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>> Interview Jennie C. Jones
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Composition: Magenta, Brown, Red, 2006, Collection of the artist

Do you listen to music while you work?


Does this influence the way you deal with the drawing?

Yes. Sometimes, when I am really "in the zone," I almost feel that the gesture of making a line is the duration of a note and it becomes a conceptual practice – the relationship between listening and drawing. I wouldn't say it is like drawing sound, because I am still investigating how to build that bridge. At the moment I am just really locked into a certain aesthetic that I want to expand.

On the other hand, there are figurative elements in your drawings like cables, plugs, and loudspeakers. Your work looks like it is also about getting connected.

Yes, absolutely. And the blocks of color become conduits harkening the mechanics of devices that are input and output. That makes for a very tight metaphor for communication, either in art or sound – or how things are connected to each other, going in one channel and coming out another. Something that starts off as abstract/avant-garde goes through a conduit and crosses over into mainstream culture. It literally becomes that speaker that is feeding you a voice or information. Though I feel like I am leaving this literal aspect of the speaker behind. The Artists Space show was the first time there were no speakers in my work. Yet the abstract "blocks" were still read as forms that could at once be perceived as microphones or speakers, devices. It became this thing about listening, recording, and playing simultaneously.

Speakers No 3, Courtesy Jennie C. Jones

Night+Day=Midnight Sun, 2004,
Installation Smack Mellon Gallery, NY,
Photo courtesy Jennie C. Jones

You very often combine your drawings with sound installations.

Yes, the installations are like historical markers. I touch upon a historical narrative and expand it through installation. Both exhibitions, Simply Because You're Near Me at Artists Space (NY) and Transposed Blue/Cool at Artspace (New Zealand) were about relationships – the latter about how Miles Davis fell in love with Juliette Greco and hence discovered existentialist theory, how that affected his music. And Juliette getting a first hand account of racism and social problems that the white French maybe read and thought about from a Socialist perspective, but didn't necessarily experience. Their exchange was profound, and yet romantic.

You also did sound installations with loops from famous female jazz singers: Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday.

When I first started editing sound, as someone who likes poetry and literature, I manipulated language to fold in on itself in a song, and I explored the ability to create new dialogues wherein these women sang to themselves – call and response with one's self. It is easier to mix/edit sound when you are playing with the language, essentially the melody, than to work with a composition that is completely instrumental. Working on the Charlie Parker piece was so intense because the source material was seven hours of the famous Benedetti bootleg recordings. That's when the whole idea of listening as a conceptual practice assumed a definite shape. Some of that work was just the private experience of listening and pulling small phrases from the same tune again and again. Parker was playing a lot of the same standard tunes, and if you listen to him enough you can hear the variations in each solo of the same song. Like working in a series, artistically. Variations on a theme.

As Diz, 2003, © Jennie C. Jones,
Photo: Richard Squires

Do you play an instrument?

No. I have quite a good ear, like with intervals and for harmonics. I took a music class at the New School last year just to experiment with that. I had a serious problem, because you can hardly learn to read and write music without playing an instrument. But I tried… I think musical notation is really a wonderful language and I wanted to see if I could write or read or understand it. Because it is another form of mark making, it's as universal as math. I have a lot of work to do, a lot of learning to do still.

From the series "Listen-Record-Red", 2006,
Deutsche Bank Collection

How does your work reflect your own identity as an artist?

I think it was a special moment going to school at the peak of all that discourse, when the tsunami of multiculturalism was crashing in. When the tide went out, though, there were only a very few people left on the beach. [Laughs] It was just this tsunami of "black art," "Latino art," feminist art (read Lucy Lippard) and other discourses, the tide pulls out with the art market and we end up with a sort of top-10 list of black artists, people like Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons, etc. What is interesting about the work that had staying power is that it is very strategic, very ensconced in both black history and art history. Think about Kara Walker or Ellen Gallagher – it all falls under a conceptual umbrella, which I think is lovely. Because that space, the conceptual space, the "blank page" can be filled with whatever you want – no matter how minimal the aesthetic. A black painting can be infused with political meaning or it can be a reference to Malevich. Whatever the viewer wants to impose, in a way. The post-multicultural, post-colonial discourse of yesteryear created a lovely space to be in, in that sense. I was part of Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art since 1970, a show at the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston that framed this whole idea quite well. It's just that unfortunately we still have the binary; we're in denial about that. Now, a lot of galleries at least want to have one black artist in their stable, which is more than 15 years ago.

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