Santa Cruz artist Isabelle Jenniches is watching you
Isabelle Jenniches has traveled to many places in her life, but some of her best sightseeing has occurred from the kitchen table of her Santa Cruz Mountains cottage. Jenniches, who came here by way of Germany, Vienna, Amsterdam, and New York, has spent the past 10 years making dramatic, large-scale collage artwork out of photos she captures from Internet web cams.
When asked what type of artist she is, Jenniches’ first response is a good-natured laugh and a shrug. For her upcoming Rydell Visual Arts Fellows exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, she’s billed as a digital media artist—a title she’ll gladly take. But given the nature of her artistic process, “voyeur” or “pirate” might just as easily apply.
Jenniches was immediately attracted to web cams when they first came about and she turned her fascination into a unique form of art. She captures images from publicly accessible and robotically controllable web cams and then painstakingly stitches them together into intricate panoramas. The resulting artwork depicts movements in both time and space that she likes to call “hyper-realities.”
“It’s an act of piracy, if you will. (The cameras) are not meant to do what I’m doing,” she says with a laugh. “I just liked it immediately … there was something about it that really attracted me. It’s anchoring something from the real world into the virtual world.”
In a recent work, Jenniches spent countless hours looking at and controlling one of the cameras at a furniture store in Houston, Texas. Originally installed by the store as a tool for e-commerce, the cameras attracted a dedicated group of voyeurs on the web, who watch and share images taken from inside the store. After capturing images from the furniture store cameras, Jenniches created “When You Lie Down,” which depicts unsuspecting shoppers trying out mattresses on the store’s showroom floor.
“At first I felt like a terrible invader into their privacy. But then it was too good to pass up,” says Jenniches. “And after all, these people are not in bed in their own homes, they are only staging a very private act in essentially public space. I could be another customer walking by, witnessing their peaceful repose. And yet, one could argue that the subjects’ being unaware of the virtual eye zooming in on them and even capturing their image does cross a line. All of this, of course, is a topic of hot debate.”
While she doesn’t address it in her art, Jenniches is mindful of the current publicity surrounding surveillance by the U.S. government. But what might be overlooked in that debate is that apart from any kind of government surveillance, there are cameras all over recording the public—some of them with web cams that can be viewed and controlled by anyone with access to the Internet.
Jenniches’ artistic process begins with simple curiosity—and then fascination. “It usually starts with me just kind of hanging out, watching. And then at some point I start saving the pictures,” she says.
The cameras could be anywhere—she’s watched footage from a soccer field in Arizona, a beach cam in Ventura, a web cam at the Rotterdam (Netherlands) Harbor, and another located in the hippopotamus pond at the Busch Gardens resort in Florida.
Many aspects of Jenniches’ background seem to have led her to the art she’s doing now. She always had an interest in art as a child growing up in Bonn, West Germany and dreamed of working in theater. She moved to Vienna to pursue a master’s degree in theater and film design and then did post-graduate work in the Netherlands, studying digital media and fine arts.
And while she feels her education has served her well in bringing her to this point, she also credits her curiosity with getting her started and her stubbornness with keeping her going. She feels both are necessary traits to have in pursuing artistic endeavors that sometimes seem unreasonable until they are finished and something beautiful and meaningful emerges.
“Sometimes I encourage young (artists) to really believe in their obsessions. And to follow them,” says Jenniches. “Because there’s a reason why you like this or that or why you’re fascinated by this or that, and maybe nobody else sees it. It’s your very personal point of view.”
The Rydell Visual Arts Fellows exhibit will be on display from Dec. 21, 2013-Feb. 23, 2014 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. For more information, visit santacruzmah.org. To see more of Jenniches’ work, visit 9nerds.com/isabelle.