Made in a specifically DIY approach, West’s hypnotic videos are a product of her idiosyncratic experimentation into what happens when celluloid film surface is subjected directly to a wild array of processes, chemicals, materials, and events. In her new works the artist abuses and transforms film stock by treating it with substances including mascara, metal compounds, vitamin supplements, dyes, liquid nitrogen and highlighter pens, as well as with physical interventions such as grating, scratching, whipping and impressing. Transferred to video and projected on a scale reminiscent of abstract expressionist painting, the resulting films become a hallucinogenic kaleidoscope of references.
Marked out by work details- cum-titles that name component parts of the films such as ‘pinky print devil ears’, this exhibition takes heavy metals as its point of departure. West’s new ‘Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Films’ (2011) see her utilising old Super 8 copies of scenes from Jaws as well as the film’s trailer. Characteristically, her procedure for manipulating the film stock becomes a performance guided by a particular overarching narrative; in this case, that of research findings into the calming effect that heavy metal played under water has on sharks. As such, West proceeds in deliberately literal and also physical fashion; the film stock is not only smeared messily in heavy metal enriched black dye, but the dye itself is applied to the film by the action of someone headbanging it on.
Two additional films are also included in the exhibition: ‘I ♥ Neutrinos: You Can’t See Them but They are Everywhere’, made during her recent residency at MIT with List Visual Art Center, and ‘Mascara Rorschach Film’ (both 2011). West’s ‘direct’ methods of manipulating film stock comes from a long legacy of experimental filmmaking, starting with Man Ray and Len Lye and owing much to Tony Conrad as well as Stan Brakhage’s ‘cameraless’ techniques. But where West departs from her influences is in her pushing of the performative aspect of her practice. Her irreverent, chatty and overtly descriptive titles pedantically record specific elements, activities and participants involved in making her respective films. Connecting her work to the legacies of Actionism, they not only become evidence of, but also vividly evoke the happenings that took place. The unconventional ‘ingredients’ she lists may not always be legible in her drenched and stained videos, but with the help of the paratextual signposts that she provides they operate as rich, almost pungent metonymic devices. West’s insistence on identifying all contributing factors to her films in her titles means that her works become less about the heroism of individual gestures, more about the actions of social groupings. Standing in distinct counterpoint to the hermeticism of mid-century abstraction, her chromatic abstractions become highly referential, quotational and moreso, inclusive affairs.
In 2011 Jennifer West had a solo exhibition at Franklin Arts Works, Minneapolis and in 2010 solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Western Bridge, Seattle and Kunstverein Nürnberg. West has exhibited widely in museums in the past, including at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, and Seattle Art Museum (2010), Tate Modern and Institute of Contemporary Art, Philidelphia (2009), Drawing Center, New York, Aspen Art Museum and Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2008),CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, France, Contemporary Art Museum, Detroit, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, ZKM Museum for New Media, Karlsruhe and Tate St. Ives (2007). In 2011 she was included in exhibitions at: White Flag Projects, St. Louis; Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara; White Columns, New York; and the Rubbell Family Collection, Miami. West has been commissioned to produce special projects at The Aspen Art Museum (2010) and for the turbine hall at TATE Modern (2009) and she was Artist in Residence at the MIT List Visual Arts Center this year. Upcoming projects include a performance based work for Highline Art, New York, curated by Cecelia Alemani.
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