NEW YORK, NY.- signs and symbols
is presenting Visions of the Daughters, Jen DeNike's second solo exhibition at the gallery. The exhibition features an immersive installation with crystals, video, sculpture, and sound, surrounded by a series of large-scale photographs. The exhibition further includes layered sound by invited guest MOTHERMARY, a retro-futurist art pop identical twin duo.
The Daughters weep: a trembling lamentation
Upon their mountains; in their valleys. sighs toward America.
For the soft soul of America, she wandered in woe,
Along the vales seeking flowers to comfort her.1
The exhibition originates from a close reading by DeNike of Visions of the Daughters of Albion, an epic poem by the English writer and artist William Blake. A friend and supporter of the early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, Blake was deeply inspired by her revolutionary 1792 book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; published only a year later in 1793, Blakes poem folds her feminist ideology into a discursive monologue exposing the rigors of patriarchal psycho-sexual expectation, while examining the potential of female sovereignty. The poem philosophically dramatizes the plight of women and envisions a future in which women claim societal and sexual autonomy. In DeNike's rewritten version of the poem, retitled Visions of the Daughters, the characters' names have been substituted for pronouns, erasing their identity and re-appropriating their gender she, he and they become the three principal actors. Kings become queens. Priests become goddesses. Stripped of thee and thou, DeNike offers an astonishingly contemporary observation on the interchangeability of gender identities, daughterhood, and the still unfulfilled promise of America.
The voices of daughters are ever-present in the exhibition reading, confiding, sighing, singing. The artist recites her rewritten poem, inundating the gallery with spatial sound. A cyclical video of women, one after another, lying still in repose, is projected onto a centrally located rectangular wooden box encrusted with crystals and mounted onto a platform with stairs. The installation is galvanized by DeNikes research of an archeological excavation (2003) in Ireland where 1,275 medieval inhumations (dated from the thirteenth century) were located at the base of a steep hill by the River Erne; skeletons were found with crystals placed in their hands, along with a box lined with crystals. DeNike reinterprets the original site lifting elements of the archeological dig along with her own mining experiences and memories of the carpeted platforms in the original Hall of Gems & Minerals at the American Natural History Museum in New York. The gem room, a formative oasis she obsessively visited as an adolescent, is where her practice of examining mineral specimens as art-artifacts began. Visions of the Daughters includes thousands of crystals mined by DeNike herself in Arkansas. A miner and steward of crystals, she unearths them in their raw form, dug from geological quartz crevices over 225 million years old. A performative act of collectively washing, cataloging, and sculpting the pieces culminates in a proposal of parallel sites in various stages of entropy.
DeNikes new series of photographs, titled Mirror Levitation, depicts anonymous levitating women holding mirrors of captured light with floating orbs and refractions. Meticulously composed in a synthetic, sterile, lab-like environment, the skin, hands, and mirror edges become clinical, hyper-articulated, punctuating unshaven hairs, scars, and skin imperfections of the women, opposed by the abstract sublime interior of the mirrors. The photographs draw on a historical trajectory of mirrors used in image making to expand the boundaries of two-dimensional space and pictorial illusion. DeNikes use of the mirror is twofold its interior is at once an image within an image, and an applied experimental process akin to making a photogram, an isolated expressionism of color and light. For the women pictured, the mirror is both an object and a portal, their feet hovering as they untether from the constraints of gravity. Yet, by including the shadow of their feet, the narrative implies they are still connected, they have not fully escaped, they are in a suspended animation, a vertical Euclidean space, a simulation. The body fragments in its epistemological yearning and negotiation of weightlessness, there is no face, the mirror obscures any identifiable perspective, the I is obliterated, the dissolution of subject, no reflection or mirroring exists, is the levitation an attempt to reach the void, madness?
The Daughters hear her woes, & echo back her sighs.2
spanning video, photography, sculptural installation, and performance, jen denike's work negotiates a distinctly feminine perspective on gender roles. A director of choreographed movements, her structuralist approach to time is grounded in the formal language of photography. Evoking cinematic archetypes, aesthetic cannons build a gravity of repetitive actions, forming a psychogeography of both real and imagined utopias with a reverence for nature and architecture that interchangeably function as containers of desire and places of intervention. DeNike received her MFA from Bard College. Her work has been exhibited internationally at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville; The Brooklyn Museum; MoMA PS1; The Bronx Museum; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Participant Inc, New York; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Julia Stoschek Collection, Dusseldorf; Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm; 54th Venice Biennale, Garage Projects; Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; MOCA Toronto; MACRO ROMA; Kunstlerhaus Stuttgart; Miami Light Projects; Red Line Contemporary Art Center, Denver; CCS Bard Hessel Museum, Annandale-On-Hudson; MEF Museo Ettore Fico, Torino; Schauspiel Köln Opera House; Art Basel Miami Art Public; Art Basel Miami Film Sector; and Wallis Annenberg Center For the Performing Arts, Los Angeles. Select commissioned projects include Bombay Beach Biennale, EMPAC, LAND Los Angeles Nomadic Division, Creative Time, Performa Biennial, and Faena Art. In September 2021, DeNike published Sculpting Time, the first volume in a series of limited edition books that translate her newest bodies of work into book form. DeNike lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
1. William Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion (CreateSpace, 2015/original work published 1793), 5; text appears as rewritten by Jen DeNike and retitled to Visions of the Daughters, 2022
2. Ibid, 21; text appears as rewritten by Jen DeNike and retitled to Visions of the Daughters, 2022