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Artist Jennifer Mannebach

Jennifer Mannebach’s work addresses remnants, boundaries and transition. She has exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center, Flatfile Gallery and others, nationally and internationally. In 2006 she was a visiting artist at The American Academy in Rome. Mannebach received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she subsequently taught for 6 years. She is an adjunct professor at Concordia University, an Artist/Researcher with CAPE, and advocates for artists at Little City Foundation. Awards include: Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, CAAP grants, IAC grants, and the Governor’s International Arts Exchange Grant. Recent exhibits include You Never Held It At the Right Angle at the Evanston Art Center, and One or the Other Must Be Blurred at the Jack Olson Gallery at NIU. Curatorial projects include Strike/Slip at the Riverside Art center, block curator for the 2019 Terrain Biennial, and a March 2022 exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Upcoming events also include a residency with PLAYA, and a 2 person exhibit at Governor’s State University.

"I’m interested in the borders and edges of where things collect, how boundaries are created and represented. My visual language often conflates the architecture of the interior body with broader views of world maps and constructed barriers, incorporating the intense chroma of colored gels used in microscopic visualization. Lately I’m thinking about how a sense of rupture and disorientation can be an opportunity to be more carefully attentive. In my studio I exploit the potential of material relationships, playing with translucency and dynamic shifts in scale, with respect to the state of discomfort and awkwardness at the seams. Materials find a home with each other, but always with a looming tectonic shift."

Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.

I grew up in the Midwest in a large Catholic family that was touched by mental disorder. There was a great deal of denial, subterfuge and taking refuge in religion. This influenced the way I began to think about belief systems, boundaries and things that fall away. What is visible and what is not? It’s confusing for a child to witness denial of things that are clearly there, while at the same time swear allegiance and faith to things that are invisible. As an adult, my time as a graduate student at SAIC was very formative. I discovered that I make things in order to understand my own thoughts and questions. Some explorations can develop through conversation or writing, but the catalysts for my visual art are often questions I can’t even articulate. The material studies in the studio are my way of accessing my smarter self.

What kind of work are you currently making?

I’ve been thinking about how we learn through mediated language, like visual maps or guideposts, when in turn these languages can dictate how the information is explored in the future. For example, visual representations of how Crispr cas9 works, cellular images in general, city maps that indicate particular zones or trends, and illuminated manuscripts are all elements that are colliding in my studio in compelling ways. In addition to the languages these create, there are also elements of scrutiny and surveillance. These thoughts are connected to a large fragmented wall of translucent components, several drawings I’m working on, and these ‘bee boxes’ I’m exploring (small wooden boxes that were temporary homes for honeybee colonies) in conjunction with glass printed with ceramic frit.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

If I’m lucky enough to have a whole day uninterrupted, a really satisfying one might include a portion of time focused on one piece that I’ve been immersed in for a while, punctuated with tangents that lead to new questions. I also get a little thrill if the materials tell me something new or surprise me, giving me something to look forward to next time. However, ‘in the studio’ is not always literal for me. Reading, writing, collecting images and working with images digitally in Photoshop are all part of my process as well. My tendency to sit with things (inspiration, references) and allow them to be ‘muddled’ is really a strategy — so that I don’t slip into illustrating my ideas. I want them to be processed through my thoughts and studio actions in a way that is indirect and nimble enough to tell me something new, and the delay in clarity keeps me from making facile judgements.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading? After reading The Gene: An Intimate History, I started looking for more on Jennifer Doudna and Crispr. I also loved Funny Weather-Art in an Emergency and I’m looking forward to reading Olivia Laing’s most recent one as well. I am (haltingly) reading Vibrant Matter with a small group of artist friends. I also hope to get around to reading Slow Looking by Shari Tishman. I teach art history also, so I’m always looking for fresh interpretations that allow me and my students to find new connections. For the last 6 years, I’ve been looking at microscopic images that employ the protein staining effect I mentioned previously. Cellular imagery is often really beautiful, but I’m also interested in graphics and diagrams that are used to describe things that are invisible to the naked eye, how colors and shapes are used to denote vacillating boundaries on maps (i.e. Covid ‘hotspots’, neighborhood demographics, protests and rallies…)

Where can we find more of your work?

I have two exhibitions coming up this spring— a two person show at Governors State University, and a four person show that I’m also curating at Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, entitled Wanting It Both Ways. I relish the charged space that opens up between artists when they are engaged in creative inquiry, and I’m also looking forward to a residency next summer at PLAYA in Oregon which engages scientists as well as artists.

My instagram is @mannebach_art

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