Jen Durbin | 90 Moves in Nine Seconds (The Jackie Series 2001-2017)
Detail of “Double Damsels” - image courtesy of the artist
The first time I visited Jen’s studio was around six years ago. We had sat talking at a mutual friend’s bar, where she described a piece of work she had kept in development since college; the much adored Yale MFA program no less. Launch pad to artists such as Brice Marden, Matthew Barney and Wangechi Mutu, as well as her own classmates, Mickalene Thomas and Adam Helms.
Jen is the owner of The 1896 Studios & Stages in Bushwick. A dramatic space that she has run, worked and lived in since 2007. On walking into her personal studio, a happy, messy place amidst the carts and cranes wheeled in and dragged out by film and photo production crews shooting on any particular day, I was met by her lovely disarray. Bright, blonde hair twisted up so she could figure out how best to felt pink, pill box hats from cones of yarn. In retrospect, it was a privileged moment.
“Works On Paper” - image courtesy of the artist
Jen was born in Springfield, IL, 8 years after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. But even those of us born in other continents, perhaps decades later, have watched and studied that gruesome footage from the grassy knoll more times than could ever be recalled. Jen however, can replicate whatever number all of us could muster, thousands of times over still.
Over the span of sixteen years, she has scrupulously studied the famous 16mm footage shot by Abraham Zapruder that day. In particular, a nine second excerpt of his film shot at 18.3 frames per second, that in its content and familiarity have both shocked and numbed us into a sort of submission. It is among some of our earliest images of televised violence. Yet it is resuscitated here through a new observation of it.
The masculinity of the moment seems to fall away in Jen’s work: the police officers and security guards, the large, hot automobile, the extraordinary violence. Jen invites us to observe an otherwise ignored perspective. Where the film forced us to observe Jackie Kennedy’s motions as simply an informant on what was occurring to her husband, Jen encourages us to reckon with her shock; her maternal, feminine inclination. The possessed instinct to protect what she loves. Reflexes that we otherwise couldn’t observe with the naked eye. She is no longer the negative space busying around her husband’s descended body.
As if replacing light with mass and gravity, Jen’s small selections of Zapruder film frames are projected into large, monochrome, structural statements, made of greys, pinks and bare, untreated woods. They are moments between blinks of an eye. Frigid, in order of finally giving us a chance to take it all in.
“Stack” - image courtesy of the artist
I have visited the book depository in Dallas. The window where Lee Harvey Oswald sat for a perfect view. Intended or not, the space on Ingraham St with boxes tucked away in dark corners, is not a million miles away from that room. Perhaps the most dramatic piece, hovering over the space at the back, is a piece she titles, Stack. A tall structure almost meeting the ceiling, Jen describes it as “the single column of air” where Jackie scrambles backwards over the trunk as the car continues forwards. Her likeness is not canceled out, rather stretched out like a spring as a line of longitude resisting the ground. As you tip your head back to acknowledge each and every pill box hat committed to its unique frame, you sympathize with every twist of her neck. As if trying to capture Jack’s breath before it liberates itself from his body, Jackie herself defies Earth-bound physicalities and becomes weightless.
This is an extraordinary work. A major contribution from the future that remains loyal to its past.