A pioneer in the field of 3D animation, Jennifer Steinkamp works exclusively in digital media, using computer technology to render organic and abstract forms in motion. These immersive installations are projected at a large scale and in response to the architectural interiors in which they appear, altering the viewer’s experience of space and time.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Steinkamp’s Impeach (2019). Previously exhibited as a printed billboard in “Jam, The Billboard Creative,” a public art project organized by Mona Kuhn and Alex Prager in Los Angeles in 2017, Impeach here bursts to life as a digital animation for the first time. A mash-up of stage diving fruit, especially peaches, plunging themselves against an invisible wall, the work hints at the possibility of a new spring for America should the titular political and legal process be set in motion, as well as the destruction left in the wake.
Also featured in the exhibition is Blind Eye 3 (2018). One of a suite of animations inspired by the landscape that surrounds the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts—the site of a major exhibition of Steinkamp’s work in 2018—this panoramic projection depicts a monocular frontal view of a dense forest of birch trees. The title references what it like to see with an eye closed and the characteristic ocular scars that are left behind when branches fall from a tree, somewhat resembling an uncanny gaze. As the trees sway—sometimes quite violently, sometimes in concert—their leaves fall, revealing an implied sense of depth. But this process unfolds, as is the case in all Steinkamp’s works, without beginning or end; while the allusion to the changing seasons is clear, Blind Eye exists outside linear narrative, in a continuous moment.
Beyond its natural imagery, Blind Eye is also, in its nod to famous precedents in the paintings of Gustav Klimt and Vincent Van Gogh, emblematic of Steinkamp’s consistent application of art-historical reference. The other works in the exhibition reveal comparable influences; in Womb (2018) for example, the artist establishes a connection with Dutch Golden Age still life painting. Womb is an interactive VR installation that allows the viewer-participant to manipulate (and collide) projected 3-D fruit by using a handheld controller. The work’s title alludes to fruit as a plant’s defacto ovaries, extending Steinkamp’s longstanding interest in the female oriented function of seeds, spores, weeds, and, more broadly, the blossoming of complex and far-reaching ideas from the most outwardly simple origins.
A third work, Retinal (2018) was made in direct response to architect Steven J. Holl’s design for an addition to the Bloch Building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (it was featured in “Open Spaces,” an exhibition curated for the museum and surrounding Swope Park by Dan Cameron in 2018). Discovering that Holl refers to the structure’s windows as “lenses,” Steinkamp produced an eye-like animation that hints at the translucent, refractive appearance of optical veins. The work’s drifting clusters of green, pink, and purple forms have the slick look and acidic coloration of candy, while the amorphous shapes and busy, all-over composition forge links to biomorphic and expressionist abstraction.
In gathering significant works originally created in the context of major exhibitions, Impeach offers a valuable reminder of the breadth and ambition of Steinkamp’s practice, and of the important historical position she holds as one of the first artists to experiment with constructing imagery—including color, texture, and movement—by wholly digital means. By simulating natural movement in cycles that are at once familiar seeming and entirely unique, Steinkamp conjures the uncanny impression of artificial life. To this existing element of internal contradiction, the present exhibition’s title adds an allusion to current social and political tension—and the hope of eradicating the corruption.
Jennifer Steinkamp (b. 1958, Denver, CO; lives and works in Los Angeles) received her BFA and MFA from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 1989 and 1991 respectively, and also received an honorary PhD in 2011. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA (2018); Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, CO (2017); Portland Art Museum, OR (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2011 and 2016); McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX (2016 and 2018); Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas (2012, 2014, and 2018); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, MO (2013); the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE (2013); Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Spain (2009); Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY (2008); and San Jose Museum of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, traveled to the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, MO and Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY (2006). Select group exhibitions and biennials featuring her work include Virtual Views: Digital Art from the Thoma Foundation, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN (2017); Nature Morte: contemporary artists reinvigorate the still-life tradition, Bohusläns Museum, Uddevalla, Sweden (2016); Momentum: An Experiment in the Unexpected, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (2014); Turning Inside Out: Video Art by Nam June Paik, Joan Jonas, and Jennifer Steinkamp, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE (2012); Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image, Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (2011); The Artist’s Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2010); and California Video, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2008). Steinkamp has participated in multiple biennials, including the 11th Cairo International Biennial (2008) and the 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003). Her work can be found in numerous public and private collections internationally, including the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; The National Gallery, Washington, DC; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Istanbul Museum, Turkey; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX.