Jennifer Mannebach is an artist and curator whose work addresses remnants, boundaries, and transition. She has exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center, Flatfile Gallery, Jack Olson Gallery and others. 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. Awards include the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, CAAP grants, IAC grants, and the Governor’s International Arts Exchange Grant. After exhibiting steadily for the last few years, she is looking forward to an art and science residency at PLAYA in Oregon this summer.
"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. 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. 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."
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 disorders. 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 often 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 yet.
What kind of work are you currently making?
The relationship between fragment and form was a focus of an exhibition I just curated, and this is something that is still playing out in my work. 'Act As Usual' is a large semi-translucent piece that I spent a long time developing, exploring the limits of awkwardness with a tension between expansion and compression. I am also continuing to work with these ‘bee boxes’. 'What is Wrong With You' and 'Bivouac' are both sculptural objects I recently finished. They derive from small wooden boxes that were temporary homes for honeybee colonies. I have other ideas I'm sketching out that are based on an old family video I recently found. They are too new to share, but I’m excited about the possibilities.
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?
I finally started reading Slow Looking by Shari Tishman, and I am finishing up a book of essays called Forty-one False Starts by Janet Malcolm.
I teach art history also, so I’m always revisiting art history texts and 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'm looking forward to regrouping after these last two exhibitions and delving into new things, starting with this residency. Like many of us, I update my instagram much more frequently than my website, so that is where you can find nascent ideas and new work. I also have more curatorial ideas which I'd like to develop further. It’s so fascinating to recognize the way in which different objects can speak to each other. I love the process of curation and bringing multiple artists’ work together, seeing the space between things become charged with energy and new meanings. Facilitating that process is such a joy.