Written by Brett Levine
Photo by Beau Gustafson
In performance art there is always an element of the unexpected, and for artist Jenny Fine, this is quite all right with her.
“Sometimes,” she says, “I feel like just saying to the audience, ‘Look, I don’t know what’s about to happen either, so let’s just relax, enjoy ourselves, and see what unfolds!’”
This open approach to creativity is at the core of Fine’s practice, a practice that meshes photography, film, performance, and sculpture into something that can be difficult to define. “I started out being interested in photography. However, photography speaks a very specific language,” she explains. “In a world that is inundated with photographs, my current practice is in pursuit of new (or hybrid) forms of making works that grasp at returning time and space back to the photograph. So I looked back at historical photographic forms and theatrical devices that informed our ideas about the passage of time.”
Fine began this journey first as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, then during graduate studies at Ohio State University, where she worked with renowned conceptual and installation artist Ann Hamilton. “I went to Ohio State specifically to expand my conceptual practice,” Fine says. “I stayed after graduation, working in Ann’s studio for five years.” When asked why she left Ohio, Fine explains, “I’d been living outside of the South for six years, at which point I had the revelation that I didn’t want to just pretend to be southern. I wanted to be southern.” This revelation led, in a roundabout way—and after a residency in Dresden, Germany—back to her father’s cotton field at midnight on New Year’s Eve. “My father grew cotton that year. And upon seeing the fields covered in white, I knew I wanted to use this material in my work,” Fine says. “That night, picking cotton in the middle of my father’s farm, I felt the earth calling ‘come home;’ so I did.”
What resulted were variations and manifestations of A Procession in My Mind, a project grounded in Fine’s images and memories of her grandmother, who had passed away years earlier but still remains an important character in the ongoing narrative of her work. One incarnation included a live performance that Fine edited into a film; she also transformed this installation into a parade float (another form of moving image) that traversed the same route her grandmother’s parade float took in 1968 when she was named Enterprise, Alabama’s Woman of the Year.
All of these projects reflect Fine’s journey as an image-maker. “I see photography, wet plate collodion, film work, installation, and performance as having varying perspectives on the same story. The art of it all,” she says, “is finding their nexus.” She does this through what she describes as an exploration of form, examining what various or combinations of forms mean and the language from which they speak.
Her work can be seen these days on her website, jennyfine.com. After recent projects, including an installation at Dothan’s Wiregrass Museum of Art, Fine has no exhibitions planned for the immediate future. Part of the challenge is simply the logistics of production; in addition to working with her family, she often works with volunteer performers from the exhibition-hosting community. “This way of working is exciting for me but also ever-changing; each performance seems to come with its own unique set of challenges,” she explains. “For A Procession In My Mind, the installation itself takes a week, so it is not something that can happen quickly or without planning. What is even more important is the ability to recoup expenses and pay the professionals that aid in making this performance possible.” Fine highlights one of the biggest obstacles that artists making temporal or ephemeral work face—simply the fact that their own viability as an artist (and human) relies on some other aspect of their practice.
“I take private commissions and I do edition my works,” she says. “I consider myself a photographer first, and everything I have done after has been grounded in an aspect of that practice.”
So if you want to engage with Jenny Fine’s complex histories; her intriguing memories; her humorous tales; her fascinating stories of the South, described, variously, as Southern Gothic or fantastic, then simply visit her website or seek out her performances. There, you may meet her grandmother; see the peanut queen or some other belle of a parade; share a memory while walking through a cotton field; recall your never-before-seen self in a wet plate collodion photograph; or just wonder what it means to construct a self in an ever-changing world of images. Whatever the case, it will truly be an experience—or, rather, a production in your mind.•