By Marco Rios
The Luckman continues its commitment to breadth and locality with its latest show, Landmarks, a career survey of Los Angeles-based artist Jennifer Bolande. We brought the show to east LA after his visit to the Philadelphia Institute for Contemporary Art last January where Landmarks was first exhibited. We wanted to bring the show to the Luckman because I was stunned by the comprehensiveness of the exhibition and astonished that there were not already plans to travel the exhibition to the west coast--giving Bolande's home community a chance to see the depth and scope of her career.
Bolande emerged as an artist in the late 1970s, working first in dance, choreography and drawing. In the early '80s, advancing the ideas and strategies of what was to be called the Pictures Generation artists, she began working with found images, re-photography and film. Integrating aspects of dance with pictures led her to expand her practice to include constructed images, photo-objects, sculpture and installations.
We caught up with Jennifer Bolande to discuss the details of her upcoming show:
Marco Rios: The book and retrospective survey are both titled, "Landmarks." The word seems fitting when thinking about the idea of a retrospective as a Landmark in one's career. How does the word "landmark" resonate with your career up to this show?
Jennifer Bolande: It seemed fitting to bookend this epoch by naming the book and survey with the same title. The word "landmark" can refer to an event, a place, or an object. I like that this word can simultaneously represent these very different types of things.
Marco Rios: Given the historical weight the word "landmarks" brings with it, it appears that your work has more to do with the photographic documents which replace and collapse the events, places or objects we typically associate with a space around a landmark. Does the photographic work relate to such space?
Jennifer Bolande: The spaces or leaps between images are as important as the images themselves. I see this happening throughout the work to some extent, but reappearing strongly in the current work, especially the Space Photography diptychs.
Marco Rios: The show was originally exhibited at ICU in Pennsylvania, but in this iteration you included much more work including earthquake which hasn't been seen in nearly 10 years. I was curious how you translate the installations from one space to another?
Jennifer Bolande: There exists a "choreography of viewing", which is important to me wherever I set up my work. Every exhibition I have done is arranged to set up correspondences, previews, echoes, glimpses, invitations, long views, close-ups, eddies, surprises... I make bodies of work and installations where the cast of characters can enter into new relationships in different installations or configurations of work.
Marco Rios: Well how do you determine how these correspondences are arranged? Does it derive from the space or is it internal to the different works?
Jennifer Bolande: These correspondences just exist in the works! There are many correspondences and many ways I could have grouped the works, so I didn't have to be too careful. Rather, I had the pleasure of being able to deploy some of the best examples of my work into constellations that had the scope of thirty years, making visible the center of gravity, or scale, of my endeavor.
Marco Rios: Given some of the fascination your work seems to demonstrate with theatrical staging, do you observe people as they walk around objects or through your exhibitions? Do these observations impact the next configuration of works?
Jennifer Bolande: Yes, I always watch people, and, from this, I decided early on, in the early 1980s, to be a little less linear in the way I planned future exhibitions. This, along with a desire for a more embodied engagement with the work resulted in a shift from serial photographic works to sculpture. I am aware of the choreography each piece and exhibition invites; this occurs less as a viewing sequence and more as a web of connections.
Marco Rios: For somebody who worked with the specificity of the photographic image, how did the work shift from photographic works to the more sculptural forms which are neither quite a sculpture nor a relief?
Jennifer Bolande: Photographs (whether found or taken) have always been where most of my work begins. I see myself as a kind of picture editor -- one that may variously gather, arrange, stage, take pictures, construct physical environments for pictures to exist in, or make physical objects inspired by pictures. I rebelled for many years against the frame and the idea of photography as a window into another world, instead seeking other, more physical and sculptural ways of employing photographs.
Marco Rios: I always found it interesting that your work constantly takes up space as a stage which objects occupy, and which we choreograph ourselves around. Is this why theatre and props become central to a lot of this work? What makes this sort of theatrical space pertinent to your process?
Jennifer Bolande: The idea of a "held open space" (a space of possibility, change, also discomfort: a forestalling of closure) is central to my work. Theatrical space, the stage is a species of held open space. Theatrical space or cinematic space are but two types of held open spaces employed in the work.
Marco Rios: Looking at the show again, I cannot help but think that some of the work appears to be a conversation between yourself and some of your unnamed influences. Are their particular artists or people that you think your work is in dialogue with?
Jennifer Bolande: I was influenced by William Leavitt very early on; the Tableau Vivant is a place where sculpture, performance and photography converge. The short performances of Jack Goldstein interested me a lot, how a brief action theatrically presented congealed into a frozen image in memory. In contrast the work of theater director Richard Foreman, whose sets, props, and actors were equivalent forces in creating theater, created dynamic, invigorating, non-narrative experiences which are impossible to describe or hold in memory.
Marco Rios: This is the first time so much of your previous work has been viewed together. Does this retrospective allow you as an artist to see your own practice from multiple viewpoints? Do you have a better idea as an artist where you think you have been and where you could possibly be going with your work?
Jennifer Bolande: This moving in two directions, looking forward and looking backward simultaneously, is something that is common to much of what I do. My work is frequently centered on something that is in the process of disappearing or changing. Often it is something that has acquired a kind of ambiguous history, that is, it has somehow become disconnected from the cultural meaning it once had and has become a kind of shell. My work as an artist, then, is one of reanimating vision, of bringing new life to some dormant, overlooked, or nearly extinct aspect of the cultural landscape.
Top Photo: Jennifer Bolande.
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