Red, Bird, Blue
June 26 – August 16, 2009
Atlanta Contemporary Art Center
Experimentation and connectivity are threads that run through the work of Jennie C. Jones, whether in drawings, photography, sculpture, or sound installation. Her practice explores the conceptual legacy of jazz and its place in modernist history, linking various creative disciplines to developments in technology, packaging, and aesthetics. The inspiration for Jones’s installation takes its cue from the artist Ellsworth Kelly’s childhood illness that left him housebound, sparking his interest in birds and their colors. Kelly, born in 1923, is a revered American painter and sculptor whose works utilize precise shapes and saturated colors to explore conditions of form, space, light, and presence.
Red, Bird, Blue features a photograph of the artist recreating an infamous photograph of jazz master Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), blowing his trumpet. The gender-bending image immediately established the exhibition as a site for historical investigation, and the examination of identity and influence. A suite of ten collages, hung in a long row, presented various combinations of silhouetted imagery including speakers, electrical cords, microphones, and ear buds (listening devices). A smaller grouping of five collages utilized the sleeves for 45 rpm records, combined with colored paper to create hidden or revealed color combinations. They were hung adjacent to a Kelly lithograph, establishing a connection between music packaging and geometric abstraction, and providing an example of the kind of single color shape that Jones used throughout her exhibition.
Large fields of color (one square and one rectangle), were painted directly on the wall, acting as minimal monochromes, but with a twist: each had a graphic element taken from classic Blue Note jazz albums applied as a vinyl decal on its surface, effectively combining a painting format with music packaging information. Bits of additional text and design elements adorned sections of the surrounding walls and white bench positioned in front of the square window. While seated, a viewer could see a red bird feeder that the artist placed outside. Filled with birdseed, it attracted neighborhood birds, whose movements visually connected with Jones’s audio work, The Color of Birds – songs and flight, played from a white directional speaker. It featured the erratic phrasing of the Northern Oriel, fluttering wings, and the jazz piccoloist Paul Horn.
Slow Birds is an audio recording from 2005 that was re-mastered for this exhibition. It played from a sleek rectangular black speaker, and featured four Charlie Parker notes slowed/stretched tempo mixed with a re-constructed Max Roach drum solo. Here Jones played with classic jazz recordings to alter their speeds and styles.
Jones’s combination of painting, sound works, bench, window, birdhouse, and vinyl decals combined to play with modernist art and music styles as represented by Ellsworth Kelly, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Blue Note Records. The installation exemplified an artist bringing a playful and rigorous approach to the challenge of locating herself in distinct cultural and racial legacies.