Antoni searched for ways to document her sleep and transform this activity into a work of art. She finally came across a doctor who told her about an EEG machine that could record REM sleep patterns. Antoni jumped at this opportunity and decided it would be most effective if displayed in a museum. In rooms of various museums Antoni would set up a bed, the EEG machine, and a loom. She used the readings from the machine to weave a very long and intricate blanket. By night Antoni would sleep in the museum, connected to the EEG machine, and by day she would weave magnificently ornate blankets. Antoni told us of her experiences during this project and how various individuals would come sit with her and discuss varying topics. I was intrigued when she revealed how depending on which country she performed in, the conversation would differ. For instance, in America, she said people would always want to make evident their knowledge behind the logistics of her project. Antoni talked about how this experience alone, has impacted her approach to art greatly. While many artists do not like to discuss the motives behind their work, Antoni greatly encourages discussion and deems herself as an artist that is obsessed with communication. While her body, per usual, it the main component of this communication, the theme of time also makes this piece outstanding.

It was such an honor to be able to hear Janine Antoni speak. I have always looked up to this artist and felt a strong connection to her work and theories. I love her outlook on identity and how she incorporates humor and light-heartedness into topics that are so prevalent in our society today. Although Antoni’s work is so personal because it often based off her past experiences, it never ceases to be accessible and relatable. I highly admire Janine Antoni and look forward to seeing what she comes up with in the future.

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