Visiting Artist Janine Antoni by Alysia Davis

As part of the Visiting Artist Lecture series at CU Boulder, we welcomed Janine Antoni this Spring Semester of 2012. I’m so happy that I could experience hearing her speak in person because she is such a talented and renowned artist. The student introducing Mrs. Antoni described her as a smart artist with which I totally agree. She has a wide range of work spanning over the fields of sculpture and performance. One of the biggest strengths of her work is the way she uses materials in a symbolic manner.

In her 1992 work “Gnaw” she makes commentary of Modernism, feminism, and performance art. Referencing “the cube” of Minimalism she makes her mark, literally, by casting a cube in chocolate and carving it with her teeth. This tactile experience between making something by hand then coming to know it through oral exploration is fascinating. Although I could never see myself performing these acts, I find Mrs. Antoni’ s journeys in art-making perplexing and pleasing. This work is marvelous in it’s sweetness and violence. The contrasting binary of tenderness and expulsion is prevalent through most of her work. I do not believe that she would consider her work to be violent at all, but I couldn’t ignore this harsh feeling that I received from her actions. For instance, the act of gnawing reminds me of desperation. Like an animal gnawing on a limb to break free from a trap.

Also there is something quite animalistic about licking which occurs in a great deal of her work. In the “Lick and Lather” (1993) she experiences erasing her own casted image, both through licking away a chocolate version of herself and through bathing with a soap cast of her delicate face. Although licking and washing can be very gentle, I see this as a form of erasing identity which is personal and tragic. She shared a photo wherein she licks the eyeball of her husband and describes this as the ultimate form of trust but I see this work as ultimately invading. The eye is so vulnerable, and entering into this forbidden space victimizes the vulnerable nature of this space.

I enjoy the thoughts on motherhood and using the body to convey artistic moods, like a painter uses a paintbrush. However, I was intrigued that she didn’t comment on the harsh nature of her works as much as she presented them as loving, gentle acts. Actually, the sweetest most tender side of her work is largely unknown to the public. Motherhood is a reoccurring theme in her work, but I was most moved by a photo that she closed with, of her baby girl feeding her belly button. Her daughter is obsessed with her bellybutton. This is the life, the connection of mother and daughter, and the sweet and gentle act of feeding the belly which used to feed the baby is the cyclical nature of life that Janine Antoni depicts so vividly.

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