Artist Lecture Review

Contemporary Art

Visiting Artist Lecture

Janine Antoni

Janine Antoni was born in Freeport, Bahamas, in 1964. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College in New York and earned her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. Antoni’s work blurs the distinction between performance, art and sculpture, transforming everyday activities such as eating, bathing, and sleeping into ways of making art. Antoni’s primary tool for making sculpture has always been her own body. During her artistic career she has exhibited work nationally and internationally. Antoni is one of Contemporary Art’s leading ladies. She gave an amazing talk on Tuesday night, March 6th as a part of CU’s Visiting Artist Lecture Series, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with her. She is truly a smart artist. Instead of writing a long summary of the lecture, I chose three specific works to talk about in detail.

Antoni kicked things off by presenting the work Wean, which she considers her breakthrough piece. Antoni created Wean right after she completed graduate school. It is a negative imprint of her breast, nipple, and a latex nipple from a baby bottle into plaster and arranged in a linear fashion. She said her intent was to comment on the stages of separation that takes place between mother and child. It equally represents the transition from the private and personal understanding of our own bodies, to our understanding of self in society and culture. The reason for the negative imprint instead of a three-dimensional sculpture was to symbolize an absence of the body as we go through these stages of growth and development. Wean helped to inform all her later work, using her body to create the work and deepen its meaning.

The next few works she elaborated on are her more famous. Gnaw and Lick and Lather are among them. Although these are very important works, confirming her interest in material and shaping the material with her physical body, I was more interested in her discussion of the installation piece Loom. Before this work became a reality, the concept came from her need to expand on everyday activities like eating and bathing. Sleep is an activity that every human performs, but there is an air of mystery attached to the stages of sleep and this excited Antoni.  After doing some research and contacting professionals, she placed a bed in the center of room under a large loom. Before she went to bed, electrodes were placed to monitor her sleep patterns. The electrodes were attached to made marks of her brain activity. Essentially the machine was sketching her dreams. Then Antoni used the same pattern from the machine to weave a blanket. This took about 150 spools to materialize her dreams. While she was making and becoming the work, people would enter the installation space. She traveled around the world with this piece. The diverse audiences who watched and interpreted the piece inspired the pivotal point in her art making, because she saw how culture changes people’s understanding of the piece. Loom created a lot of dialogue and her communication with viewers added to her understanding of the work. Every element of her work has purpose. For example the loom itself was an integral part of the piece, because not only was it a tool she used to create the blanket, but the history of the loom as the beginning of machines relates to time and the body.

Antoni continued to explore the body as an agent of identity in later works, including the physical transformation of her parents. Morphing her mother and father into the other became a self portrait, because she is a composite of the two.  Family continues to be a theme and inspiration for her art. Being a mother has had a profound effect on her art making process. She has learned to be patient and trust her instinct. Her understanding and appreciation for motherhood was the driving force behind another one of my favorite pieces, Umbilical Cord. She began explaining this piece with a personal story. When she got married her mother told her how she wanted to pass down the nice silverware to her.  Antoni thought it was interesting how she fed from her mother as an infant and then the same silver spoon she learned to feed herself with as a child was being given to her to repeat the cycle for her daughter. She used the silverware to mold a negative impression of her mouth and the hand of her mother. The two are connected by the curved handle of the spoon. How beautiful is that?  Antoni once again explores the theme of separation from mother and child and so we have come full circle.

There were so many works that grabbed by attention, Touch being one of them, but as you can see Antoni is a master of combining concept with raw material and in the end what we the viewer are left with is an intelligent work of art that stimulates the mind. What I liked most about the lecture as a whole was her sense of humor and her humble sensibility.


3 Responses

  1. I went to Janine Antoni’s lecture as well and found it wonderfully pleasing. It is interesting to see what pieces you chose to write and focus on, as I did completely different ones. Yet, neither of us fail to mention how she creates art from the standpoint of a mother. I found it so interesting to hear her talk about this level of motherhood in a visually aesthetic manner. I really enjoyed how you explained, with detail, her piece Umbilical Cord. For an individual who did not attend this lecture, your paper would get the overall feel of Janine Antoni across very well. Great focus and word choice when describing her conceptual ideas! It was nice to re-engage with her as an artist through your paper!

  2. I also attended Janine Antoni’s lecture, and found it to be one of the most interesting lectures I have ever seen at the CU visiting artist lecture series. After reviewing my notes, I too agree that Loom, was the most impressive installation she spoke about. I liked how she incorporates so many people, such as the sleep doctor, into her pieces. She is an artist who come up with an original idea and expand and revisits concepts until she is satisfied.

  3. I enjoyed your paper it was simple but conveyed the artist’s message well. I really liked the part about Antoni and motherhood, that piece sounds really interesting and personal and I love work that has a special connection to the artist. You could have gone in depth a tad bit more on the pieces you mentioned the names of but nothing else about them, such as “touch.” Good job.

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