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The eye is not satisfied with seeing: Jennifer Packer at Serpentine Gallery

«I feel a resistance to the use of the word “bodies” to describe the figures in my work. There’s an important difference between having a body and being a body. Bodies can be almost anything and are often subject to mindless objectification or a loss of humanity. I’m usually thinking about the significance of that distinction as I work.»[1]

Jenniffer Packer’s first exhibition outside of the USA, The eye is not satisfied with seeing, is to me an example of how academic painting can work in a post-medium and post-object art world.  Jennifer Packer’s paintings are made from memory, improvisation and good old observation and depict still-life flower arrangements, portraits of friends and homey interiors moulded around our contemporary time.

Tired painting techniques are forensically exposed and given new life by Jennifer Packer. Renaissance anatomies in Lost in translation (2013), sfumatos and free-hand drawings in The mind is its own place (2020) are easily recognizable and take us back to the golden era of painting. What brings us back to where we are now are the thin pencil-like gracious brush strokes, paint drippings, carved lines, which reveal the raw canvas and unexpected compositions. These two moments – past and present – are masterfully combined and give the works a refreshing trans-historical quality. Our eye is, in fact, not satisfied with seeing and moves on to a reflection about who were the painters then, who are the painters now, and how I, the seer, differ from the seer then.

The artist sees all she depicts as sentient bodies: un-hierarchized, emotionally and physically charged and worthy of being grieved for. Fantin-Latour-like, her still-life flower arrangement paintings were thought to ease the weight of lost Black lives and violent tragedies, but instead, they became about the artist’s own relationship with grief. Jennifer Packer confesses: «Painting isn’t always good at grief. I realised that whatever I was feeling had entirely to do with me. So, in a way, this painting became an expression of an inability to deal with that loss.»[2] Say her name (2017) is possibly the most impactful painting in the show and a wonderful example of these bouquets. Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old African American woman who was found hanged in a Texas jail cell and whose death was wrongfully ruled as suicide. Heartbroken with this news, Jennifer Packer grieved for a stranger as she would have for a close friend and, in memory of Sandra Bland, the artist decided to paint a funerary decoration for an imagined memorial procession. Again, our eye is not satisfied with seeing. It becomes a grieving and angry eye.

The show is accompanied by a free Bloomberg Connects digital experience which you can access independently from the show. There you can listen to a great talk between the director of Serpentine Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and the artist, Jenniffer Packer, as well as two short introductions by the exhibition curator, Melissa Blanchflower, regarding its concept and layout. The digital experience also includes high-quality images and lengthy descriptions of the artworks.

The eye is not satisfied with seeing, by Jennifer Packer, is on view at the Serpentine Gallery, in London, until August 22.

 

[1] Jennifer Packer, 2020, exhibition booklet.

[2] Jennifer Packer, 2020, exhibition booklet.

Benedita Menezes (1996, Lisbon, Portugal) is a freelance curator, researcher and writer based in London. She holds a Painting BA from the Fine-Arts School University of Lisbon (FBA-UL), Portugal, and Karel de Grote University College, Antwerp, Belgium, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Aesthetics, Art and Political Cultures from the Social and Human Sciences School Nova University of Lisbon (FCSH-UNL), Portugal. Benedita is currently finishing her MA Curating and Collections from Chelsea School of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, UK. She has worked at commercial galleries, cultural institutions and collections and is co-founder of Broken Phone – we'll meet in objects. (beneditamenezes.com)

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