Q&A with Grad Art faculty member and alum Gabrielle Jennings on her new book, Abstract Video: The Moving Image in Contemporary Art

Cover image courtesy of University of California Press

Cover image courtesy of University of California Press

Gabrielle Jennings (MFA 94 Grad Art) is a multi-media artist and Associate Professor teaching in ArtCenter’s Graduate Art program. Most recently, Jennings has edited a collection of essays to be published by University of California Press: Abstract Video: The Moving Image in Contemporary Art (forthcoming Fall 2015). This groundbreaking volume includes a diverse set of essays centered around the question of abstraction in the moving image arts.

Jennings has been artist in residence at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin and 200 Gertrude Street Artist Spaces, Melbourne and has been honored with support from such organizations as the Art Matters Fellowship, Philip Morris Kunstforderung, and the Samsung Faculty Enrichment Grant. Among others, writers Harold Fricke, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, and Jan Tumlir have written about her work.

Jennings received a BFA from the University of California, San Diego.  There she had the opportunity to study with artists such as Eleanor Antin and Allan Kaprow.  She then studied with Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Patti Podesta, Mike Kelley, Stephen Prina, Lita Albuquerque and Sabina Ott in the Graduate Art program at ArtCenter.

With her book due to be released next month, Jennings answered a few questions about the broad spectrum of personal, professional and creative experiences informing her writing and video creative practice as well as her journey from student to faculty member in ArtCenter’s Graduate Art program.

Still image from Jennings' video: Moderately and Melodiously, HDvideo, 2014

Still image from Jennings’ video: Moderately and Melodiously, HDvideo, 2014


The Dotted Line: Where are you originally from? What city do you currently live in?

Gabrielle Jennings: I grew up in rural upstate NY and Venice Beach, CA. I currently live in LA.

TDL: Can you briefly describe your home life, upbringing or life experience as it was before attending Art Center?

GJ: My childhood was spent in a Gurdjieff community in upstate NY where gardening and crafts like batique, weaving, woodwork and ceramics were a central part of life. We moved in the mid 1970′s to Venice Beach, which was a very different place back then and a formative experience. There I attended one of the first magnet schools in Los Angeles, an “alternative school” where students had an equal voice in shaping the curriculum and called teachers by their first names. From there I attended UCSD where I learned from artists like Allan Kaprow, Eleanor Antin, David Antin, Patricia Patterson and Manny Farber.

TDL: What are your most reliable and/or unlikely sources of inspiration?

GJ: Fashion magazine advertisements and the writings of Marguerite Duras.

TDL: Tell me something interesting about you that people might find surprising.

GJ: Two of my college jobs were radio dj and clown!

TDL: What do you do with your downtime in Greater LA?

GJ: Having spent my adolescent years at the beach, I visit the ocean whenever I can but mostly downtime is spent with my family and our dog, traveling, cooking, reading, gardening.

TDL: What made you choose to attend Art Center?

GJ: My best friend’s father, Richard Hertz was the Chair of the Graduate Art program for many years and encouraged me to apply.

TDL: What was your background prior to Art Center? Did you earn a previous degree or have previous work experience?

GJ: I earned a BA in Fine Art from University of California, San Diego before attending Art Center.

TDL: What one (or two) lesson(s) did you learn at Art Center that have most benefited you as an artist?

GJ: Keep working even if you don’t get the exhibition opportunities or support you’d like and trust your gut; you’ll never please everyone.

TDL: What was the biggest creative challenge/breakthrough you faced while at Art Center?

GJ: As is common in the Grad Art program, I applied with paintings and came out making video. Under the guidance of Patti Podesta, I learned how to shoot and edit on 3/4″ video – the first video format readily available to artists. Analog editing influenced how I think about putting a piece together and informed my recent book.

TDL: Describe your most gratifying collaboration with a faculty member or another student.

GJ: While at Art Center I collaborated with a fellow student, Jessica Bronson on a video adaptation of a piece of Marguerite Duras’ writing. This was a terrific learning experience, forcing us to articulate what it was we were doing, challenging our technical skills and encouraging innovation.

