Barbara Jeanne Jenkins’ studio is a clean and simple space with large photographs on the wall and a few embroideries. She mainly works in video and performance, mostly together but sometimes individually. The photographs on the wall, which are all of herself, are ‘sketches’ or ‘stills’ of what her videos will look like. Barbara uses relationship experiences as the inspiration and subject for her work. Before video became her primary medium, she worked on embroideries, needle felting and made other tactile objects. The visit started by discussing Barbara’s transition from fiber work and object making to video and performance. Barbara’s venture into video began with an experiment, a video recording of herself needle felting and pricking her hands. The video was a painful yet lighthearted performance of self-inflicting pain. Through this video, she accomplished to create an experience of intimacy and absurdity, which is the essence of her work.
Next we talked about a couple of videos that not only further developed Barbara’s concept but also started to explore ideas of the body. In Monumental Failure, Barbara wears men’s briefs and an undershirt while doing push-ups with a cucumber in her briefs. The video contains footage of her multiple attempts and failures to do push-ups without stopping. The other video is of Barbara in a vintage slip struggling underneath a large mattress. She first agitates the mattress to fall directly on top of her, and then throughout the video she positions herself underneath the mattress in several positions. In both videos, she imposes these physical conflicts with herself, which begin to represent mental exertion. The videos have a comedic quality that relates the intimate, absurd and sincere essence of what Barbara is trying to communicate. These videos, in my opinion, are the beginning of the viewer’s relationship with Barbara and her work. No longer outsiders.
Barbara uses her wardrobe choices, specifically the slip, to reference domesticity and suggest nudity. The vintage slip becomes an important symbol and theme in her videos since they associate with a specific time period that lends itself to contemplating the role of women today. We continued to discuss a series of videos, two of which were featured on this blog earlier (click here). With the two videos on the blog post, Barbara directs the conversation at the viewer by staring straight at them and creating intimacy with them. The first video is a clear dialogue with the viewer, but the second video combines exaggeration, silent singing and the idea of giving a performance. Her videos expand from originally allowing the audience to watch her completing a task, as in the videos above, to her performing for them. Her use of vocals and singing, or the implication of them, is an idea she began exploring and making works about prior to these pieces. Singing in her work becomes an action of sincerity, romance, and futility but also refers back to humor, through her song choice or the type of performance she gives, each always being different.
Humor in Barbara’s work is a coping mechanism more than anything else. The lightheartedness she takes on herself, her struggles and the relationships she draws from are relatable. We are laughing at ourselves more so when viewing her work. Also, she makes herself vulnerable for us and permits us to do the same. The darker and more serious undertones of the work are broken down by this humor, allowing the viewer to understand the deeper implications.
One aspect about the work I have yet to discuss is Barbara herself. She is the subject of her pieces, literally and conceptually. Naturally, the idea of narcissism came up, something she is aware of, which she but sincerely defines as self-love. She told me that all she truly knows is her relationship to the world and this is what she makes work about. I find this fascinating and I think it adds an even more over-the-top quality and honesty to her videos. Currently, Barbara is working on multiple videos to be showcased as a ‘musical’ (preview can be seen below), truly creating an experimental narrative of all of the concepts discussed above and more.