The Cloud Connection
Jeanne Wilkinson comes to film from abstract painting, as inspired by Abstract Expressionist and Color Field movements, that first energized her identity as an artist. Yet she pivoted away from mere painting, and added its imagery to a mixture that utilized film, photography, and digital media. There’s a democratic quality to the images culled from her last two film series: Earthlings and Elsa in the Cloud Tunnel, that derive from the gestural incidents suggested by random collusion between a set-piece orchestrated by Wilkinson herself—crossing color projections on translucent scrims--and random or invited visitors, who bring their own expressiveness and a quality of idiosyncratic agency to bear, completing the dynamic iteration necessary. These current works are not merely self-evident events but proof of an evolving consciousness, each one a highly charged interval with esthetic consequences. Wilkinson's Cloud Tunnel works have one notable precursor and influence: a 2010 video installation by Dutch artist Pippilotti Rist called "Layers Mama Layers". This experience set off a light bulb in Wilkinson's head. Here was a new way forward. She developed her vision and has made its continued progression her unique success.
It's been suggested by some art historians that the energy first utilized by Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko might eventually transcend the painting itself; that the artifacts would be left behind and their innate performativity would find its way into more thematic scenarios; the intrinsically physical energy and repressed histrionics of the predominantly male Abstract Expressionist painters that gave their iconic works their innate projective content might, in future generations, be transformed into a culturally vibrant communal force that would inform and construct new models of expressiveness. This is certainly true in the films Wilkinson has produced. That mad energy escaped the canvas and was simultaneously captured in film and events, both of which Wilkinson utilizes, combined and fashioned with the use of the digital program After Effects, to create her new works. The communal spirit that enlivens these works was both specifically orchestrated by Wilkinson, and ameliorated by her willingness to allow others’ interactions to form a degree of agency that filters into the overall structure. The dynamic permutations enlivened by these interaction aid and fulfill her own aims. Wilkinson has continued to develop similar works with specific performers who are intentionally invited to bring their own presence and vigor into the equation. Such is the case with her most recent series of video stills, Earthlings and Elsa in the Cloud Tunnel. Her collaborator, Elsa Marie Keefe, a fine artist and performer, used her naked body as a canvas in order for Wilkinson to achieve a heightened degree of agency bordering upon the erotic. The two films in which she has yet appeared, The Sun and The Horn and Earthlings, are ambiguously beautiful and equally sensuous, as they interpret the dimensions of seasonal transition and rebirth evoked by the ritual of the Summer Solstice.
Symbolism culled from the natural world predominates in Wilkinson’s collaged film projections. Images like the sun as seen from space, viewed through a telescope that masks the visual effects of extreme light and radiation to present a huge yet darkened sphere; fish swimming around aquariums both in New York and Minnesota; herds of Highland Cattle from Fountain Prairie Farm in Fall River, Wisconsin; and a panther stalking its prey along lines of a marked territory, looking for its homeland, from civilization into wilderness across hills and through low hanging tree branches. There is at first a fascination with images as facts transformed. One is overwhelmed but unconscious of the depth to which they are affected. A concentrated and extended focus upon the subject matter commingling in the projections precipitates a gradual understanding of how experience molds us. The process is intense and yet it plays upon our internal need to experience a fantasy, even one comprised of significantly real things. All of these images supply a rich theater for emotional endeavor, further altered by the technical methods Wilkinson uses. She creates an arena for visual encounter that extends beyond mere spectacle. The viewer becomes a participant in a process that becomes documented, and provides a basis for outside viewers to connect with the experience at hand. They connect within what Wilkinson terms “The Cloud Tunnel”—a transformative space that is both physical and psychological at the same time. The Cloud of which she speaks, formed by hanging parallel translucent scrims between two projectors, is relatable as an atmospheric environment, and partially the organized conduit that links two image streams together between computers, where every detail emerges out of an ether manifested by systems information and the interactivity of simultaneous data sampling. The complexity of spatial and detail oriented effects can be interpretive either way. Though what eventually resolves from the process of Cloud Tunnel is a video of multiple experiences with various performers, and also a series of stills from the video, Wilkinson’s achievement corresponds directly to a primal experience that stretches into the primordial past or into the stew of being which shapes every one of us when we are in the womb and after we emerge. The confluence of elemental forces, accentuated by a tapestry Wilkinson weaves. We are meant to interact with the tunnel to generate a karmic change. We enter not an interior space rich with meaning, but leave with a greater connection to the possibilities for ourselves. We are not only bodies passing through a cloud, but become it.