Inspired by artists who used photography and video such as Louise Lawler, Barbara Kruger, and Joan Jonas, the 2017-2018 Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Fellow, Jennifer Bornstein, began creating photographs and 16 mm films in the 1990s as components of large-scale installations that examined issues of identity, gender, and social encounters. In 2003 Bornstein turned to the technique of copperplate etching, a serial method of image-making with centuries of rich history. Bornstein saw printmaking as a precursor to photography in visually recording and transmitting information—current events, scientific advances, and artistic achievements—to a mass audience.
In Currents 115 Bornstein will present new works in video and print, as well as large-scale architectural relief prints that have never before been exhibited, taking multiple histories of the women’s movement as a point of departure. The works on view present a nuanced examination of the many—sometimes conflicting—systems of thought historically placed under overarching notions of “feminism” or the “women’s movement.” She is also interested in the ways that female artists in the 1970s and 1980s used serial art forms, such as photography and video, as media for feminist and political art.
In 2014 to 2015, Bornstein spent the academic year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. During this fellowship Bornstein conducted research focusing on materials from the 1970s women’s movement at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, focusing on the somewhat-overlooked collection of ephemera: posters, flyers, advertisements, brochures, and newspaper clippings. Bornstein created photogravures sourced from these scraps, the detritus of the women’s movement. The photogravures are installed alongside a new group of etchings and photographs that present people, ideas, events, and places from her life. Shown together in the exhibition, the group of prints represents aspects of the artist’s life over the past three years—architectural spaces she spent time in, people she encountered, her students, and materials from archives.
Installed on another wall of the gallery, Blue Room is a 1:1 scale print made from the surfaces of a single room in a 1950s terrace house in the Holland Park neighborhood of London. Owned by a woman who died in 2010, the house had since fallen into disrepair, and the new owners invited Bornstein to create a work in the space prior to its slated demolition. Before the printing process began, Bornstein hired a contractor to make cuts in the structure of the house, removing chunks of the walls, floor, cabinets, and stairway. She then worked with a team of printmakers and students to print the sections where the cuts had taken place. The prints present the result of an unpredictable process that required intricate collaboration.
In a small alcove adjacent to the gallery, a video work completes the installation, building on the depth of Bornstein’s video practice. In the video, Bornstein weaves together fragments of language taken from the ephemera gathered in the Schlesinger Library archive, advertisements in feminist magazines, and letters to the editor from discarded 1970s newspapers. The video combines these shards of language with a script that draws on various strains of feminist theory. In content, the video aims to be simultaneously autobiographical and analytical, essentialist and conceptual; its language purposely conflates 1970s grassroots feminism with 1980s and 1990s theoretical and intersectional feminism—conflicting strains of a single political movement that are somewhat at odds. These pieces of language are arranged in a score that does not necessarily point towards a single, definite meaning.
Together, the works in the exhibition examine recent histories of technological image-making and distribution in various forms; the centuries-old human compulsion to produce and consume images as a constant force in society; and the intersections and histories of politics as manifested in political movements, specifically the women’s movement.
Bornstein has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. She is the recipient of the 2017-2018 Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Fellowship, which includes a residency at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis and an exhibition in the Currents series, the Museum’s long-running program showcasing contemporary art.
Currents 115: Jennifer Bornstein is curated by Hannah Klemm, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art with Molly Moog, research assistant, and Heather Hughes, senior research assistant and print study room manager. This presentation is generously supported by the Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Endowment Fund.
Image captions: 1) Photo by Dru Donovan; Courtesy of the artist; 2) Jennifer Bornstein, American, born 1970; Night Pool, 2018; etching; 8 x 10 inches; Courtesy of the artist; Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York; greengrassi, London; and the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, Columbia University, New York © Jennifer Bornstein; 3) Jennifer Bornstein, American, born 1970; Blue Room, 2014 (detail); oil-based printing ink on linen; six panels, each: 66 × 43 inches, total dimensions: 126 x 117 inches; Photo courtesy of the artist © Jennifer Bornstein; 4) Jennifer Bornstein, American, born 1970; printed at LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies; Mattson Academy of Karate, 2017; photogravure with chine collé; 1 7/16 x 2 5/8 inches; Photo courtesy of the artist © Jennifer Bornstein