Lecture Review 1: Janine Antoni

Nathanial Goodman

Art History 3539

Professor Kira van Lil

Visiting Artist: Janine Antoni

Janine Antoni is an Bahamian American artist presently living and working in New York City, New York. Antoni was born in 1964, on Freeport Island in the Bahamas. It was there that she spent the first part of her life, until being sent off to boarding school.  In 1986 She received a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. Three years later in 1989 Antoni graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a Masters of Fine Arts and Sculpture Honors.

Janine Antoni’s work revolves around performance as a connection to process. Her works result in subtle change, with the use of her body as a tool. In 1992 Janine conceived GnawGnaw,  consisted of two cubes, One of chocolate weighing 600lbs, and the other, lard weighing 500 lbs. She took weeks to gnaw away at these cubes, biting, chewing, and spitting;  gnawing away at their appearance. The processed lard was made into lipstick and the chocolate, heart shaped chocolate containers.

This piece spoke to traditional sculpture. It is in the most traditional sense that sculpture has been carved from a given material using tools.  In Gnaw the tool is the body, or more specifically, the mouth. The piece is also concerned with materiality. One has the chocolate and the lard, and these are rooted both historically, and physically. She confronts the traditional use of these materials through the work.  It has been critically stated that the piece must be some sort of slight towards Minimalism, however Antoni thinks it to be plain funny that she is “chewing on the Minimalist Cube”.

The next piece Antoni spoke of that caught my attention was Eureka!. In this piece the artist seeks to understand the body as a tool for experiences and making art.  While lying in a prone position, she was lowered into a bathtub filled with lard. Her body more or less displaced the lard in the tub, to the critical point of submersion, where she then breathed beneath the lard through a straw. The lard her body displaced was collected and made into soap. She bathed with this soap.  This piece is of interest of me for a variety of reasons, the first being the physical pun present in the title. Archimedes was the generator behind the idea of displacement, and the realization was so beautiful to him that he ran through the streets naked shouting “Eureka!”.  The second involves the  bravery one must develop and command to be lowered into a tub of lard. The third would be the ultimate goal of the piece, being sensory and body experience.  Antoni describes the piece as “A story that begins and ends with the body.” Also as involvement in a process that decorates and washes the body with itself. With displacement we generate soap, which is lost in the process of erasing the displacement.

A third piece of interest was Slumber manifested in 1994. This represented a merger of technology and traditional craft.  Every night for the period of time the show spanned, the artist would sleep in  a museum hooked up to an EKG machine. The machine would monitor and record her brainwaves while she was asleep. After waking, Antoni would analyze her graphs with a professional and determine which periods of the night she was in a REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle.  Using the images provided from the REM cycle, she would weave on a loom, the patterns of her dreams.  She describes the piece as a dilemma of determining the material of an everyday activity, and claims dreams to be the material of sleep.  The piece is also a physiological approach to sleep, in that it’s components are analyzed, interpreted, and assembled to create a sleep experience. This is art straight from the unconscious.

Overall I rather like Janine Antoni’s work. From an outside perspective, having never seen it in person, I feel it is very approachable. The desire for the artist to have the work relate to the body is something that I feel allows myself and every other person to imagine an intimate relationship with her objects. We do not know for certain, but can imagine what it might be like to displace a bunch of lard, or gnaw a giant chocolate cube. Antoni commands a fearless, adaptable essence present in her work. Her presentation was funny, and she did not mind teasing herself to create a feeling of security and welcoming in the audience.  I sincerely appreciate one who is willing to step outside of their own world and tease at themselves to gain a better understanding of the things they have or have not done. Something I look forward to in Antoni’s work is the address of death. Her work seems to barely glimpse it, particularly in pieces involving her parents, but has not yet realized its fullest potential. Her work has however addressed the processes of life and child birth, so in retrospect and conversation with the artist, it seems like a topic that demands attention. Janine Antoni’s work is certainly engaging, and provides a fresh fun perspective in the world of contemporary sculpture. I anxiously await the opportunity to see some of her work in person.

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