by Molly Walsh
Getting Random: Selected Works by Jennifer West includes physical and digitized artwork that spans almost two decades of West’s artistic career, from 2005 to 2023. This includes recordings of live performance pieces, film enlargements, digitized films and a catalog of zines created by West.
The work of artist Jennifer West, a graduate of The Evergreen State College, class of 1990, often extends beyond the bounds of genre, combining elements of fine art, performance and media. Throughout West’s esteemed career, her work has shown in galleries across the continents, including commissions, presentations or exhibitions for the Seattle Art Museum, Pompidou Center in Paris, Times Square Arts in New York, Yuz Museum in Shanghai, Tramway in Glasgow and more. West resides in Los Angeles and is currently an associate professor of the practice of fine arts at USC’s Roski School of Art and Design.
West’s work is often referred to as “analogital,” a cross between analog and digital. West carves out a sort of liminal space in her artwork, where she utilizes elements of both the analog and the digital to form a new hybrid medium.
Devon Damonte, an adjunct faculty member in experimental animation at Evergreen and a staff member at Photoland, helped curate Getting Random alongside West. Damonte said putting together this exhibition was a collaborative effort as West selected many of the show’s pieces, while Damonte decided how those pieces could be displayed within the layout of Gallery Photoland.
“I wanted to get a taste for everything, because she has so many different bodies of work that relate so well to each other and I felt the students would relate to, too,” said Damonte.
And although the exhibition title includes the word “random,” Damonte said common themes, techniques and figures begin to emerge and weave throughout the pieces on display.
“I’m almost guaranteeing you, your mind will be blown in at least one way or another, if not ten different ways,” said Damonte. “Because she’s such a rigorous artist and dealing on so many different levels that she pushes the limits of, and really develops each of the projects. So you might glance and think…it’s kind of like this, but as you look at it more closely…you realize the depth and the amount of research and rigor that’s gone into her process.”
For over a decade, Damonte has been teaching a summer intensive course at Evergreen in cameraless animation, including experimental works and practice with creating directly on film. Over time, Damonte said he became more familiar with West’s work, as the concepts that Damonte teaches in class can have crossover with the type of artwork West creates.
Damonte soon began teaching West’s work to students each year during the summer intensive courses. Damonte said students have had a positive response to West’s work, especially since the pieces shown in class help to bridge the gap between classroom concepts and the potential for practices like cameraless animation in the realm of fine art.
“My students always really responded to her work because it takes it beyond just my obsession with camera-less experimental animation and brings it into the higher art world,” said Damonte. “And also, into a relevance of community practice and working as a group and relating the work to cultural significance.”
Damonte eventually learned that West was a fellow Evergreen alum and they began a correspondence. In 2020, West even conducted a virtual guest lecture for one of Damonte’s cameraless animation courses and they have continued to stay in contact. In the intervening time, Damonte has also become a part of the Photoland staff andwhen an opening appeared on the Gallery Photoland schedule, Damonte was determined to enlist West for an exhibition of her work. West then agreed to the project.
Gallery Photoland isn’t an art gallery in a traditional sense. The gallery layout consists of a collection of walls that bridge the doors of Photoland, the base for Evergreen’s instructional photography department, with a corridor that leads to classrooms and labs used for media production. Damonte said many students pass by Gallery Photoland to and from classes, especially students studying subjects like media production and photography.
For Damonte, this exhibition came down to perfect timing in many ways, because a slot opened in the gallery schedule, because the timeliness of West’s work in the current art and media landscape and because Photoland recently purchased four new monitors that can help display digitized art in the gallery, an ideal venue for much of West’s work.
“We’re really trying to excite that sense of wonder and to engage on whatever level, whether you’re just passing by, or you’re making a special trip out there,” said Damonte.
Each of the four monitors at Gallery Photoland covers a different time period or subset of West’s work over the past 18 years. The first monitor showcases different “marinated films” from West’s repertoire, a series of pieces where West would soak film in different substances, usually within a certain theme, to achieve a desired effect on the film. Damonte said in the case of “Nirvana Alchemy Film,” Nirvana song lyrics were used as inspiration.
The second monitor includes an assortment of projects, including “Salt Crystals Spiral Jetty Dead Sea Five Year Film” that West created at the site of Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” at the Great Salt Lake.
Another part of the display is the piece “One Mile Film” created at the High Line, a park in New York City. To create this piece, West spread out a mile’s length of film reel footage of the area and encouraged the public to write messages with markers directly on the film.
The third monitor includes performances from “Flashlight Filmstrip Projections.” The fourth plays the feature-length “Film Title Poem
“It’s not so much about any specific work or any kind of rarefied experience,” said Damonte. “But it’s more about opening your mind to the combination of elements and what that synthesis, what new forms that makes and what that excites in your own mind. And encouraging you to make your own work related to it or think in a new way about film.”
Photos courtesy of Devon Damonte, Photoland staff at The Evergreen State College.
Getting Random: Selected Works by Jennifer West
Through December 15
Gallery Photoland, First Floor of Evans Hall
The Evergreen State College
2737 McCann Plaza Dr NW, Olympia, WA 98502