Janine Antoni–Lauren Anderson

Janine Antoni Lecture Review by Lauren Anderson

Janine Antoni is an extremely unique and versatile artist.  She could be called a painter, sculptor, or performance artist, but she is really a combination and cannot be classified into any specific category.  Regardless, Janine Antoni’s work is essentially about relationships. These relationships range from mother to child, self to the world, self to the body, humans to animals, husband to wife, and so forth.  The relationship that she almost always explores is her relationship with her body and the outside world.

The first piece where she really dives into this idea was something she made right after she completed graduate school, titled Wean.  In this piece she made indents into the wall, first of her breast, then of her nipple, then of three latex nipples (otherwise known as baby bottle tops), and finally of the packaging that the latex nipples came in.  The obvious connotation of this piece is a baby being weaned away from the mother to the artificial bottle.  However, Antoni says that this is more about the stages of separation from our own body throughout our lives.  The key moment is between the real nipple and the latex nipple. Antoni feels that all of her work “is somewhat like the latex nipple.”  What she means by that is that she is “interested in objects that mediate our intimate interaction with our bodies, objects that replace the body, and objects that somehow define the body within the culture,” and the latex nipple is essentially doing all of those things.  That piece is also about the feeling that something is lacking, and the absence of what used to be.  She showed that not only by showing the process of taking away, but also by making relief sculpture.

The next piece, titled Knaw, was in the 1993 Whitney Biennale and is what made Janine Antoni famous.  She called this piece her “art school exorcism,” where she took everything she learned in art school and put it into one piece.  Initially she started out with traditional ideas.  She wanted to do the most tradition act a sculptor can do, carve.  She was also interested in the tradition of figurative sculpture. However, she did not go about accomplishing either of these objectives in a traditional way.  To carve she used her teeth, and instead of describing the figure, she decided to talk about the body by the residue she left on the object.  The because of the way she wanted to carve, she had to material that was edible, and therefore untraditional as well.  She choose to use chocolate and lard.  She melted 500lbs of chocolate and 500lbs of lard, and cast them both into cubes.  She then chewed on them for several weeks.  The chewed off bits were then cast into new objects, the lard into lipsticks, and the chocolate into heart shaped boxes, and placed in a display unit like one you might see in Bloomingdales, as she put it.  I find this piece quite humorous with its comment on consumerism.  The thought of chewing on 500lbs of chocolate delights us, while the thought of chewing on 500lbs of lard disgusts us, even though that same lard is the material used for lipstick to make us pretty so that someone will buy us chocolate.  Another interesting point Antoni made was about how different the reaction of the public can be to what was intended.  While she thought the act of chewing on the ‘minimalist cube’ was hilarious, critics at the time thought it was “an angry critic of patriarchal Art History.”

Another self-proclaimed ‘breakthrough piece’ for Antoni was her work Eureka.  In this piece she lowered herself into a tub of lard until she was completely covered, with the exception of a plastic tube for breathing.  She was then pulled out so that only the impression made by her body was left.  Then, she mixed the lard that came out on top of her with lye and water to make soap, then proceeded to bathe with that soap for a few weeks.  She felt this piece was so important because it was the kind of experience that the viewers could imagine themselves in.  Because the viewer has a body they can imagine themselves as a part of the piece.  One of Antoni’s main goals in her work is to create empathy in the viewer.  She wants to have a more personal relationship with the viewer and the viewer to have a more personal relationship with the piece (her).  Unlike a lot of other conceptual art where the viewer can feel disconnected with the work, I definitely feel a connection to Antoni’s work.  To some extent, I can imagine what it would be like for me to be in the situations she puts herself in.  However, I do not think anyone can fully understand anything unless they experience it themselves.

What I find most relatable about Antoni’s work is her ideas that relate to body image.  A work that really deals with that idea is Lick and Lather.  She made this piece when she was asked to show in Venice.  She knew that there would be a lot of classical sculpture around so she wanted to create something that would some how relate to the space.   She decided to make a sculpture that was a self-portrait.  However, in typical Antoni style, she did not go about making the sculpture in a traditional way or medium.  She made a detailed mold of herself using algenade, and then using that, cast seven sculptures in chocolate and seven in soap.  Then over the course of a few weeks she reshaped the statues by licking the chocolate ones and washing with the soap ones.  When conceiving of this idea, she began by asking herself why she should make a self-portrait. The traditional reason for doing so is to immortalize yourself, however, using ephemeral materials negated this outcome.  Nevertheless, this would still be a public image of herself at least for a time.  She thought that maybe a public image is not the most accurate way to describe the self and that maybe we are more ourselves at home, eating (licking) or bathing (lathering).  I would agree that most people are much more themselves in their homes than when they are out in public with the possibility of judgment.  This piece is in many ways similar to Knaw, but knawing away at something is much more aggressive than licking or washing.   However, even though the process of Lick and Lather was much more gentle, the process was slowly removing detail from the sculptures.  In essence, Antoni was erasing herself.  Antoni erasing herself seems not only a comment on changing identity, but also on the love-hate relationship she, and all of us experience with our physical appearances.  I really appreciate that Antoni comments on the issue of body image because I know that it is something that everyone struggles with.

What really stuck me about Janine Antoni was that even with the considerable amount of fame she has achieved within the art world, she still seems genuinely humble and relatable.  Unlike many other famous contemporary artists, Antoni is in charge of the entire process of her work.  Antoni is extremely connected to her work not only through the process of making it, but also by the personal issues she deals with in her pieces.  However, she still manages to make the pieces relatable for the viewer, and I think that is what makes her so inspiring.

One Response

  1. Versatile! That was the word i was looking for when i was writing my paper on her. You brought up a great point in your conclusion that struck me as memorable. You states she is in charge of the entire process of her work. I didn’t think of it that way. She has no help from others or no ideas from others because it comes from her personal thoughts and issues. Great job!

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