Composition: Magenta, Brown, Red,
Collection of the artist
Do you listen to music while you work?
Does this influence the way you deal with the drawing?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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",
How does your work reflect your own identity as an
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
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.