TDL: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about attending Art Center?

GJ: Give yourself over to this unique program, live and breath it while you are here as it is a rarefied experience to have so much thoughtful input about your work, use your studio (this too is a luxury), form lasting bonds with your colleagues, collaborate, experiment, make tons of work.

TDL: Alumni often find themselves supporting the next generation of artists and designers by serving as “brand ambassadors,” hiring young alumni, offering internships, sponsoring projects, or donating money to scholarships, endowment and facilities improvements. Sometimes they simply stay connected with their local Alumni Chapter, attend events or enroll in the College’s Public Programs. How do you engage with Art Center now that you’re an alum?

GJ: Because I teach at Art Center, I am in the unique position of offering advice borne of direct experience with the program. I engage with Art Center everyday, hire recent alums to work on personal projects and keep in touch with many past students.

TDL: What is the name of your company or place of employment and what is your job title?

GJ: I teach in the Graduate Art program at Art Center and continue to have a studio practice.

TDL: In general, how would you describe your career or creative practice as it exists today?

GJ: My creative practice consists of video projects funded by grants; in between these productions I use fiction writing, drawing and paintings to explore the place where abstraction and narrative meet.

TDL: Can you describe one (or two) recent project(s) completed in the last 1-3 years that have been especially noteworthy?

GJ: The book I’ve recently edited is a collection of essays on abstraction in video art, an often overlooked topic, and I’m very grateful to all of the contributors who made the book possible and proud that University of California Press is the publisher. Another project is a three part multi-media installation titled Moderately and Melodiously. I’ve completed the first part – a film depicting the difficulties between a child and her piano teacher. The piece is an adaptation of the first part of Marguerite Duras’ story, Moderato Cantabile. A trailer is available on my website.

TDL: What have you been doing personally since you left Art Center?

GJ: Since I left Art Center I had the opportunity to participate in two International Artist Residencies, have continued to write and work in the studio on a regular basis and have taught at both Otis College and here at ArtCenter.

TDL: What has been your proudest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?

GJ: Proudest professional achievements are my recent film and the book Abstract Video, proudest personal achievements are having been with my partner Ethan Johnson for the past 23 years and our lovely daughter, Phoebe.

TDL: What do you think the role of an artist is in the 21st Century?

GJ: The role of the artist in the 21st century is one that is caught between the old and the new, between now cliche notions of what an artist is and can be and more expanded, indeed exploded notions of the relationships between aesthetics and culture.

TDL: Who are your biggest creative influences or mentors?

GJ: Marguerite Duras, Chantal Ackerman, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, John Baldessari, Diana Thater, Stan Douglas, Patti Podesta, Lita Albuquerque.

TDL:  Do you think it’s possible to create positive change in the world through your work? If so, how do you hope to do so?

GJ: I think it is possible to create positive change in the world through the choices one makes every day and this can extend to my work; however, in general, my practice isn’t concerned with changing the world in big, obvious ways, but rather in smaller, more nuanced ways that have to do with lived experience, memory and the narratives we hold dear.

For information on Abstract Video: The Moving Image in Contemporary Art see below. Or to pre-order, click here:

Offering historical and theoretical positions from a variety of art historians, artists, curators, and writers, this groundbreaking collection is the first substantive sourcebook on abstraction in moving-image media. With a particular focus on art since 2000, Abstract Video addresses a longer history of experimentation in video, net art, installation, new media, expanded cinema, visual music, and experimental film. Editor Gabrielle Jennings—a video artist herself—reveals as never before how works of abstract video are not merely, as the renowned curator Kirk Varnedoe once put it, “pictures of nothing,” but rather amorphous, ungovernable spaces that encourage contemplation and innovation. In explorations of the work of celebrated artists such as Jeremy Blake, Mona Hatoum, Pierre Huyghe, Ryoji Ikeda, Takeshi Murata, Diana Thater, and Jennifer West, alongside emerging artists, this volume presents fresh and vigorous perspectives on a burgeoning and ever-changing arena of contemporary art.




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