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is now out, packed with contact information for galleries, museums, artists, curators, critics, and other professional arts services around the world.

Jennifer West
Sonia Campagnola

Jennifer West’s studio, Los Angeles, 2008.


I went to visit Jennifer West at her East LA studio on a rainy Sunday morning. The whole floor was covered with strips of 16 mm films, all laid down waiting to be processed…


Sonia Campagnola: Why do you have these films laid down here?

Jennifer West: This is a skinny-dipping film that I am doing called “The Malibu Skinny-Dipping on David Geffen’s Private Beach.” We went skinny dipping in front of David Geffen’s house in Malibu, on the beach, at night. David Geffen is trying to block people from going to the beach but technically it’s a public area. So, the trick is to get from the highway to the beach at access points between these billionaires’ private homes. Initially I wanted to do a film at the beach in Topanga because that’s actually where I grew up. I wanted to do a film about growing up in Topanga. My parents would take us on holiday to these nudist hot springs. I grew up in this free environment that when you hit puberty, it’s really uncomfortable.  So some of the nudist films come from this. When I heard about David Geffen’s fight to bar the public, I thought it was a perfect place to make the film and planned it around the full moon.

SC: Do you work with actors?

JW: I generally ask my friends to be in my films or, maybe, my students. Sometimes I have friends in the film just smoking. You just see flashes of people lighting up cigarettes. I light things with flashlights or candlelight or strobe lights… or moonlight. The films are almost a field of black with flashes of bodies coming in and out of light. I like this movement between abstraction and representation, and this is also why I’m interested in Sigmar Polke’s work.


Production still from "Naked Deep Creek Hot Springs Film," 2007


SC: When you start working on a new film, do you begin by defining a subject matter?

JW:Yes, my films always have to do with some sort of sensual experience, either taste, touch or smell. For example, I did some that were about the Comme de Garçon perfume and I would take the perfume notes literally – if it was nail polish, drip it with nail polish. And if it was moss I would take it to the L.A. River where there was moss and let it sit there for a few months. I try to evoke the sense of smell with film – something that film can’t actually convey.  It’s a really disjunctive thing where film goes through a performative process and it becomes the residual marks from that experience.

SC: What happens after you have developed the film?

JW: In this case, I sprayed the film with fried pickle juice, because we had cocktails and fried pickles at this place in Malibu just before filming the skinny dipping in order to let loose enough to go into the freezing ocean in the middle of January. I had to bribe my friends with that. Then I made Bloody Marys and used the celery stalks to paint the film with the mix.  Then I’ll go back and get some ashes from the Malibu fire because the name of the beach is Carbon Beach, so the ashes have carbon in it. Finally I’ll submerge it in the water.

SC: How long are your films?

JW: Most of them are 2 1/2 minutes; one roll of 16mm film. For some of the new ones I’m doing, I’m going from color to black-and-white. So I shoot two rolls. For example, I shot one at Jim Morrison’s grave, blowing it up to 16 and its going to go into a positive and then turn into a negative so the colors are in reverse. Now I’m doing 70mm too. I’m doing a lot more crazy stuff now because I’m getting bored and want to push the techniques and concepts further.

SC: Your films recall the experimental cinema aesthetic; the abstraction and flickering of images produced directly on the film with scratches, pigments, corrosions, and any kind of actions. Do you feel you are working with this legacy? Do you find inspiration in, for instance, Stan Brakhage’s films?

JW: With Brakhage, I don’t feel similar in concept, but definitely hold his films in high regard – you can’t deny them. I align myself more with Tony Conrad; he cooked and pickled films too. Mine are more comedic than Brakhage’s. They have a funny side that I’m taking to the extreme. Brakhage’s films are seriously poetic.

Production still from Organic Biodynamic  Natural Food Film, 2007
Production still  from Tar Pits  Film, 2006

SC: Did you study experimental film?

