Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jennifer DePalma's Minimalism with a Twist

Visual artist Jennifer DePalma decided to apply to VCCA because she was feeling untethered. She had just finished an installation for American University’s Katzen Art Center, which she had toiled over for three years during which time  she also had a son. And as a graduate (with honors) of the Corcoran College of Art + Design, she was feeling bereft by the demise of that institution and the scattering of its community.

At VCCA, Jenn was “really pleased with being around other artists studios and having that accessibility. I feel like I gleaned a lot of technical information the last few days I was there and everyone had open studios. Its funny, I hang out with tons of artists in DC, but in order to do a studio visit we have to schedule a time and drive there and meet and then drive home and it ends up sucking a whole half-day or so from my studio time. But at VCCA we were able to do these quick studio visits that were right around the corner literally, so I also feel like I have a lot to digest from those experiences.”

Jenn’s work is all about “owning every step” of the creative process. She creates the objects instead of collecting them, presents the photographs instead of using them as a studio tool, and “examines each medium’s individual nature and capabilities by trying to manipulate each of them into looking like each other.”

Right before Jenn came to VCCA, a filing cabinet she had ordered arrived. Unpacking it, she discovered eight black foam half cube shaped packing elements. Delighted by the “funky way somebody made them,” imperfectly gluing the three pieces of foam together to make a slightly skewed geometric form, she ended up bring them with her to VCCA for inspiration.

In a departure from her normal non-collecting approach, she arranged them in stacks and painted them using an arresting palette of acid green, pale yellow, ruby, tan and gray. The cheeky colors, inherent imperfections of the shapes and the vertiginous stacks themselves add a refreshing levity to what would be classified, at least visually, as minimalist.

By her own admission Jenn’s trying to find comedy. “I need to be serious when I’m doing it, but there’s a sense of ridiculousness. It’s really minimal along the lines of Robert Mangold and Sol Lewitt, but then it’s not really perfect. I’m rifting on the minimalists, or I guess you could say I’m sampling them.”

Jenn refers to these works as still lifes. “The idea of still life is something I came to realize when I first started working with objects and I had to write about my work. Instead of describing that whole long process: taking/collecting/making objects, setting them up and then drawing or photographing them, or both, I realized there already was a genre for that, and it’s still life. Since figuring that out, I feel like my work has sort of revolved on an axis around what still life is and what it means.”

Even though she’s only shown two-dimensional work, Jenn’s clearly drawn to working in both two and three-dimensions. The Necker cube, an optical illusion image (or in Jenn’s case a cut-out) that appears to be both flat and also protruding forward and backwards in space, seems like the perfect motif for her and she concurs: “Paper is inherently square—how could you not make art about that? A Necker cube is two dimensions going into three-dimensions.” To make her Neckers Jenn draws the shape onto thick paper and then cuts them out with an Exacto knife.

Combining art and the environment, Jenn places the cubes in the landscape (including the roof of the Studio Barn) and then photographs them. The effect of these geometric forms is both subtle and startling. You don't notice them at first and then when you do, they are surreal: geometric forms floating against a real world back drop. The odd construct is visually appealing, both drawing attention to reality and playing off it. “I’m really excited about having a project I can do when I’m hanging out with my kid and out in the street and then bring it to the Internet world. I’ve spent so much consuming beautiful hiking videos and camping blogs, I just want to contribute something and put art into that environment. But I’m trying to be careful; I don’t want to become this person that’s always working on cubes.”

Necker cubes are something that exist in the world and any one has access to them. So the challenge is how can Jenn make them her own. “How do I talk about them without just making noise and not contributing to the conversation?” she asks. “Necker cubes play with our concept of realism. Is it naive realism or direct realism? If I see it, does it exist? If I see a green bush, it exists. But a Necker cube plays with that: it’s flat, but looks 3-D. And the fact that you can’t decide which square is in front, and which square is in back shows that direct realism doesn’t exist. Realism is an illusion.” These are heavy questions and Jenn admits she’s fascinated by quantum mechanics and quantum physics.

After her two weeks in residence, Jenn returned to Washington with her creative purpose reenergized, and a new project to pursue. “I was hoping to use the time at VCCA as a frenzy of creativity that would give birth to a long-term project, which actually happened perfectly. I had a few private goals, I wanted to make something big, something colorful, and I wanted to cut the paper into a shape that wasn't a rectangle or square. I also hoped I would make something outdoors, which ended up happening a little with the Necker cube project. The Necker cube pieces are really where I want to put my focus for future work. I am really excited about the photographs I took out in the property and the cubes I cut out and I'm having all kinds of new ideas for videos and photographs based on that.” 


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