Jennifer Steinkamp Title Image Sketchbook page


This month there’s an exhibit at the Fine Arts Center (FAC) that I’m excited to see. Don’t worry, you’ll see a blog post on it as soon as I visit. But that exhibit had me looking through old FAC archives for ideas and I came across the work of Jennifer Steinkamp.

Judy Crook in Colorado Springs

I last saw Steinkamp’s work in October. Her work was displayed in a dim room, the kind that you hesitate before entering in an art museum. Approaching the dark entryway, you see flashes of light here and there that your mind processes as video. Still, you peer inside before entering, and then move into the room slowly. There’s something about Steinkamp’s work that makes you want to move slowly.

This piece, titled Judy Crook, is a three-screen projection. There’s a massive digital tree displayed on each wall, to your right, front, and left. But I’d be remiss not to mention that my attention next goes straight to the beanbags. There are beanbags on the floor. People stand in various states of stillness around the room; only two teens speaking in hushed chatters, faces lit by the glow of their phone screens, are using the beanbags. But I know what I want.

Confidently and comfortably, I sink into a bean bag in front of the teens – no distractions – and settle in for the ride. Like many installation projections, your attention is torn. You watch one image move but out of the corner of your eye there’s another that seems to be doing something interesting too. Most viewers in the room seem to have come to a rhythm, or at least I have. Watch one tree for a while, switch to the next, then dart back to the first when a sudden change in color hits the screen. It feels indulgent, switching views as I please, but art is made for the viewer.

The trees are obviously digitally animated. That is to say, they look fake. A little bit cheesy even, like early animation but not that bad. I call a bluff on all the reviewers who describe these threes as elegant. There’s something strange about them. I think of the deleted scenes of an animated movie, the ones that they never ended up refining for the final movie. These trees are raw.

But their movements are mesmerizing. These trees are so obviously fake, are just over the line, but they move like real trees. Or at least in a way that we could see trees as moving. They’re like an artificial time-lapsed video: the branches twist in what you imagine to be wind, leaves bud, grow, change into brilliant colors and fall, landing in a heap on the floor.

It was a good time.

Jennifer Steinkamp Judy Cook
Jennifer Steinkamp. Judy Cook. Video Installation. 2012-2017. Website accessed Feb 5, 2018.

I didn’t take any photos of the work to share, but I can do you one better. Visit Jennifer Steinkamp’s website above or here, click on one of the tree images, and enjoy videos of Judy Crook. And then imagine being in a room surrounded by three of those trees projected at 8 to 20 feet tall.

Marie Curie in Busan

It wasn’t until I went back to look at Steinkamp’s work on the FAC website that I suddenly found her name familiar. It turns out I’d seen one of her pieces while living in Busan, South Korea! Unlike the Judy Crook trees, which I found to be an interesting and peaceful experience, I LOVED the Steinkamp piece I saw in Korea. It was called Marie Curie.

I frequently the Busan Museum of Art (BMA) while in Korea, for the art of course, and also because shockingly, admission was free. That didn’t seem to be a big appeal for the general population though, because most of the time the BMA was pretty empty. The day I saw Jennifer Steinkamp’s work was no exception.

At the end of one long gallery was an enclosed section with that same dark entryway. No one else was around, so I didn’t know what to expect when I rounded the corner. What greeted me was a room covered with projections of branches. Think Judy Crook but a close-up of only the branches. The images looked still for a moment, but then I realized they were constantly moving, slow then fast then slow again, leaves and flowers swaying in a common rhythm. These walls were covered from top to bottom. Each wall was a bit different – fewer flowers here, differently shaped leaves there – but the room was a unified whole.

You enter the room and become tiny. Massive branches dance across the walls, swaying, sprouting flowers, and waving leaves. They are fake, sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Their movement is infectious. You can’t help but feel swayed too.

I walked around the room slowly, then quickly, and then may have done a few twirls. The leaves and flowers were playful; something about being among them feels like running across an open field with wild cosmos and sunflowers and pretty weeds that have grown too tall.

Visit Steinkamp’s site to view Madame Curie stills and video clips for yourself, but I’ll warn you, they capture very little of the full experience.

Jennifer Steinkamp Marie Curie
Jennifer Steinkamp. Marie Curie. Video Projection. 2011. Website accessed Feb 5, 2018.

Apparently, this is what I thought of it in 2015:

Jennifer Steinkamp Marie Curie Sketchbook sketch
Sketchbook page