You Make Me Feel like 100 Billie Holiday Songs:
Conversation with Jennie C. Jones
In her Minimalist
drawings, Jennie C. Jones tests the boundaries between music, theory,
history, and art as she investigates to what extent African American
culture has left its mark on ideas of modernity. Works of hers were
recently on show in the
pa.per.ing exhibition at the Lobby Gallery of Deutsche Bank in New York
and were purchased for the bank's collection. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf
visited the artist in her Brooklyn studio.
Jennie C. Jones, Photo: Jennie C.
Transposed Blue/Cool – for Miles and Juliette; Record
and Listen in Yellow and Brown; You Make Me Feel like 100 Billie Holiday
Songs – these are the titles of
Jennie C. Jones' drawings and sound installations. When the 38 year-old
calls herself an "audiophile with a somewhat eccentric taste," she is
referring to her love of jazz
. She draws the music, collages it, and transforms it into architecture; she
elevates listening to music to the level of conceptual practice,
transforming stereo sets and record players into sculptures.
Composition for Playback in Brown & Magenta No 2, 2006,
Collection of the artist
At first glance, her
small-scale pictures resemble abstract compositions recalling Russian
Constructivism and Bauhaus –
Kasimir Malevich or Josef Albers
. But then the lines that grow out of the squares and rectangles or
intertwine with one another turn out to be microscopically fine cables and
microphones – while the whole thing joins together to form an abstract
sound system. Her work
Homage to an Unknown Suburban Black Girl was one of the stealth
Freestyle at the Studio Museum
in Harlem in 2001, as Holland Cotter, New York Times critic, wrote in his
review of Jones' first solo show Simply Because You’re Near Me
at New York’s Artists Space
in 2006. Now, however, her works have become even subtler. Jones' current
images are electrifying, full of complex rhythms and counter-rhythms –
just like the songs of Miles Davis
, which play in the studio throughout our conversation.
Installation at Artists Space, New York
Courtesy Jennie C. Jones
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: What were your first encounters with jazz?
Jennie C. Jones: It was through my mother, her taste in music. It was
something that was always playing in our house, but of course I didn't pay
too much attention to the great records we had until I was older. You
never want to listen to your parents' records until you grow up and you
realize they had really great shit, things that gave rise to other forms
of music, including what you were into at the time.
How did you
find your way back to jazz, then?
It was always around. Maybe
it was through approaching it academically, and then acknowledging that it
was what I listened to while working. It was a kind of soundtrack for my
studio practice – becoming the work itself.
When did you
start to work artistically with jazz?
About five years ago. It
was really an epiphany, a moment while I was listening to
The Modern Jazz Quartet that I decided I wanted to go back to paper, to
start from scratch, to start with mark making again, because I felt at
times that all my schooling was like treading water through academia.
Sometimes, the more you read, the less work you make.
early conceptual work already connected to music?
I wanted to
go back to the beginnings of black cultures' impact on music history, and
then the parallels just instantly started falling into place. There are
endless historical junctures where music and art were talking about the
same thing, but they were kept completely separate from one another in
discourse. One fell into the genre of
black history, the other into
art history. For me, I kept seeing these amazing parallels in ideologies
for both disciplines, especially in jazz and abstraction. Conceptualism
allows these different media to occupy the same space.
tell me more about the parallels in black music and modernist art…
What got me interested was
bebop, which most historians refer to simply as "modern music." It struck
a deep chord in me – I finally felt that I was given permission to be
abstract, but also to maintain my practice in the framework of, dare I say
"identity politics." It said, "look, there is a precedent here…," a
brilliant one actually, on many levels. There is a complete, total, insane
abstraction happening in black cultural production, but it just wasn’t in
How do you start to draw?
First I go on
a color hunt… I sit down with a lot of fancy magazines because the quality
of the paper is so much better.
Artforum is great to cut up. To look at that only for the colors!
I just go through the pages and I pull color. The series come usually from
having a certain amount of a particular color – a limited palette. I
usually look for red, that vivid maraschino cherry red that screams
"modern red." I would say if I had to describe my own palette at the
moment, it would be something like red, black, a deep chocolate brown, a
Tiffany blue. From there I just start composing on the page and thinking
about where the line is going to fall, about the weight of the line and
the feeling of suspension.