On a small TV screen in the window of the Bed-Stuy gallery American Medium, E. Jane kisses and folds successive pieces of paper into small squares before drawing a heart on each one. This forty-minute video, saved.mp4 (2016), documents the making of Saved (2016), which can be seen inside the gallery. A stack of printouts reveals that the images E. Jane caresses are large stills from 1990s music videos.
Across the purple-lit gallery walls, stars, including Brandy, TLC, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Aaliyah, populate six large, silk-printed collages. The effect is something between teen shrine reverence and digital cathedral. This pantheon of “Black ’90s divas” assembles and reassembles itself; many of the images are stills from video-recorded performances. The titles of the works point to their tonic effects: Loves Herself, Regardless (2016–17), Periodically, for Health (2016–17). In three videos that play on the gallery floor, E. Jane performs R&B hits, including Kelis’s Caught Out There, new vocals overriding the originals.
E. Jane describes their first NY solo show as a “love-based project,” and “love” is among the production materials in each of the digital collages. The show “Lavendra” might be considered an exercise in cherishing black women performers and honoring black emotion. In popular culture, black women’s performance styles are frequently the means by which nonblack people access and express emotion. By positioning the avatar’s back to the audience, turning toward the mirror, folding the printed images inward, singing with little regard for pleasantness of sound, “Lavendra” draws a line around its vulnerability. The work does not function as an even surface for others’ projection or reflection; its visible cuts and edits, pixelation and glitches, are the conditions of this intimate space where black women can lavish themselves with love. Showing the strain of its creation is part of the point.
by Derica Shields