Posted by: Necci – May 29, 2012
Mark Jenkins is an American multimedia artist best known for street installations that he creates using packing tape. His humanoid figures in a variety of impossible positions have graced the streets of London, Rome, Barcelona, Seoul, and Washington DC, among many others. Earlier this year, Jenkins participated in the RVA Street Art Festival, contributing one of the most striking pieces installed on the Canal Walk, with his three-dimensional humanoid bodies projecting outward, feet-first, from a target. To find out more about this unique artist, his inspirations, and his working methods, David Kenedy got in touch with him and asked some probing questions. Here are the answers he received:
Are back to back gallery shows a regular thing for you now, or are you just mixing it up from the off-the-radar "hit and run" style street art you are used to?
It's a lot of traveling, mostly to Europe and a mix of gallery shows, festivals, workshops, and other odd things here and there. RVA festival is actually the first outdoor project we've done in VA.
I know that you first started making packing tape castings of yourself back in 2003 in Rio de Janeiro when you were teaching English, so you have been into this for a while now. How would you describe your work now compared to what you were doing back then?
Early on, I was only working with the tape. It wasn't until 2006 that I started dressing the figures. Clear tape objects, people, babies, etc. stand out in the visual landscape. On a sunny day, tape shines, even glows when the light is coming from behind. With the dressed works it's the opposite. The work camouflages itself as reality. It's something like a glitch in the Matrix.
I actually grew up in the Fairfax/D.C. area myself, so it's especially funny for me to see pictures of these things up there. Did you start working there by default because that's where you are originally from, or are there qualities about that area that you were specifically drawn to?
I started making tape sculpture in Rio. I was there teaching English when I'm met some visual artists and started playing around with packing tape. I returned to Fairfax to set up a studio in my parents backyard to experiment with resin and fiberglass. It took me about a year being back before I started putting stuff on the street again. It was hard to get a feel for DC.
Has your work ever been compared to the illustrations and cartoons of Charles Addams, the creator of the Addams Family? I think that his use of dark humor and social irony has a strange sort of parallel to your created situations. There is one cartoon of his where a man is walking down the street and he is turning over with this confused look on his face at a parking meter with a witch's broom "parked" on it. That was done back in the 40s, and here you are now out actually making those types of situations a reality...
It hasn't but I agree. Would have been nice to make a cast of Morticia in her prime.
Obviously there is a lot of humor in your work. Some of it is just totally ridiculous, like that red carpet going into the sewer in D.C. That's one of my favorites. I would assume that once you are done with a piece, you just hang back and watch people get weird when they walk by. Any funny stories?
In the beginning it was interesting to step back and watch, not for laughs so much but to gather the data... like a social experiment. But I've gathered enough.
Reactions range from dogs lunging at them, to rescue divers, bomb squads, fire trucks. etc. It's crazy the havoc a girl sleeping on top of a billboard can cause, or a fake homeless man in a polar bear suit.
There also seems to be this undertone of instigating social awareness, where the work challenges people to snap out of their monotone autopilot and do a double take on life. Do you like getting deep into the philosophy side of things, or are you more of an art-for-art's-sake kind of guy?
I like the deeper philosophy of it all, or even scientific. I like the narrative element as well. If I was that sort of guy doing it just for kicks it wouldn't sustain itself. I'd be doing something else.
Your Richmond jam got a lot of positive vibe from the locals, but did it feel a bit "staged" to you within the context of an organized art show? The element of surprise seemed sort of nullified, compared to something that is placed without any forewarning. Yet on the flipside, a lot of people who might not have normally seen it were able to go down and check it out. How do you feel about this?
More for me it was about doing my first mural. I've never painted a wall before and so I saw it as a challenge to share space with artists like Soto, even if it got mucked up a little by the piece under it. But I don't feel a need to always maintain this element of surprise.
Check THIS out--one of the "dart people" apparentely came off and ended up in the canal, and someone saw it and called the cops because they thought it was a dead body floating in the water! From what I understand the legs fell down by themselves, and I guess someone took matters into their own hands...
Not sure why everyone calls them darts. Don't you guys have dart boards in your city? It's an archery target and they're meant to be arrows. But I don't do shoddy work that falls down in the night and jumps in the river. My guess is that someone or something ripped them down.
OK, now I'm about to get really off the wall so bear with me... Would you rather have the ability to leave your body and go anywhere in the universe at will, but at the risk of getting lost out in the void for billions of years, or would your rather be able to turn yourself inside out, but you would never know how long it would last? OR have a mystical laser crystal that would allow you to see into both the future and the past, except everytime you used it it would cause a random peice of your body to fall off, like an ear, or a ball, or whatever--you really wouldn't know until you tried it but hopefully it would be someting that they could put back on. Or would you rather just have a million dollars?
I'd rather have a french fry.
Mark Jenkins will return to Richmond this fall for Dr. Bastard Presents, a group show curated by Chad Niemi. Details have not been confirmed as yet, but be on the lookout!
Interview and Canal Walk Photos by David Kenedy
Introduction by Andrew Necci
Other Photos from xmarkjenkinsx.com