A Body In/At/Of Work: Jenny Garnett

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Jenny Garnett is a third-year media student gearing up for thesis. Her work involving the body–namely, her own–has been a constant during her time in the department, even as Garnett herself has grown and changed. The end of fall semester warrants a period of reflection, and I found Garnett eager to speak about her first-year memories, her upcoming thesis project, and everything in between. All with a signature wry sense of humor.

You just finished being a Graduate Assistant for an InterArts class. Which one did you work this semester?  

I worked with Jenny Magnus for Media Performance. It is the first performance class of the program where incoming students learn how to put media and live performance together. The media can be photographs, video, sound…it’s really up to them. This may be the first time performing for some students. The class definitely pushes them out of their comfort zone.

Have performance classes affected your work while in InterArts? What was your practice before coming here?

I never performed before coming into Media Performance for my first year. I did everything I could to avoid it for as long as possible. Performance makes me nervous and uncomfortable. I never want to do it, but I feel compelled to do it.

That is surprising, considering that you have taken almost all of the InterArts performance classes…

When I was younger, my early drawing classes centered around the body, and usually my own. Coming from figurative drawing and painting, the natural extension would be to use my own body in performance. It makes sense to me. I also believe in taking advantage of what is around me. If there are a lot of performance classes available and performance is an area I should work on, I will work with instructors and classmates while I have the opportunity.

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Media Performance seemed to be the gateway course. Still, you waited until the end of that semester to be in front of the camera.

It’s hard, because I did not want to be seen as narcissistic or vain. So, I just made myself look as bad as possible to get over that [laughs]. It is the performance rite of passage. I thought, ‘If I can do the worst thing I can think of in front of a camera and survive it, I would be all right’. For me, it was exercising. After I did it though, I was free to do all sorts of new things.

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Which leads to your thesis. What are you doing for the exhibit in April?

I am doing performance in the gallery that uses exercise as a movement vocabulary. So, I will be exercising in front of people this time! I have written custom software that tracks body positions—the arms, legs, hips—in order to project a real time, life size trace of my movements. Those traces accumulate during the performance and create a drawing. It is also a record of my body’s repeated gestures.

The piece is called On My Mark. Naturally [laughs].

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Body of Work and Lines of Inquiry are foundational ideas in the InterArts department. Do you think your work has evolved into a certain body?

I do. The exercise video sparked an interest in me. It was a certain kind of movement with my body that I started experimenting with in more work. I have been chasing those movements in most of what I make now. Thesis included.

There is other work I am making that seems tangential. I could argue that they fit into this body of work now, but I really need the time to distance myself from it to really know. Work falls into shades of gray sometimes. I do have other interests than my body of work, and at times I have to cut those pieces out…or trim them down…to keep my focus in one line of inquiry.

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Hindsight plays a large part too.

Definitely. There are connections that I have made with work I did ten years ago that I never would have thought of in the moment of making that work then. I am sure that when I look back at this work ten years from now, I will see that even the tangents are more closely related than I thought. We need the time to be able to articulate what we make.

Being in InterArts was like throwing out a bunch of seeds. Some of them did not grow, some grew into seedlings, and some of the seedlings grew a little more. Making work is about hanging on to the ones that keep growing.

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