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Clark Art Institute opens video exhibition of works by Jennifer Steinkamp
Jennifer Steinkamp (American, b. 1958). Blind Eye, 2018. Video installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Greengrassi, London. Image © James Ewing

WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS.- The Clark Art Institute will present the work of Los Angeles-based media and installation artist Jennifer Steinkamp as the subject of its first video exhibition. The exhibition, Jennifer Steinkamp: Blind Eye, consists of six pieces including a new projection, Blind Eye, conceived by the artist to interact with the Clark’s 140-acre setting and the architecture of the Lunder Center at Stone Hill. The exhibition is on view June 30–October 8, 2018.

“This exhibition is particularly exciting for the Clark. Jennifer Steinkamp’s work will intrigue and surprise our visitors,” said Olivier Meslay, the Hardymon Director of the Clark. “The Lunder Center galleries were created to give the Clark spaces that are well-suited for contemporary art. As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, we are energized to present the Clark’s inaugural video exhibition by an artist whose work is so closely aligned with our emphasis on connections between art and nature.”

Steinkamp’s cutting-edge art engages with one of the oldest themes in art history— nature. By deconstructing and re-engineering computer code, the artist utilizes the abstract language of technology to create vibrant images rooted in the natural world. Branches, leaves, and flowers intertwine and overlap in her animations, transfixing viewers with twisting and changing color.

“Jennifer Steinkamp is one of the leading video artists of this generation. While her work can be seen in relation to the tradition of still-life or landscape painting, her unique approach offers an unprecedented opportunity for careful looking and contemplation, deeply engaging the viewer in fascinating and even hypnotic ways,” said Esther Bell, the Clark’s Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Senior Curator.

The Clark’s exhibition is the debut of Blind Eye, a new video installation depicting the seasonal phases of a birch grove. A dizzying perspective, with no forest floor or way out, creates an unsettling tension between the beauty of the fluttering branches and the anthropomorphic, almost ghoulish tree trunks.

Diaspore and two projections of Fly to Mars present meditative interpretations of the natural world. Diaspore consists of a collection of tumbleweeds self-propelled through a landscape. The renderings of the amalgamated shrubs, composed of sticks and leaves, are mesmerizing, mimicking movements in real time and space. In this work, Steinkamp references both the anatomy of plants that disperse seeds and spores and the social phenomenon of diaspora. She uses technology to draw a connection between the dissemination of people and cultures across the world and the ability of plants to spread seeds.

Fly to Mars presents trees that come to life with movement as they cycle through the four seasons of the year. Viewers experience the natural cycle of foliage, from colorful flowering buds in spring to leafless branches in winter. Simultaneously, the trees bow up and down, as though attempting to break free from the earth’s gravity and take flight into the cosmos.

In addition to exploring the theme of nature, Steinkamp’s art also investigates the passage of time, addiction, and beauty. Premature explores the phenomena of life and death. “Our being can start or end so abruptly; this feels dauntingly abstract to me,” Steinkamp said of the subject matter. In the projection, tangled fibrous strands resembling veins, arteries, and tendons move in concert with one another. The artist describes the work as having “meat-like texture which flows along undulating tubular forms.”

Rapunzel references both the issue of children given up by addicted parents in contemporary society and the Grimm Brothers’ nineteenth-century fairytale. The story tells of a pregnant mother craving and becoming obsessed with the rampion flowers that grow in the garden of a neighboring witch, Dame Gothel. The woman’s husband steals flowers from the garden and is caught by the witch, who forces the couple to exchange their daughter for a supply of flowers. Rapunzel illuminates gently swaying vines, creating an enchanted virtual space that evokes Gothel’s garden. An algorithm that simulates hair was used to create the computer-generated undulating vines, and the result is both entrancing and haunting.

Jennifer Steinkamp’s work has been featured in exhibitions across the United States, Europe, and Asia, and is in numerous public and private collections. She is a professor in the department of Design Media Arts at UCLA. Her recent solo exhibitions include Winter Fountains (Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia), Digital Nature (Espacio Fundación Telefónica, Madrid), and Jennifer Steinkamp (Portland Art Museum, Portland).

A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue with a foreword by Olivier Meslay and essay by Lisa Saltzman, Starr Director of the Clark’s Research and Academic Program, will accompany the exhibition. Saltzman’s essay isolates structuring concerns in Steinkamp’s groundbreaking work and sheds new light on one of the most important pioneers in the field of video and new media. The catalogue is published by the Clark and distributed by Yale University Press.

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