Arizona ArtBeat: Janine Antoni

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She expresses herself through performance and sculpture. New York artist Janine Antoni discussed her art with Ted Simons while she was in town to deliver the Elaine Horwitch Lecture on Contemporary Art and Visual Culture at Arizona State University.

Ted Simons: Today's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at an artist from New York whose work has been exhibited throughout the world. Janine Antoni expresses herself through performance and sculpture. She was at ASU this week to deliver a lecture on contemporary art and visual culture. I spoke to Antoni about her unique take on artistic expression. Thanks for joining us on "Horizon."

Janine Antoni: It's great to be here.

Ted Simons: Combine -- it looks like you're combining performance, art and sculpture. Am I reading that right?

Janine Antoni: You could say that. The art world term would be that I would make performative objects.
Ted Simons: Interesting.
Janine Antoni: So, it's about an object that makes you think of its making.

Ted Simons: Explain.

Janine Antoni: When you look at the object, you think, how did she make this? And in your mind you recreate the object.

Ted Simons: But you make some of these objects using your body. You, literally make some of these objects. Correct?

Janine Antoni: Yes. With all kinds of parts of my body.

Ted Simons: Right. You use your teeth to chisel stuff, your hair as a paintbrush, how did you come up with this idea?

Janine Antoni: Well, I started wanting to work with materials that everybody knows. Whether it be soap, or chocolate, and then I thought, I want to do some kind of everyday activity. So instead of this rarified thing of chiseling a piece of marble, everybody eats, right? But I wanted to take this everyday activity and imitate some kind of sculptural process. So one thing led to another. And I thought, hmm. Mopping the floor, painting could be similar. If I'm going to mop the floor with my hair, what would be the material to mop with?
Ted Simons: Sure.
Janine Antoni: Hair dye, things went like that.
Ted Simons: Sure. So transforming literally everyday activity into art, but in a different fashion.
Janine Antoni: Right.

Ted Simons: How did you come up with this?

Janine Antoni: How did I come up with that?

Ted Simons: Was there an ah-ha moment where you were thinking of this and you went, oh, my goodness?

Janine Antoni: I guess there was an ah-ha moment, but how that came to me, the creative process is such a mystery.

Ted Simons: I want to ask more about the creative process. This is stuff that's different; it's a different form of expression. But no one just sits there and gets zapped by completely -- you live a life, you look at things, you think about -- do these ideas come to your head, your gut? How does it happen? Let's take a look at one of your pieces here. This is the lick and lather, the soap and chocolate you were referring to earlier. What is it and how did it come to you?

Janine Antoni: Well, I got the opportunity to show in Venice, and as you know there's classical sculpture everywhere. So I wanted to do something that would somehow relate to the sight. And I was thinking about tradition, the tradition of making a self-portrait. And so I thought, how can I make a contemporary self-portrait? And I thought, why do we even make a self-portrait? And I think that's because we want to immortalize ourselves, but of course I'm working with chocolate and soap, which are -- goes against the grain of that. So then I thought, hmm, are we more ourselves eating a meal, or taking a bath? Than we are presenting ourselves like we are right now to the world? I think so.
Ted Simons: Interesting
Janine Antoni: And I thought, I want to describe myself that way.

Ted Simons: When you have a finished product, when you see the two busts, when everything is done, is that what the mind or gut thought when the idea first --

Janine Antoni: Never.

Ted Simons: That never happens?

Janine Antoni: It's always a surprise.
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Janine Antoni: And that's I think the exciting thing about being an artist. I kind of follow my nose, and listen to the material, and have a relationship with the object. And then if I'm lucky I'm surprised by what comes out of the experience.

Ted Simons: Is it -- are you ever concerned? Does it ever seem disconcerting when it comes out?

Janine Antoni: The entire time.

Ted Simons: I see. It's always a surprise in some way.

Janine Antoni: Somehow I don't even believe I made this object.

Ted Simons: Let's look at another object you made. This involves, it looks like it's a body draped by something, and I'm going to guess because it's called ‘front light leather', it's draped in leather. Correct?
Janine Antoni: Umm hmm…
Ted Simons: Now what's behind this piece?

