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Interview with Jenny Jaskey, Director of The Artists' Institute

Jenny Jaskey is Director and Curator of The Artist’s Institute, New York, where she has worked with artists including Pierre Huyghe, Carolee Schneemann, Lucy McKenzie, Haim Steinbach, and Fia Backström. She is co-editor with Christoph Cox and Suhail Malik of Realism Materialism Art (Sternberg, 2015) and editor in chief of the forthcoming Magazine of The Artist's Institute (Koenig Books, 2016)Her writing appears in Texte zur KunstcuraMousseModern Painters, and Metropolis M, and recent catalog writing includes essays on artists Nina Canell, Ian Cheng, and Haim Steinbach. Prior to running The Artist's Institute, Jaskey worked as an independent curator and with institutions including Kunsthalle Zürich, Rhizome at the New Museum, and Creative Time.

In January, The Artists' Institute will release the first issue of its new magazine, Pierre's, with content revolving around artist Pierre Huyghe. The publication continues in the spirit of The Artist’s Institute’s mission to provide a platform for a sustained, interdisciplinary conversation with contemporary artists. The magazine takes each season of the Institute’s exhibition program as a point of departure for new pieces of criticism, journalism, fiction, interviews, and artist projects, developed around a single artist’s practice. The first issue, named PIERRE'S, after the featured artist, includes commissioned texts on genetic engineering, object-oriented philosophy, and the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, alongside images by Pierre Huyghe, Etienne Chambaud, Camille Henrot and others.

Dorothée Charles (D.C.): The Artist's Institute will be moving to a townhouse near Hunter College at 65th street and Lexington Avenue from its original location on Eldridge Street, where it was founded in 2010. Can you tell us more about this transition?

Jenny Jaskey (J.J.): The Artist’s Institute is a non-profit research and exhibition space for contemporary art that dedicates six-month seasons to a single artist whose work prompts a series of public programs with leading contemporary artists and thinkers. We began as an experimental project of Hunter College in 2010 in a small storefront on the Lower East Side, and since that time, our program has become integral to art life in New York City with a growing audience of artists and art enthusiasts.

Our new space uptown will give us more room and better conditions for showing art, which are practical needs, but I’m most excited about the addition of a reading room, where visitors can spend time after they’ve been to an exhibition or event. Over the past several years, I’ve been collecting the books that our artists enjoy reading, or that remind me of their work, and our library will have shelves dedicated to each of them.

In terms of transitioning to the neighborhood, I have no doubt that our downtown audience will continue to come to what we do, likely in higher numbers for events like concerts, readings, or openings. I’m genuinely curious to get to know our neighbors and the rhythms of this part of the city. In the past we’ve partnered with institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and I hope our new location will create new opportunities for working across platforms when we can. 

D.C.: What will the Institute's program look like in 2016?

J.J.: Our spring season opens with Hilton Als, a distinguished American writer whose creative output bridges portraiture, memoir, and criticism. It will be the first time we are dedicating our program to someone who is not a visual artist, and it will be the first time that Als is himself the subject of an institutional exhibition. Als has described the season an “emotional retrospective,” one that will consider his life among artists in New York and contributions to the visual, literary and performing arts over the past thirty years. It will contain a number of exhibitions curated by Als along with performances and readings throughout the six months. Next fall, we will be working with the Los Angeles-based filmmaker and photographer Sharon Lockhart.

D.C.: In 2014, you curated Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition, which was an exploration of the evolution of small organisms such as spiders and rats. Over the course of six months, in close collaboration with Huyghe, you invited international artists, art professionals, philosophers, curators, and performers to be part of the exhibition. Can you describe the different elements of the project, which changed day to day?

J.J.: When Pierre and I first spoke about his season, we wanted a term like “exhibition” to breathe a bit, to expand and contract, to mutate and look more like growth.  We thought about The Artist’s Institute, which didn’t have the same institutional protocols as a museum, as a place that could contain an evolving situational process with organisms, artworks, and events over time. Pierre was interested in the fact that our space was on the basement level, a place where less desirable creatures to humans live – rats, spiders, cockroaches. The first thing that we did for the season was drill a hole in the floor to make it easier for rats to enter the space, and then added rat pheromone, chemical attractants produced by the animals’ sexual organs. Other initial elements included spiders and an artwork by Fernando Ortega involving a fly electrocutor device: every time a fly was killed in the machine, the machine made the lights in our space go out for a few minutes. The lights going off then enabled us to see a glow-in-the-dark dress…. Pierre was interested in the auto-generative nature of this system, and the way in which nothing was on “display,” per se, but rather came in and out of view based on unpredictable behavior. Over the six months we added many other artworks and objects, and the dynamic of the room evolved over time.

At The Artist’s Institute, we want to join an artist’s process of research and discovery, and so we also held events with thinkers whose work was useful to Pierre. These included Tristan Garcia, a contemporary philosopher from Paris working on ontology and metaphysics; genetic engineer Ali H. Brivanlou, who is investigating the development of hybrid species; and Angelique Corthals, a forensic anthropologist who is an expert on an ancient fossilized human whose body turned to copper.

D.C.: PIERRE’S is the title of the first issue of Artists' Institute magazine, published by The Artist’s Institute. How did you conceive the magazine and the contents?

J.J.: A magazine, from the French magasin, is a storehouse where all sorts of disparate materials on a given topic or theme can come together – which is analogous to any season of The Artist’s Institute. For our first issue, Pierre’s work is the organizing principle, and we drew on his artistic cosmology to commission a meaningful range of related articles – texts on genetic engineering, object-oriented philosophy, the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, as well as works by artists for the printed page. My hope as the editor was to make the magazine that Pierre would most want to read, and the contents flowed organically from the season’s program of artists and thinkers. Contributors include Vincent Normand, Etienne Chambaud, Jonathan Lethem, Camille Henrot, Ali H. Brivanlou, and Ian Cheng, among others. Pierre gave feedback throughout the editing process and contributed many images, as well as a previously unpublished text work. To use Pierre’s language, our first magazine is a compost of his practice.

D.C.: What will the next issue contain?

J.J.: Our second issue, Carolee’s, is dedicated to Carolee Schneemann, who works across media, including painting, photography, film, and performance, and is especially well-known for using her body as a material. We have commissioned a profile on the artist by non-fiction writer Maggie Nelson, whose thinking around gender, sexuality, and the New York Avant-Garde seemed like an especially good fit. We will pair this text with materials from the artist’s studio. We like to give ourselves freedom to reinvent the format of the magazine for each artist, since every practice has a different shape.