Janine Antoni Lecture Review – Erin Lorentzen

Janine Antoni is an artist that uses her body as both a performance and a sculptural tool. Born the Bahamas in 1964, she later graduated with a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and then with an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. From the moment she emerged from her educational career, she was using her body as a tool to create sculptures. “Wean” was the first piece that she did after gaining her MFA, and was a negative imprint f her breast, her nipple, three baby bottle nipples, and the actual package of the nipples. She described this work as discussing objects and the body; the way humans can interchange them easily. From here, she says that all of her work has followed along this idea of the object and the body.

“Loving Care” was a piece that Antoni discussed as responding the abstract expressionist movement and that which was going on with the Pollock hype. Antoni used a bucket full of the same hair dye that her mother used in order to paint the floor. The performance of the piece was described as creating the model and master at the same time. The idea of the mother’s kitchen when wet, to keep the other members of the family out. Through her performance she drew with her hair, her body to paint the entire floor pushing people out of the room but then also being drawn in wanting to see her. “Butterfly Kisses” was Antoni’s drawing equivalent to the performance where she used her eyelashes to put the medium of mascara onto the canvas. She first mentioned here the toll it takes on her to create these pieces with her body, the hours of winking so intimately close to the canvas.

“Lick and Lather” was one of the stand out performances that Antoni did. She had been invited to exhibit in Venice and wanted to relate to the space around her and with all the sculpture around what better way that to create busts of herself out of a material to keep the concept of her body. Creating the busts out of chocolate and soap, she distorted the sculptures by licking one and washing herself with the other. The idea of the self-portrait bust was intensely thought about by Antoni, why make a self-portrait? The general conclusion that she came to is that you want to show a public image of yourself, but how much does the audience really see of the self? The gentle process of using her body to slowly erase her self was the ground for this performance.

These early pieces speak of the ephemeral quality of her work. The momentary existence of herself and her own body continues to be a basis for her work but moves into different mediums and ways to visually evoke the emotion in her work. “If I Die Before I Wake” is a piece that Antoni did with her mother. Their two hands pressed up against each other and covered with porcelain to create a night light view of aging. The young Janine hand is smooth in definition juxtaposed against her mother’s hand that is wrinkled and showing the signs of her aging. Here Antoni wants to visualize her own contemplation with her own aging process.

“Eureka” was also an earlier piece where Antoni lowered her self into a bathtub full of lard. She came to the conclusion that she could experience her body by way of mass. The mass of lard that came out from her submersion, she then sculpted the soap with the idea of continuous washing away of one’s self. It begins and ends with the body. The bathtub reappeared in “2038” when Antoni was once again in Venice. A bathtub had been set up as a trough for the cows to drink from. Antoni placed herself in their water to and when a cow began drinking from the trough, and she described the experience as if it was drinking from her nipple. The cow appears to be nursing from Antoni’s nipple, a commentary on the nurturing roles of women and cows, the cow as the biological machine. The cow also has to be noted for it’s source for human use in milk, meat, and hide which Antoni continues to discuss in her work later. Over all, the subtle performances from Janine Antoni are beautiful renditions of how one relates to their body, to their existence, and to the processes in which we live from day to day.




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