Visual Art

Sights and Sounds

Mixed-media artist Jennie C. Jones creates collages through music, paintings and sculptures at CAMH.

By Jenn Nguyen December 17, 2015

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Artist Jennie C. Jones

The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston sings a fine tune with Compilation, a mid-career survey exhibition featuring artist Jennie C. Jones on display through March 27. The collection includes some of Jones’ strongest multimedia collages from the past 11 years, which blend visual art and sounds.

Thematically, Jones’ work delves into the correlations between African-American history and modernism, specifically modernist music. Within the exhibit, museumgoers can even visit a separate sound room that plays Jones’ theatre-quality audio collages.

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"Duchamp's Inner Ear"

“There’s kind of a mixtape vibe to the exhibit,” Jones says. “It’s all about reconstructing materials related to music.”

Her sound productions layer various tracks from different artists, whether by compressing or stretching the audio, in order to create avant-garde, melodic collages. Jones’ inspirations for her musical installations include bebop maestros Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, as well as traditional jazz composers like Wendell Logan and Olly Wilson.

“It was just a lot of listening and pairing up musicians that don’t generally go together and making them work for the visual world,” Jones explains of her creative process.

Given Jones’ extensive number of compositions—which, aside from musical collages, also include drawings, paintings and sculptures—choosing which pieces to include in Compilation was no easy feat. CAMH curator Valerie Cassel Oliver made sure that the entire exhibition highlights Jones’ best work from the past few years and gives insight into her artistic ethos.

“Jennie can take something visual and make it seem like it actually emits sound,” Oliver says. “[Her] paintings seem to vibrate and it’s because of the way she brings ordinary things together.”

Oliver met Jones in 2001 when they were part of Creative Capital, an arts investment organization that supports emerging artists. Since then, Oliver has been keeping tabs on Jones’ progress and ultimately wanted to spotlight her fine arts career at CAMH. The curator particularly is fascinated with how Jones can render sound equipment or magazine cutouts with her drawings in order to create a “connective tissue between visual arts and sound.”

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"Score for Sustained Blackness"

Naturally, the visual elements of Jones’ creations are also tinged with sonic motifs—her opus “The Song Container” is an aluminum construction of roughly 40 components, which include replications of retro cassettes, 8-Tracks and LP records. Besides the intertwining of musical parallels, Jones’ work is also tinted with tri-tonal details. Her visual components are primarily hued with yellow, red and blue.

Although Jones has consistently stayed with similar concepts for her artwork, she constantly strives to push the boundaries of her ideas, especially those regarding her musical arrangements.

“The sound pieces have evolved along with her own practice in the past 11 years, and they get increasingly complex in its structure,” Oliver says.

Implementing various types of media may seem like sensory overload for visitors, but Jones believes otherwise.

“The formalist nature of the work may surprise people—it’s clean,” Jones remarks. “But the more you look at it, the more substance you find. I hope that people find the show peaceful and grounding and take a moment away from the digital fast-paced world.”

Dec 12–Mar 27. Free. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd. 713-284-8250.

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