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Video artist Janet Biggs knows "No Limits" at Tampa Museum of Art
Janet Biggs, Fade To White, 2010. Single channel video with sound (Production still). Photo: courtesy of the artist and Conner Contemporary Art.

TAMPA, FL.- The Tampa Museum of Art is staging a mid-career survey for one of the leading video artists working today. No Limits: Janet Biggs will be on view through January 8, 2012. The exhibition was conceived of and organized by the Tampa Museum of Art and is expected to travel to other museums. This is the first full survey of the artist’s career.

“We’re proud to be the first museum to showcase a survey of this very significant artist’s career thus far,” said Todd D. Smith, the Museum’s executive director. “Janet has earned an international reputation for her daring work. Not only has she won accolades from art critics, but audiences consistently find her work enthralling.”

Biggs’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States, Europe, and Oceania. “This exhibition has great significance for the city of Tampa,” Smith said. “Janet has always been interested in using the latest technology to capture her subjects. But her themes are timeless. She’s recognized by critics in New York and other art centers as one of the leading artists working in video today.”

For more than a decade, New York-based video artist Biggs has explored the tense relationships between athleticism and human ambition, individualism and community, and free will and control. Her work has focused on sports and natural environments and has ranged from a claustrophobic pool where synchronized swimmers test their lung capacity to the vast expanse of the High Arctic where ice caps – and a way of life – may be vanishing. Her diverse subject matter also includes speeding motorcycles on the Bonneville Salt Flats and horses galloping on treadmills.

The History of her Work
BuSpar is one of Biggs’s earliest works in video. Its title derives from the name of a prescription drug that is given to both humans and horses for anxiety. She juxtaposes the image of a seated woman rocking (her aunt, in fact, who had autism) with close-ups of a horse in full gallop. The horse’s labored breathing is all we hear. The pairing is unsettling; the work is confrontational. The human/animal connection is overt, but an underlying question is about chemistry. At what point, either because of an illness, or the drugs you take to treat it, do you stop being you?

Horses are a motif used again in Like Tears in Rain, which pairs footage of The Citadel’s elite marching Summerall Guards with that of a blind dressage rider. A precision drill platoon performs a series of movements to a silent count. In dressage, the horse is trained to perform a prescribed series of movements in response to guidance from the rider. Biggs’s video installation reveals the intense effort and commitment required by the rider, the horse, and the Citadel cadets to make a very controlled performance appear effortless and free.

A more recent work, Vanishing Point, looks at the ways in which an individual disappears. Informed by her experiences with the effects of Alzheimer's disease (“My grandfather died of it, and a close family friend is suffering late-stage symptoms,” Biggs said), Biggs asks, “When are we no longer ourselves?” Combining images of motorcycle speed record holder Leslie Porterfield on the salt flats of Utah with Harlem's Addicts Rehabilitation Center Gospel Choir, Vanishing Point examines the struggle to maintain one's identity, the role of those who witness that identity vanishing, and a search for freedom that can end in destruction or transcendence.

If the concept of identity has always been evident in Biggs’s work, so has the idea of endurance – mental and physical. She travels the globe to capture on film humans testing their limits. In the process, she often tests her own.

When she went to the High Arctic in 2009 to shoot Fade to White, the artist had to train like an athlete. “I learned how to paddle a kayak in extreme situations,” she said. “I joined the kayak polo team, [and discovered it’s] a full contact sport. I also had to learn how to enter and exit a kayak in frigid, rough waters. In 2010, I took high powered rifle lessons to protect myself from polar bears while traveling and filming by myself. In Svalbard, you are required by law to carry a gun or travel with someone who’s armed.”

The video delves into the human desire to explore remote lands. To create this work, Biggs traveled aboard an ice-class, two-masted schooner built in 1910. Her filming focused on a crew member as he navigated the ship through iceberg-filled seas and paddled a kayak past glacier walls and polar bears. While Biggs isn’t physically present in this particular work, her endurance is apparent in every frame.

Loss and change are implicit in the video's title, Fade to White, which refers to an editing technique used to evoke death or transcendence. Biggs integrated her Arctic imagery with sound and video footage of countertenor John Kelly, whose age, androgyny, and mournful voice parallel the vanishing Arctic landscape and hint at the waning of male dominance.

Biggs has gone on to create two additional works based on her travels in 2009 and 2010 to the High Arctic. In the Cold Edge (shot inside an ice cave) and Brightness All Around (focusing on a female coal miner in the Arctic) join Fade to White to create The Arctic Trilogy. Again, she finds herself looking at identity and endurance and the concept of loss – whether it’s loss of self, loss of identity, loss of landscape, or loss of a way of life.

In Duet (2010), Biggs took on a subject not often documented in the art world: NASCAR racing. In this work, auto racing’s wild popularity and position within consumer culture create both drama and heroism. Rather than focusing exclusively on the drivers, Biggs presents the speed, precision, and agility of the pit crews and reveals their extreme grace under pressure. This video was commissioned by and is in the Mint Museum’s permanent collection.

Reviews of Biggs’s work have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Artforum, ARTNews, Art in America, Flash Art,, and many others.

Janet Biggs
Biggs is the recipient of numerous grants including the Electronic Media and Film Program at the New York State Council on the Arts Award, the Arctic Circle Fellowship/Residency, Art Matters, Inc., the Wexner Center Media Arts Program Residency, the Anonymous Was a Woman Award, and the NEA Fellowship Award.

Her work is in public collections including the High Museum, Atlanta, GA; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; and the New Britain Museum of Art, New Britain, CT.

Bigg’s primary representation is through Conner Contemporary Art in Washington, DC.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Moore College of Art, and pursued graduate studies at Rhode Island School of Design.

Her work has been exhibited at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; Kunst Museum Bonn; MACRO (Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma); Vantaa Art Museum, Finland; Linkopings Konsthall, Passagen, Sweden; Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Austria; and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Australia.

She’s been part of group exhibitions all over the world including, most recently, She Devil, Museo D’Arte Contemporanea in Rome; Videonale 13, Kunstmuseum in Bonn, Germany; 2010 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, Birmingham, AL; 2009 Miami International Film Festival; 2008 Oslo Screen Festival, Norway; and Hollywould ..., Freewaves 11th International Festival of New Media Arts in Los Angeles.

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