Art Bytes

Watch Artist Jen DeNike's Esoteric Takes on American Suburbia

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Watch Artist Jen DeNike's Esoteric Takes on American Suburbia
Still from Wrestling, 2003

The video artist and photographer Jen DeNike uses her American identity and history as fodder for her short video pieces, which often combine the rhythms and vistas of suburban life with a more esoteric bent. Though her 2010 MoMA ballet Scrying and subsequent show of the same name at the Los Angeles gallery Anat Ebgi work with explicitly magical subject matter, her videos tend to incorporate such themes more subtly.

In contrast to the jarring, gross, and strange-for-the-sake-of-it tropes that one sometimes associates with the phrase “video art,” DeNike’s works use simple actions and symbols to create a mood. Her works, often made in natural settings with a stationary camera, have a stripped-down quality that allows the formalism of her compositions to take center stage. 

happy ending

Happy Endings (2006) shows the artist standing alongside a river holding five placards that relay a straightforward message: THERE ARE NO HAPPY ENDINGS. The rhythmic pace with which she reveals each card, combined with the glare of sunlight on the water that obscures her face, lends a pseudo-mystical quality to both the phrase and the scene.

Many of DeNike's works feature the American flag, as in Flag Girls from 2007. The piece shows six women humming the American national anthem while wrapped in handmade versions of the early stars-and-stripes (the 13-star version). Each actor uses her teeth to free her neighbor from the confines of the flag robe, until only one wrapped woman is left to finish the song on her own.  

wrestling

Perhaps her best known work is Wrestling (2003), which features two teenagers engaging in that age-old boyhood pastime: roughhousing in the yard. DeNike resists the all-too-easy position of winking at the homoeroticism of teenaged masculinity, instead concentrating on the joy and intensity—punctuated by grunts and giggles—in these play-fights. The piece has been acquired by MoMA and now resides in the institution’s permanent collection, a fitting home given the work's timeless quality.

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