Friday 27 March 2015
On a dreary Friday morning in March I visited the studio of Jennifer Grimyser, currently located in the spare room of the beautifully decorated apartment in Ridgewood that she shares with her artist boyfriend, which just happens to be down the road from where I’m living. Jennifer’s gorgeous cat Payton joined in, sitting on my lap throughout our chat.
I had seen Jennifer’s work at the SPRING BREAK Art Show – an immersive, curator-driven ‘fair’ held in an old post office building during Armory Arts Week, which operated as a counterpoint to the traditional, commercial fairs. In the exhibition she showed a series of photographic works from her recent ‘NO’ series. My notes on Jennifer’s work from this first encounter read: Communication, transaction, old/extinct means of recording/communicating – what does the NO mean?
Jennifer kindly enlightened me: “I was looking at the NO symbol as this bold, public, servicing, affirmative statement.” Communication and language play a big part in Jennifer’s practice. Coming from a family of language lovers, Jennifer constantly finds inspiration in forms of communication, such as words and symbols.
“Language is a fun tool.”
One-word symbols, such as NO recur throughout many of Jennifer’s works. The ‘NO’ series is compositionally uniform; all vertically oriented photographs of hand-constructed 3-dimensional assemblages, they each comprise a visual frame created through compositional arrangement and feature a bold NO in the top left corner. The imagery Jennifer uses plays with old and sometimes obsolete forms and symbols to create visual cues of communication – hands; string and cup telephones; VCR tape; speech bubbles; pencils; numbers; traffic lights; envelopes; tally marks. These images are created through found and constructed imagery that Jennifer cuts out and manually manipulates, playing with the materials so that they don’t always reflect their original use.
Jennifer, or at least parts of her body, appear in many of her works, so that they are in a sense, self-portraits. “It’s a tone or a texture of skin, or a mole. Some type of identifier that’s not fully me.” The hand in particular appears frequently in Jennifer’s works because of the actual and symbolic function it serves in communicating, also denoting emotion, personality, culture and expression.
“Even if language doesn’t appear in the piece, language was the beginning of the work itself.”
Manually constructed into the exact image she wants then photographed from above, the images appear digitally manipulated but are deceptively handmade: “It is very important to me that they are constructed with actual materials…These shadows are real, these illusions of depth are actual, and the tricks are real - like the folding of the paper, the roundness - you're giving the 2D image 3D form.”
“I haven't always experimented so expansively with materials so this has been a fun time.”
Although the final outcomes of these works are digital images, Jennifer is definitely moving away from digital towards analogue and manual process methods and forms of communication. “As much as I love the immediacy of digital photography - editing, printing all within a couple of days and bam this piece is done - I do miss the handmade...I don't want to spend my life in the dark room, I did that for my education and I felt like I lost a lot of sunny days.”
Originally trained as a photographer, recently Jennifer decided to visually incorporate into her works the image of the four brackets that make up the frame of the camera lens. “I wanted to work with these four brackets, which is what I’ve stared at for years. And the idea of visual focusing, whether it’s through a manual or digital focusing, like the eye.” This focusing, or perhaps we could see it as a 'zooming' into the composition, is also occurring throughout Jennifer's practice, albeit more conceptually.
Earlier in her practice, Jennifer used short sentences, slogans and statements that allowed for poignant readings or humorous play on words. Her practice was also more laborious, involving intricate and time-consuming drawings and performative works. During grad school, which she finished just over a year ago, she moved away from drawing towards the immediacy of photography. “In grad school you have a crit every couple of weeks so you feel like you have to show a new piece each time to get more bang for your buck. I felt like the labor got lost whereas ideas could have been found more quickly if I wasn’t working so heavily on a piece. I think I still feel this pressure to produce produce produce.” At the same time, the way Jennifer uses language in her work has changed, becoming more simplified so that instead of full sentences the words appear as symbols for bigger ideas: “The language I’ve used has decreased, every year I use less and less actual words or letters.”
Appearing in recent works are the words ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘oops’ and sounds ‘ssshhhh’ and ‘pssssttt’. In this context, these words and sounds become slogans, universally recognized. “I like where language falls between being a word and also a sound, and that sound leads to a gesture, to an emotion. It crosses these platforms that other words don’t, which I really like. For example, pssssttt can be demeaning, it can be secretive, it can be lovingly personal. But it’s also just a sound, it’s just an action with our mouths."
“The universalness is definitely an appeal. That everyone can have their own interpretation of this word, their associations, their personal relationship with it. But also it leaves the interpretation so wide, and it allows me to insert cues that are also so simplified and it allows the viewer to make their own conclusions.”
This open-endedness is a central aim of Jennifer’s practice – to create something non-concrete that allows for various interpretations. “I’m very much against this politicizing of my work. To really jam an idea down a viewer’s throat is very much against my practice. I want the viewer to work a little bit, I want them to put their own thought into it. I don’t want it to be this simple equation where because I’m saying these words and I have this visual, I’m drawing to the conclusion of feminism or something like that.”
Jennifer herself has a broad set of influences and interests. On the wall in front of her desk is an inspiration board, or what Jennifer calls the “graveyard of handmade objects”. The items on the wall are artefacts or souvenirs from previous completed projects, works by other artists she admires, and bits and pieces of interesting visual material she has picked up with the intention of using in her work at some point.
I was interested in how Jennifer brought her inspirations and ideas together to make a finished work.
“I often work directly from my notebook, ideas being written out and those ideas expanding language wise, and then visuals come after.”
“I also make lists of ideas I want to work with. This is a shoot list that I’ve been adding to for years: A broken light bulb; a braid; bars of soap; beet soup - because it has this purple color. These are all just visuals that I want to work with. I also have lists of words I want to work with. So when the linkage between the visual and verbal somehow connect in my mind or in the notebook I go with it.”
Jennifer sees her process of creating much like the physical process of writing; linking letters to words, words to sentences, and sentences to paragraphs to build a means of communication that can be read and understood cohesively.
However, the first work in the ‘NO’ series came to Jennifer entirely out of the blue, and unusually it was the visuals that came to her first: “It was so bizarre to me, I was very like I don't know what I’m doing but I'm going to go with it. And I'm glad I did.” Since this initial trial, the ‘NO’ pieces have come together organically, intuitively. “Having this strict visual format, the border, the NO, and then sort of free falling in the centre was sort of the jumping point for these works.”
“I think they are a really different way of working my brain, one that allows me to let go of a lot. I get to free-fall with the NO’s whereas my other works are much more logic driven, and I know the outcome. So the NO’s allow me a lot more freedom. But I also like the control of my normal practice.
Speaking of practice, I mentioned to Jennifer that I have been interested in the concept of productivity and not feeling like I have used my time well. Clearly this is something Jennifer is also conscious of and strives to work through in her creative practice.
“I come from a family where being productive is very important, the value of your work is important, so it’s weird not to produce, produce, produce… Last week I had three straight days in the studio, and I demanded of myself that those be just idea based days, which are really hard for me – not actually making, physically constructing. And I go to bed feeling like those days are wasted, but they’re actually more valuable than other days. I do feel like crap afterwards, but come the fourth day I can shoot for 14 hours because I know exactly what I want to work out."
With all the play that seems fundamental to Jennifer’s creative process and the production of her work, how does she know when a piece is finished?