Sullivan Galleries Chicago, IL
Photos courtesy the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Yoni Goldstein and Joe Iverson.
JENNIFER MILLS is an interdisciplinary artist who conflates art-making and art-selling in an ongoing exploration of the value of art. She uses her interactive performances and installations as a way to disseminate thousands of artworks for free or for prices as low as a penny. Jennifer is currently in residence at BOLT, a year-long studio residency in Chicago, and her solo show LOW MIDDLE HIGH will open September 5, 2012 at CULTUREfix in New York City. Jennifer lives in Chicago, IL.
OtherPeoplesPixels: I've read that you studied classical voice and performance when you were young, and you are well-versed in drawing, painting, video, and performance. Tell us a bit about your trajectory as an artist, and how you got to making the work you are making right now.
Jennifer Mills: Where did you read that?! Yes, I studied opera when I was little, because my mom signed me up for a youth opera camp one summer. I was so mad at her, because I had never opened my mouth to sing a peep in public and I was terrified. I spent the first day of camp with the fear sweats and going to the bathroom a lot, but I quickly ate my words and came to love it. Thanks, Mom. I studied classical voice all through college. It taught me a lot about the discipline necessary in a creative life. Studying voice made me interested in performance art, and all along the way I was just drawing and painting because there was always a 40% off coupon in the Sunday paper's ads for "Michael's Arts and Crafts Store."
Art Prize Grand Rapids, Michigan
Performance and Installation
OPP: You paint, draw, and make sculptures, but ultimately you are actually a conceptual performance artist working "to create a new system of defining value in the art world." Talk about why it's important to make art about the value of art.
JM: It's spectacular to see that a painting has sold for millions of dollars at auction, but I also believe anyone's creative work can be seen as spectacular. For me, there is some magic in selling a painting for $1. I like to think that the missing monetary value converts into a different kind of value, a kind of personal value that is more rare.
The thing that strikes me most about your performances, especially ones like Street
(2010), in which you paint a portrait of anyone willing to stand on the X outside the storefront window you were stationed in, is the spirit of generosity and levity that seems to pervade these performances. There appears to be a real joy in the exchange between artist and viewer/participant, as opposed to the antagonistic relationship which can exist in a gallery or in a museum, especially with those not educated in art who often feel like they are missing something. Is this the whole point for you? Or is this just a nice byproduct of something else you are more interested in?
JM: To me it is a very important part of the whole, so it is so nice that you see that in the work. Thank you. I like to think that real joy and connection happens some of the time, and I always hope for more. I'm definitely working with and against the antagonistic exclusivity that exists in some art institutions, and that is something I like to parody and call attention to.
Contemporary Art Space, Chicago, IL
You've done several different performances where you make custom works of art for viewers after interviewing them, including Fresh Art
(2010), Personalized Sculptures
(2012), and Custom Made
(2010). Could you describe the interview process? What's the interaction generally like between you and the viewer/participant?
JM: It's a little bit like being an untrained, pretty bad tarot card reader. We just get to talking! Sometimes I provide prompts like a question or some visuals I ask them to respond to. In a short amount of time with a little bit of information, I try to come to an educated guess right then and there about what kind of artwork they would like that I can make with the art materials I have stocked in the project's installation. It takes about 30 minutes to talk, be inspired, and make them art to take home. This project has usually been very fun, and sometimes extreamly meaningful for both of us. Of course, sometimes it feels like I'm grasping at straws too. We are just people talking and responding, so anything can happen. I'm now wondering if this made-to-order work is directly influenced by my time as a 'sandwich artist' in college. I loved that job.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Photos courtesy of Joseph Mohan
You often make very large editions of inexpensive originals, drawing each one by hand, as you did in (3.75/EA)
(2009) and Penny Project
, which began in 2009 and is still going, I believe. Why make such large editions?
JM: I can't really say, but right now I'm looking at a giant stack of cats I just painted for a project. I probably could have been doing a million other exciting things, but I don't regret a single cat.
OPP: Oh god, how many are there? Does your hand hurt?
JM: Let's just say I better get a job with health insurance soon before my hand falls off. Today I am finishing up a series of 240. I can usually do 100 a day. As far as how many 'Mills Originals" are out there, I think it is now close to 5,000. One day I hope to have a "99 Billion Served" sign above my head!
OPP: How important is it that these hand-made multiples look exactly the same, as if they were prints, not originals? Are you disappointed or satisfied with the variations that must inevitably occur?
JM: Variety is the spice of life! The more defects the better. I'm not perfect!
100 Stars Without Makeup
from TABLOID SERIES
You have a solo show called LOW MIDDLE HIGH
organized by Recession Art Collective
and opening next week CULTUREfix
in NY. Could you tell us about the venue and about what new projects you'll be exhibiting?
JM: The venue and the collective are awesome. It is a beautiful project space on the Lower East Side that programs all kinds of amazing events and exhibitions. One weekend that I was at CULTUREfix, there was an art show, an experimental chamber orchestra and a comedian. I've been working with RAC for a few years, we came together due to the similar way the recession inspired our outlook on art. They are fantastic to work with. I'll be showing a ton of multiples which are for sale individually, a series of new paintings I have done of tabloid pages, and an installation of paintings with bulls eyes that you can win playing darts! I'm looking forward to it. It opens September 5th if anyone wants to come.