Jennifer Bornstein, an artist who works in diverse media and a 2014-2015 Radcliffe Institute Fellow, is a deliberate speaker. In a similar manner, her newest exhibit deliberately juxtaposes two works that are at first glance incredibly different. “Two Videos,” currently on display since Thursday at the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery of Byerly Hall, is a synergistic piece of art that uses seemingly distinct videos to express Bornstein’s artistry and development.
The exhibit places two clips, made 20 years apart, in juxtaposition, paying attention to the underlying thematic similarities of the seemingly unrelated films. The first video, “Collectors’ Favorites” from 1994, features Bornstein, but the second video, “Untitled” from 2014, does not. Nevertheless, the two pieces reflect a consistency in Bornstein’s pursuits. “It is very interesting to put these two works in a room together,” Bornstein says. “My interests haven’t changed in the past 20 years.” “Two Videos,” therefore, serves as both an examination of the evolution of her art and a display of ongoing themes she has considered throughout her career.
“Collectors’ Favorites” presents a young Bornstein, still in graduate school at UCLA, appearing on a public access television show that introduces collectors and their items of choice. In her episode, Bornstein displays a wide assortment of everyday objects, from an array of Starbucks cups and bags to a board of various coffee beans of different flavors. About 20 minutes long, the video is more of a statement on material culture than it is a simple television episode, according to Bornstein.
“It was at a time when I lived in LA; I was very struck by the culture of disposability that exists [there],” Bornstein says of the video. “Everywhere you go there’s plastic being thrown away: plastic take out containers, plastic bags. It seemed like material culture was being generated at a rapid pace and being disposed of…I was horrified by it, frankly.” In reaction to LA’s materialism, Bornstein decided to display all sorts of seemingly disposable objects in a new light—as valuable collectors’ items.
For Bornstein, there was no better place to pursue the project than on television. “I found myself being surrounded by the production of media…and I decided that the best way to talk about the culture that was surrounding me at the time was by joining it,” Bornstein says. “So I got myself invited on a TV show.” After the episode was filmed, Bornstein retained a copy of the show, saving it for 20 years until she recently decided to exhibit alongside “Untitled,” her newer work.
Upon first glance, “Untitled” is entirely different from “Collectors’ Favorites.” Inspired by an anthropological film called “Trance and Dance in Bali,” “Untitled” shows a group of nude women wrestling, prancing, and dancing on a dirt floor in front of a simple, white backdrop. The video is silent, focusing on the movements and interactions of the figures.
“Untitled” draws upon Bornstein’s long-standing fascination with anthropology. “I’m interested in people and communities of people, and much of the work that I made early on was involved with working with people,” Bornstein says. “I would never travel to a faraway land to do so—I would go down to the community center in my neighborhood or to the shopping mall… I think I was always doing my own kind of anthropology but without ever leaving home.”
So when she encountered “Trance and Dance in Bali,” a 16 mm ethnographic film about Balinese dance rituals made by two anthropologists in the 1930s, Bornstein was fascinated. “It’s an incredibly beautiful film…I think very highly of it, and was very curious about it as a cultural document.” She then began wondering how she could combine anthropological research with art. “I started to think about what it would mean if I used this cultural document as the starting point of an artwork,” she says.
She first mimicked the movements and staging of “Trance and Dance in Bali” in “Untitled.” There are a few striking differences between the two films, however, including the fact that Bornstein’s performers are female and nude. “[Another] reference point [for me in creating “Untitled”] is the history of performance art made by women in the 1970s, which often incorporated nudity,” Bornstein says. “I was curious about how women were using themselves in artworks as subject matter, and it was often a political statement. I started to wonder what it would mean to use nudity in artwork today, and if it would function as a political gesture.”
The two videos, one about materialism and the other about anthropology and feminism, seem dissimilar on the surface. But Bornstein maintains that there are underlying semblances between “Untitled” and “Collectors’ Favorites.” “[They share] an interest in performance or in contemporary terms, the performative in art, specifically…also in anthropology and material culture,” she says. According to her, both videos lend themselves to a discussion of general culture—one addresses consumerism, and the other examines the image of the female in society.
“Two Videos” is a conglomeration of both dissimilar and complementary pieces. Bornstein’s exhibition allows the viewer to see the evolution of a thoughtful artist—from a young woman prominently featured in her own piece to a woman less visible but just as involved in her work’s creation.
—Staff writer Anais M. Carell can be reached at email@example.com
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