This post is the third in a series focused on MFA students and their research
For first-year MFA student George Jenne, films are not just for watching – they are landscapes in which to explore new ideas: “In terms of working out ideas and getting synapses firing, I do drawings from film stills. I have this digital library of images taken from the Internet – a lot of them are campy or B movies, but drawing them is a way to pull back and work through an idea – to meander for a while and find a focus point.”
Prior to starting at UNC-Chapel Hill this fall, Jenne spent ten years doing commercial prop and set work alongside his own art, basing his operations out of a studio in Brooklyn, New York. During that time he learned how to work with a variety of materials and tools, including wood, metals, plastics, and textiles. Since starting the MFA program, he has been challenged to simplify his approach to art-making. “I’ve been shedding some technical stuff, paring down. For instance, I just did a piece for which I shot a bunch of video of existing objects but decided that I couldn’t make any sculptural elements. It became more of a collected assemblage.”
Jenne’s work deals with memory, mortality, fetish, and – he reports with a glint in his eye – “notions of fakery.” In Don’t Look Now, a 2010 exhibition in Washington DC, he revisited films that had affected him as a child, deliberately misinterpreting works like Treasure Island and Dawn of the Dead to create an eerily beautiful collection of sculptures and two-dimensional works. Of the films themselves, he noted “they’re films that feel like they were made in a vacuum; the ambient quality is super quiet.”
The installation dealt with the monstrous in a way that suggested an “abject nostalgia” for pre-adolescent ways of seeing. In a room adjacent to the main gallery he screened clips from the films themselves, revealing to viewers the reference points from which he had spun his imagery. The screening served as an archival accompaniment to the work, bringing the artist’s research process to life.
With regard to his research process, Jenne has a longer history with UNC libraries than most graduate students. His dad was an Urban Planning professor at Chapel Hill, so when George was growing up he spent afternoons and vacations with full run of Davis Library. When he moved back to the area from New York he resumed a weekly study routine, this time at the Sloane Art Library.
There are still corners of the larger collection he’d like to get to, including the Stetson Kennedy files, which are held at Wilson Library. Kennedy was an author, folklorist, and activist known for his undercover infiltration work to expose Klu Klux Klan groups in the 1940s and 50s.
Jenne’s use of the library includes fiction as well as exhibition catalogs and artists’ writings. Currently he’s reading Mark Rothko’s Writings on Art and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Breakfast of Champions He has also been looking at Sterling Ruby and Jack Goldstein.
What would he check out from a fantastical library in which anything was possible? Probably a submarine. Or maybe some kind of space pod.
– Madeline Veitch