Janine Antoni: It's called saddle, in fact, which is made out of leather. What I did is cast myself on my hands and knees in fiberglas, and I made that in five parts. Then I got the hide from the cow sent to me straight off the cow, just with the hair removed and it came like a piece of raw meat. And I draped it over the mold of my body, and for 24 hours I could sculpt the folds. So I -- the entire thing shrinks and dries and hardens, and when it freezes in position, then I turned it over and took the figure out. So it's a really airy piece when you experience it because you feel the absence of me and the absence of the cow.

Ted Simons: And again, did this come to you by way of -- are you trying to get a message across, or are you just trying to express yourself?

Janine Antoni: Wow. Both.

Ted Simons: Both? OK.

Janine Antoni: The message is the expression.

Ted Simons: So is there always a message, though? Is it a message to me, a message to an audience?

Janine Antoni: Oh, I'm just thinking about you all the time when I making my work. So I really -- that's what generates how I make the object. Because I'm always thinking about the viewer and the fact that you have a body and you can relate to these experiences through your body. It's important to me.

Ted Simons: But you know some artists say, I don't care about the audience -- I don't care if they get ‘em or not---

Janine Antoni: I care so much.
Ted Simons: You are different, aren't you?
Janine Antoni: I fantasize about the viewer all the time.

Ted Simons: Let's see what you had in mind with this next piece. This is where you seem to be floating off of the ground wearing a house, it's called "inhabit." Am I correct about that?
Janine Antoni: Umm hmm…
Ted Simons: There's got to be a message in there.
Janine Antoni: Well, I'm a mother, and what's interesting about being a mother is that this unfolding of this little child in front of you is incredibly magical. And I had this idea that as a mother, I'm just the supportive structure for this incredible creation. And in fact that I -- it's probably better if I don't get too involved.
Ted Simons: Interesting
Janine Antoni: So I kind of had this image of a spider building a web between the branches of a tree. And I thought, I'm like the branches of the tree. I'm creating the secure structure for her to become the person she needs to be. So I started with the idea of, could I get a spider to build a web on my body? Of course naively I tried to pursue that by talking to spider experts and the whole thing. And I realized pretty quickly that's probably impossible. In the process of doing that, I came to the harness, because I knew I'd have to stay very still. And when I started to look into the harnesses, I found this particular harness that made me look like a spider in a web.

Ted Simons: And it worked out very well, didn't it?

Janine Antoni: Yeah, but then I to figure out how to keep the spider on my body. And then I thought, a web within a web, I could have a house within a house.
Ted Simons: Wow.
Janine Antoni: And that's where I came out with the doll house.

Ted Simons: And I was going to ask you, do you -- how much editing do you do? It sounds like that particular piece went through a process, but is there a lot of editing involved? You go one way, nope, gotta got other way.

Janine Antoni: I wish I could take you to my studio, because it's full of carcasses of ideas that didn't quite make it. So you just follow your nose and hopefully it reveals itself to you.

Ted Simons: Are you ever concerned that the method, your method will supersede the message, or become -- I know you say everything is kind of coalesced into one, but is there ever a concern, she's the one who does this, as opposed to, she's the one that makes me think about this or feel this?

Janine Antoni: If you think about this three works we just looked at, each one is entirely different in form than the other. And I think that prevents me from being the chocolate artist, you know. The one that wears the house as a dress. Because I keep changing my form, but hopefully the content, which is about the body and identity and being a woman, those are consistent.

Ted Simons: Last question, with that in mind, what do you want people to take from your art when they see you perform, when they see your sculptures? When they see this program, what do you want people to take from this?

Janine Antoni: I want them to arrive into their bodies.

Ted Simons: Meaning?

Janine Antoni: Meaning that we go around the world dealing with objects that we have no idea what they're made out of, how they're made and who made them. And I don't know about you, but for me that's a very alienating relationship. So I want to give you an object where you have the history on its surface. And that you relate to it through your own physicality.

Ted Simons: Very good. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Janine Antoni: Thank you.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Janine Antoni:Artist

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