Jeremiah Jenkins creates sculptures, installations and performative work, whose humor and social resonance stem from a unique understanding of materials. While growing up in Tennessee, the artist’s household was filled with collections of antique tools and bric-a-brac. Fascinated in the psychology of these found objects, Jenkins began exploring the histories behind certain forms, in addition to the many ways he could manipulate and build upon their inherent meanings.
Everything Must Go at Hashimoto Contemporary celebrates the breakdown of objects and ideals that suggest value and societal importance. Focusing on items such as trophies, commemorative tableware and fishing lures, Jenkins dismantles the object’s original function and establishes a new sense of space and collective significance. The artist’s work is saturated with humor, allowing his complex subject matter to take on a more accessible form. His “Trophy” series consists of ten awards, each a Frankenstein-blend of appropriated trophies that play with various ideas of hierarchy and social turbulence. One piece depicts a golden man waving from a pedestal as he’s being pushed from the top of the trophy by a swarming crowd of small golden figures. Another portion of the show incorporates dozens of gathered porcelain plates, tea cups and figurines. Each hanging component is made of up different shattered pieces that have repeatedly been broken and fixed back into form. This cyclical process of destruction and formation is built into the artist’s work, allowing notions of value to decay and transform.
Tell us a little about yourself, what first prompted your interest in art?
I grew up in Tennessee, going to flea markets. My mom collected antique tools and junk. She would put them on the kitchen wall. Every object had a story and the collection of objects told an even bigger story in relationship to each other. This is probably my biggest initial influence. When I went to school and learned about conceptual art it made me laugh out loud in my Art History class. That was the moment when I realized that objects didn't just have stories, but that they could be manipulated to tell a story I chose.
How does your process unfold in the studio?
My process always starts with an image in my mind that is just a whisper. Sometimes it comes from finding an object, hearing someone say something, a dream, or another way that creates a little spark of connection between things. Then I search for materials. I have certain thrift stores and art re-use places that I know are good for one kind of object or the other, but the internet is the almighty searchable thrift store. Finding the right objects that work well with my idea takes the longest. Some projects will be similar to things I've worked with before, but there is always at least a few projects that are completely new techniques for me. I go into a sort of mad scientist mode when I'm in production mode. Working in my studio, muttering to myself, obsessed, projects in progress everywhere, then I wake up one day and realize it's all done!
What do you typically look at for inspiration?
Everything is inspiring, but my work usually comes from the cracks in everything. The beautiful things in life inspire me to live, be outside, etc, but I rarely make art about them. It's the shit of the world that makes me make work. I want to bring attention to the darkness and try to shine a light in there.
Performance is a large aspect of your practice. How does this form of expression translate into your gallery based work?
A lot of my performance is just about using an action as an object. I never really play a character or rehearse what's going to happen, instead I think of the action as part of the process to make a moment. Even the actions I take to make my sculpture inform the object. Pouring the bronze, firing in a kiln, or even just buying a dozen trophies from the store leaves a invisible residue of process on the work. My performance work is just about making the action visible and available to the viewer.
Your sculptures often feature found items rendered to resemble ordinary objects. What’s your connection to material?
Objects are very important to my work. I think of myself as a reverse anthropologist. In archaeological digs they always find pottery, bones, and tools. We get this image of a society that made stuff, hunted, and used tools. I make artifacts that reflect our society on a physical and conceptual level. I want people to feel an association to these objects on a familiar level. If they feel comfortable with the object then the conceptual twist that I put in there is maybe a little easier for them to accept. That's also why I use humor.
In what ways do you view humor as a catalyst for your concepts?
The structure of the joke is usually something like this: Something normal, something else normal, a twist that's unexpected. The lead in of a joke is how you get the audience to accept your proposed reality. Then the punchline is how you show them a new or hidden reality. That's probably the least funny way to describe why things are funny, but that's the general formula. Jokes make us relax our hold on ourselves. Everyone knows there's no door and that you're just saying the words, "knock knock", but they still will ask who's there. That suspension of disbelief that people naturally do around jokes makes it easier to talk about the heavy things. Jokes at funerals are wonderful things, because it makes the load a little lighter. My work is always about something that might not be the easiest to talk about. If we have the conversation in the right way, then maybe we can start to make it easier.
How do ideas of history and iconic symbolism operate in your work?
My references come pretty organically. An object is imbued with it's history, so that will often be a large part of the piece by default. Sometimes in researching a project I'll discover historical connections that I didn't consciously know before, but they always seem to fit. Everything is connected. I try to use whole grain symbolism. Very absolute and tangible symbols. I feel like the space between the tangible pieces is where the interesting part happens.
Could you tell us about the title Everything Must Go?
All the work in this show is representative of something highly valued that must go. There's this movement that happens with valuable things. We get something like money, but it only does good if we give it to someone. The problem with our society is that we have screwed up what is meant to be held and what is meant to be moved around.
What kinds of thoughts, mediums, and objects can we expect to see in your show?
This show has pieces made out of valuable things. Each piece has an element of decay or destruction built into the subject matter. The show is about celebrating the breakdown of the things we think of as valuable.
An opening reception for Everything Must Go will be held at Hashimoto Contemporary on Saturday, February 4th from 6-9pm