Aquatopia: Rolling in the deep with Grad Art alumna Jennifer West

"Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film" (2011) by Jennifer West. Super 8 print transferred to hi definition video with sound.

“Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film” (2011) by Jennifer West. Super 8 print transferred to hi definition video with sound.

With 90 percent of the earth’s oceans yet to be explored, “the deep” is and has always been a place of mystery, fear, desire—and wild imagination. One Art Center alum who’s creatively plumbed this furtive, fertile territory is Jennifer West ’04 (Graduate Fine Art). Her recent multimedia work, “Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film” (2011) is featured in Aquatopia: The Imaginary of the Ocean Deep, a major exhibition that opened this past weekend at the Nottingham Contemporary in Nottingham, England, continuing through September 22.

Bringing together more than 150 contemporary and historic artworks, Aquatopia explores how “the deep” has been imagined through time and across cultures. Sea monsters, sirens, sperm whales, giant squids, octopi, submarines, drowned sailors and shipwrecks are all portrayed. In a show that includes iconic works by JMW Turner, Odilon Redon, Hokusai, Barbara Hepworth and Oskar Kokoschka, West finds herself in prestigious company.

West is known for her digitized films that are made by hand-manipulating film celluloid, and the description of materials and processes she used to create “Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film” tells a story in itself: “Faded pink super 8 film print — library copy of select scenes from “Jaws” — from Lorain, Ohio public library — treated with black fabric dye enriched with heavy metals: iron and zinc vitamins, celluloid grated with stone, whipped with hair headbanging, impressed with thumb and pink prints devil ears. Super 8 print transferred to hi definition video with sound.” Total running time: 6 minutes, 47 seconds.

In reviewing a previous show of the artist’s work, Wendy Vogel noted on, “Like her experimental predecessors, West forgoes narrative cohesion in favor of creating jumpy cuts and abstract visual collages — splicing, rolling, and drenching the celluloid using materials from Mylar tape to pickle juice, whiskey to candle smoke.” Writing on West’s work in Frieze, Joanna Kleinberg observed how “the intermingling of materiality, feeling and identity creates a wild blend of synaesthetic experience wherein the substances of life literally and figuratively colour the film.”

Born in Topanga, Calif., West lives and works in Los Angeles. Before earning her MFA at Art Center, she received a BFA from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. She has had solo exhibitions in museums and galleries in Europe, Asia and the U.S., and has done commissioned projects for exhibitions at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, the Aspen Art Museum and the Tate Modern. West also creates “zines” — DIY photo booklets of production stills of the making of her films — in conjunction with her exhibitions.

Curated by Alex Farquharson, Aquatopia is a collaboration with Tate St Ives in Cornwall, where it will be on view from October 2013 to January 2014.

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