Jennifer Cherniack

The organization of art
What do Friends and files, Jackson Pollock and posters have in common? Jennifer Cherniack's penchant for arranging things her way

Jennifer Cherniack l Photo: Christie Vuong Jennifer Cherniack l Photo: Christie Vuong

It's not dismissive to call artist Jennifer Cherniack organized. She's the first to state it. And she's happy to literally make organization an art form.

Take Working Files For Working Artists (2010), in which she demonstrates how artists can organize their hard-copy paperwork, including grant applications and contracts, in a pocket-sized filing system. The History of Art According to my Archives (2010) installation features a series of statements about Cherniack's experiences and thoughts about the art world. Earnest or cheeky? It's hard to tell.

"I'm an excellent administrator - I'm really organized," Cherniack says.  (The fact she whipped out a brightly coloured diagram to describe her educational and career path hints at the way she likes to repackage information.)

Cherniack cites her interest in and ability for information management as the culmination of the skills she'd acquired in performing a rainbow of jobs since beginning her bachelor of fine arts at the University of Western Ontario in 1999. The Winnipeg native worked in the university's art gallery, spent three months as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, and in Toronto, worked as an administrator at a hairdressing school, taught animation at the National Film Board of Canada and photography at community-based outreach centres, and organized educational programs and exhibitions at the InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre.

These days, she's looking at ways to tell new stories by dismantling existing ones. "I take a script or a text or a TV show - I take a narrative - and I use it as a database of information that I can pick from and reorganize," she explains.

A prime example is her master's thesis, The One With. Cherniack blended her fascination in databases and popular culture to explore how language evolved during the infancy of digital technology through the lens of the characters on the smash 1990s TV sitcom Friends. Specifically, she's intrigued by how the textual gaps and incongruities influenced contemporary vernacular.

For The One with All the Posters (2012), for example, Cherniack combed through all 256 episode scripts looking for specific instances of how the characters referenced the emerging technology. The resulting series of simple black-on-white all-text posters show how society learned and adapted to the new language of new forms of communication. (This is scheduled to be published by No Kings Press in multiple format in fall 2012.)

She scoured the scripts anew to look for gaps that would be impossible to gloss over in today's wired world - specifically, the producers' decision to start a new season on the same day on which it left the previous season. The problem was that one of the actors had been hospitalized for pancreatitis and lost 20 pounds in the interim. In The One with the Pancreatitis (2011), she created a video montage juxtaposing the two episodes in which the gap is clear .

Cherniack pauses, then says: "I told a professor, 'I'm pretty high-strung and neurotic and I just had to learn how to use it to my advantage.' And the prof replied, 'That is very insightful of you!'"

Beyond the script

Not that reorganizing and restructuring information is all Cherniack has been drawn to. Her work in animation was her ticket into Concordia's MFA Studio Arts program, concentrating in Open Media. She's led workshops and taught fine arts undergraduate courses; pedagogy is of particular interest to her. She recently finished a residency at Toronto-based New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA).

Much of Cherniack's visual work is based on text, but she also enjoys staging multimedia performances.  Her exhibition Performing Culture because not having one is boring (2011), for one example, has her exploring one-half of her cultural roots with TV sitcoms' iconic female Jewish characters, such as Rhoda, Fran Fine from The Nanny and Grace from Will and Grace.

Working Files for Working Artists (2010) image courtesy Jennifer Cherniack. Working Files for Working Artists (2010) image courtesy Jennifer Cherniack.

She attributes to her Jewish roots a love of storytelling and compunction to inject self-effacing humour. This is often revealed through her project titles - and subjects - of her projects: Suggested Topics of Conversations for Art Openings, Gallery Tours, and Other Art Related Events (2010) was a series of buttons for visitors to exhibitions, while I'm Sorry, Jackson (2011) was an installation of a 'confession' Cherniack gives for a lie she told about a Jackson Pollock painting that she claims changed the history of art.

This past summer, Cherniack had to concentrate on her own major narrative: she got married and moved to the U.S. to join her partner, who has a year left in his own MFA program. With her knack - no, love - for organizing things, we're sure she had it all under control. 

Story by Liz Crompton. Posted on September 17, 2012

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