Robert Mann Gallery NYC
JENNIFER WILLIAMS' large-scale, digital photographic
collages are printed on flexible, repositionable Photo-tex paper. These
two-dimensional, site-responsive works become three-dimensional by
bending around corners and stretching from wall to floor and to ceiling.
They are architectural adornments, temporary tattoos for buildings and
rooms, which highlight overlooked and unused parts of both interior and
exterior space, while also investigating the slow, consistent changes of
neighborhoods over time. Jennifer earned her BFA from Cooper Union
School of Art in New York and her MFA from Goldsmiths College in London.
Her numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Robert Mann Gallery (New York, 2013), The Center for Emerging Visual Artists (Philadelphia, 2012), Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (Pittsburgh, 2012) and La Mama Gallery (New York, 2011). In June 2016, Jennifer will have work in the
group show Seeing
is Believing at Mount Airy Contemporary
in Philadelphia and is working on a site-responsive project for the
Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia), which will
open in early 2017 as part
of a group show. Her most recent installation New York: City of Tomorrow is supported by a Queens Council on the Arts New Works
Grant and is on view until July 31, 2016 at the at the Queens Museum in New York. Jennifer lives in Queens, New York.
OtherPeoplesPixels: In your photographic work from the 1990s to the early 2000s,
you pieced together the “truth” of various interior spaces by layering
c-prints. When did you first begin to cut out the objects themselves to
create collages that broke out of the rectangular frame of the
photograph and disrupted the spaces they were installed in?
Jennifer Williams: The rectangular frame has always proved something of a conundrum for me; it feels constricting, and I’m nervous about what information gets left out of that frame. To me, a single shot never accurately represents what I'm experiencing or what I want the viewer to see. That’s where the earlier layered c-prints came into play. But c-prints were hard to produce and limited in texture and surface, meaning they could only be printed on plastic-based materials with a narrow selection of finishes. By the mid-2000s, Photoshop and digital printing technologies had reached a point where things I’d previously dreamed of being able to do photographically were possible without a darkroom. The time it took to print photographs shrank, allowing work to be produced in a shorter period of time. It was incredibly liberating to be able to mask portions of an image—essentially cutting them out—then layer them and resizing on the fly, working with color and composition in the computer first. But once printed and cut out in real time, the rectangle was entirely eliminated. Other quandaries arose regarding how and where the work would be displayed. At first, wheat pasting directly onto the walls seemed the only option to create a conversation between the work and the exhibition space, but then I found Photo-tex.
OPP: How did Photo-tex paper change your practice?
JW: Photo-tex is a re-positional peel & stick paper that has a woven texture, like wallpaper. It comes in a roll, is inkjet printable and is really amazing stuff! Discovering PhotoTex in 2009 completely changed my practice. I found the tool of expression I’d been looking for all along! Here was a thing that could be printed on in the studio, cut out, stuck on the wall, repositioned, wrapped around corners, then removed without damaging the installation surface (and reusable, too.) Physical barriers were broken down. Suddenly I could position photographs anywhere I wanted in a space and print them as large or small as I liked. Also, the surface is matte, and the material is very thin, so the images feel at one with the surface they’re stuck on. People are surprised when I tell them the work is printed photographs and not painted, like a mural.
OPP: Do you think about the future collages or their destinations when taking photographs? Or are these two parts of your process distinct from one another?
JW: I’ll occasionally think about future collages when shooting, but compositions usually happen after destinations have been decided upon. The architecturally-related works are project specific. Someone will approach me about doing a piece for their space, and I’ll do research into the surrounding neighborhood's history, then walk its streets while shooting. The size and shape of the exhibition space influence the composition, so getting a feel for it first is ideal. I’ll often build a model from floor plans and photographs then make mock-ups of installations and photograph them, which gives me an eerily accurate idea of what the finished product will look like. But in general, I’d say I use photography as a gathering process. I generate a million compositional ideas, of which only a few come to fruition. So photographs happen regardless of where they end up going, but I do like having a goal when shooting.
OPP: The ladders in the various Episodic Drift installations are disorienting and directionless. Since I’m only seeing the work online in a 2D format, I sometimes can’t tell what is 2D and what is 3D. Can you talk about how you use this repeated motif to disrupt the architecture of the exhibition space and its symbolic implications?
JW: I studied both film and sculpture along
with photography as an undergraduate, and I believe the work I make now
reflects the values and sensitivities of these disciplines in regards to
time and space. In a general sense, I like using spaces that are not functional in the same way the middle of a wall is in a gallery setting. Installing work that engages ceilings and floors
transports the viewer, challenging them to notice odd corners or
architectural oddities, turning the exhibition space itself into a kind
of spectacle and subverting the usual anonymous behavior gallery walls
are meant to project.
We see the world in three dimensions because of the way light functions; if something is lit in a very flat manner we perceive it as flat or shallow, although we inherently understand that the objects in front of us have volume. The 2D/3D ladders play with that concept in multiple ways. Upon first viewing, we believe they are real because they are photographed in a spatial way. Bringing them out into the space as cut outs accentuates the effect, but of course, it’s a trick.
Episodic Drift asks the viewer to equate the subject matter with the journeys we take in life that push us beyond our habitual perception of the world. Ladders are tools which allow us passage to spaces above or below our everyday experience, creating just enough of a shift that we see our world from a new perspective. The experience is equally disorienting and exhilarating bringing into question everything around you and your relationship to it, even if it’s in a room you use every day.
OPP: What remains the same throughout your work is the
investigation of how spaces don’t remain the same. In recent years,
you’ve shifted away from the interior spaces of apartments and refrigerators toward the exterior spaces of urban neighborhoods in installations like Flux Density: Detroit (2014) and Sea Change (2013). What led to this shift?
JW: I moved to New York in 1990 from a small, dying steel town and lived on the Lower East Side until very recently. It was always a home base, and as I grew older and more settled, a shift happened regarding the way I related to the neighborhood itself. As I watched it morph from a bombed out wasteland into the shiny, gentrified playground it is today, I keyed into the factors behind that change, and became less interested in change that was happening in my own life. My commute to work for many years was walking or biking to the same location, and I rarely took public transport for anything so I had an intimate relationship with the streets I was traversing day in, day out. As an “architectural tourist”—to quote Dan Graham—I have done a lot of reading about gentrification and urban change to understand the world around me and my place in it. I think the work I’m making now is an attempt at discussing neighborhood change on a visceral, visual and often indexical level while addressing its existence as a universal truth that spans cities across the nation.
OPP: Tell us about the installation you just completed at Queens Museum. How long is it on view?
JW: It’s called New York: City of Tomorrow and up until July 31, 2016. It’s installed in one of the most unique spaces I’ve ever been asked to interact with: the 10,000 square foot model of the five boroughs titled The Panorama of the City of New York, housed at the Queens Museum. The installation addresses the rising skyline of the urban landscape from a pedestrian viewpoint through juxtaposition of photographs of the miniature architectural models with street views of newly constructed buildings occupying the same locations today. While entire neighborhoods have been reinvented due to ambitious renewal and development projects, the Panorama offers a miniature, three-dimensional opportunity to travel back in time to an earlier version of the five boroughs. It was originally constructed as a descriptive tool for the 1964 World’s Fair, and new construction has been added sparsely since its last restoration in 1992. In the future, I’m hoping to add a few more neighborhoods to the roster and in conjunction with some writing, turn the whole project into an artist book.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 2016.