AC Interview: Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins

written by Peter Duhon in New York

Dissemination, the state apparatus, tyrants or tyrannical behavior by governing bodies, and activists intersect at a precarious site where the disclosure/revelation of classified information is often the impetus for swaying or disrupting public opinion and support, and more recently this has played a pivotal role in the upheaval of oppressive governments and contributed to ongoing debates centering on the notions of freedom and censorship, to mention a few.

The work of Toronto based art collaborative Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins carefully traces and traverses a critical zone within the aforementioned site by examining the process of negation and the measures that institutions or the state will employ to avoid disclosure of their practices while simultaneously providing a visual reference that doesn't fall into the trap of presenting naive solutions, and eschews the reductive, theatrical drama provided by hollywood studios when dealing with such matters.

Appropriating and utilizing gestures from the art historical canon, noticeably Josef Albers and Marcel Duchamp, to mention only a few, conceptually and visually their practice creates a stimulating framework that at once recasts the term 'information' and its value, extends the meaning of politically charged art, and alludes to governments and corporations fear of uncensored propagation.

We recently caught up with the duo and discussed their work at the James Cohan Gallery in New York while attending the opening reception for Object Fictions, curated by Elyse Goldberg. The inclusion of their work in the show, a gigantic curtain in the entryway titled Stripped, allows a level of accessibility that isn't garish yet orientates the polyvalence of Object Fictions, an exhibition that brilliantly critiques and challenges deceptive fictions and the circumscription of truth.

Art Comments: Please tell us about your work schedule for 2012, exhibitions and the like?

Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins: We have a fall show with our Toronto gallery Georgia Scherman Projects coming up, so we need to produce for that. Beyond that, in 2013 we are getting ready for a solo institutional exhibition that will be touring. We are doing a project for the transit system in the Greater Toronto Area that will culminate this summer and fall. We are also doing some public intervention style projects as part of some curated shows in some regional centres of Canada.

AC: What's the theme of your fall show?

JD: We're still developing it, that's what we have to do as soon as we get back to Toronto, finalize what we're doing in the fall. We are debating whether we will further develop some of our formalist concepts, or whether we will present an experimental exhibition.

AC: What is the idea behind this particular work Stripped (2012) in the current show, Object Fictions?

JD: This work relates to some of our other pieces. We did a show called Unknown and Unknowns in spring 2011 at an art center near Toronto that dealt with the idea of information, suppression of information, and the formal visual qualities of negated information. We then had a show close by here on 24th street (C24 Gallery), a work that was in the show is called Shredded Square and Shredded Rectangle that is a clear plexiglass box that is stuffed with shredded documents but redacted shredded documents so there's sort of an absurd double negative happening. In that thematic subject there lies interesting contrasts between containment and minimalism, with the expressive and chaotic in the same composition.

Elyse Goldberg, the director of James Cohan Gallery saw the show at C24 gallery and contacted us, in November. We spoke with her in the beginning of December and she was interested in Shredded Square and Shredded Rectangle. We thought we'd be doing something in a similar format, similar material. But in fact, although she was interested in that work and the message it conveyed and the politicality of it, she wanted something for the doorway. This meant we had to think of a new way of materializing and formally realizing that concept. Something that could be in the doorway and people could walk through.

So the graphic (superimposed on Stripped) could be redacted information or a redacted document: a visualization of censorship. But it is done on PVC strips so you still get the idea of information being shredded. And the piece is called Stripped so it uses the same ideas or concepts but is different in its presentation. So it relates to our other work but it is a new piece specifically for this show.

PVC and vinyl
146 X 107 X 1 inches
370.84 X 271.78 X 2.54 cm

AC: How would you say this piece engages with the other works in the show?

JD: Elyse liked the political aspect of the work, and in this way it relates with the text piece Seventeen Letters from the Deep State by Trevor Paglen, and Calling All Agents: Transmission, Death, Technology, General Secretary’s Report to the International Necronautical Society. But Elyse was also interested in work that was not necessarily immediately identifiable as art, she wanted something that was harder to classify or identify, something that was partially functional as well. So, the curtain we made is very much a part of the utilitarian design world, it is functional, it is very graphic. I think a lot of the works in the show are not necessarily your traditional art objects - so I think that is how we engage with the show or how we came to be in the show.

AC: You mentioned the functional aspect of Stripped. What does this function suggest? What does it permit?

JDStripped is a mixed media installation, sculpture, and curtain mounted at the entrance to the main space of the gallery. It is an artwork that refers to the visual style in which documents are censored or redacted. The ever-growing public awareness of hidden, or obscured information, has resulted in a form of visual language that we have seized upon.

Stripped, a title chosen for the notion of something "stripped down" or the physical implications of shredding or destroying information. Also a reference to Duchamp: "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even". The notion of strip-searching (police, TSA), the reference to detainees, or unlawful combatants stripped down and exposed.  As opposed to, or in combination with blacking out, censoring, negating. Transparency, nakedness, translucency, obstruction of top secret information - information that the public should not know, hermeticism.

Formally the work utilizes actual redacted graphical visual formulations; the line spacing, the word formations and patterns on a page text layout.

The door-way to the gallery can be seen as a curtain, or literally, a deconstructed page of paper that has been enlarged, and made theatrical. Therefore, it relates to large format geometric painting; but becomes an artwork that is politically charged - not solely formal. Heavy black graphic blocks are positioned at the top; they disperse toward the bottom.

Symbolically the formalism of redaction then morphs into other interpretations of digital data, and the non-linguistic, and non-representational system in which computer culture treats all information non-hierarchically as a type of virtual space. The piece represents a kind of parsing and sorting of that data, or form, into a composition.

The work is performative, and imposes itself as an intervention and confrontation in the gallery space that the viewer must cross through it to engage with the rest of the show, a confrontation, a gateway, and a passage.

Architectural nuances also arise:

-the chelsea district, its car-washes, warehouse shipping bays
-the former space of Cohan Gallery as automotive garage
-the industrial nature of the material, and its inorganic and unnatural attributes
-the industrial details and the way in which it interacts with the gallery architecture

AC: You stated that your work is very much a part of the design world. For your practice, what is the distinction between art and design?

JD: As long as the words 'design' and 'art' exist separately in the use of language and communication we are happy to take the option to answer the question in a semantic manner. However, we are aware that there is an etymological shift that is occurring and the two words are getting closer in meaning. One of the last horizons that design is dealing with is how to incorporate ambiguity and the less purposeful into its attributes. We think that Stripped contains many ambiguities, something that design would be less prone to be involved with.

AC: Thank you.

Object Fictions
January 6 through February 11, 2012
James Cohan Gallery
New York, NY