JW: I studied with Mike Kelly and Diana Thater at the Art Center in Pasadena. But I studied more structural film because that’s what I was interested in. I definitely feel closer to visual art than to experimental cinema.  I want my work to be seen in dialogue with other kinds of art and also in the history of experimental film and avant-garde film. I love Len Lye’s “Color Box” and the old films from the ‘30s onwards. I’m a big fan of Carolee Schneeman’s “Fuses.” I saw it again recently and remembered how much I love it.

SC: You recently did a Led Zeppelin film and a Nirvana film…

JW: I’ve done some films using sensual substances evoked in music. I took all the lyrics from Led Zeppelin songs. It started with the idea of dripping lemon juice all over it because of The Lemon Song that says, “when you squeeze my lemon, the juice runs down my leg.” I always thought it was really funny as a kid because my brothers were into Led Zeppelin, so I grew up with it but didn’t really know what it meant. So it started with that, but all the things in the Led Zeppelin songs are romantically sweet with wine, honey and custard pie. So I took all of those things and used them to treat the film.

SC: What about the Nirvana film?

JW:In Nirvana songs, it’s all about expelling things from your body, so you’ve got bleach and antacid and laxatives and pennyroyal tea. This film is going to be in a show about the influence of Nirvana at Seattle Art Museum in 2010.

Nirvana  Alchemy Film (16mm black & white film  soaked in lithium mineral hot 
springs, pennyroyal tea, doused in mud, sopped in  bleach, 
cherry antacid and laxatives - jumping by Finn West & Jwest), 2007 , TRT: 2:51

SC: So, what happens when it come to the installation of the work?

JW: I usually show more that one film at the same time. I place my films in an intimate environment at floor level. I always put the projector right into the space. I also use mirrored prisms. It sends a fragment of the film onto the wall so it appears that the film has "lost its corner." I don’t always do it though. Even though these were made on film in a very physical and very tactile way, for me it’s more interesting to show them on DVD. Nowadays when you go into a gallery or museum, you can’t deny the power of the film projector’s presence and the ra-ta-ta-ta-ta sound. I feel it’s pretty nostalgic to do it. My idea is to remove it one more time.

‘Viewfinder’, Henry  Art Gallery,  Seattle, 2007 Pictured: Double Fast Luck Film, 2006

SC: Each film goes through a long process and requires a lot of time to be worked. Generally, how long does it take to you to realize each film?

JW: In the last year, I’ve had to travel a lot. So I’ve had to spend more time doing that and less time making the actual work. I usually make my films in batches of say 10 films at a time, over a period of 6 months or so. This way I can let one decompose or rot for a period of weeks while I shoot or process others. In 2007, I made 10 films and in 2006, I made a lot, around 20 films I think.  It’s funny, now that I’ve been making these films for a while, I forget that when I go to Europe people really see me as a Californian artist and that my work has to do with the culture and sense of place here. I make my work in Hollywood; I go to Hollywood places where they give me all these films for free and tell me, “You’re one of the only people in the world making films like this.”  It’s very easy for me to make work here because everything is here that I need. I like that it’s a bit perverse and rebellious. I take in my film that’s been soaked in breast milk and urine and put it through these million dollar telecine machines. This route that I’ve taken is particular to my own city. And I like that.


A solo show of Jennifer West’s work will be held in September 2008 in London at Vilma Gold Gallery. With Vilma Gold, she is also preparing an “Art Statement” for the next Art Basel, Switzerland.

Other upcoming shows include: “Poster Show,” Studio Voltaire, London, curated by Sarah McCrory, March 2008; “Ten Day Potluck Dinner Group Show, “ GBE/Passerby, New York, curated by Jesse Willenbring, February 1 – 11, 2008; “Drawing on Film,” Drawing Center, New York, May – July 2008, curated by Joao Ribas.

Shows currently on:
“If Everybody Had an Ocean: Brian Wilson, an Art Exhibition,”
Musee d"Art Conteporain, Bordeaux, France, curated by Alex Farquharson, until March 16, 2008.

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