Packard Jennings is an artist, an activist, an artivist.
Like the French Nouvelle Vague a new wave washed against our dull established values. And suggested to perceive art in an other way or maybe to give it back the place it has once. PHJ is part of this movement.
History fact : In France Art got its ministry in 1959. Before it was part of the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Public Instruction. André Malraux, a famous French writer got the lead of The Ministère des Affaires Culturelles and developed a policy of “artistic shock”; the belief that the inner qualities of an artwork should create emotions and catch attention without the need to be explained to viewers. A beautiful idea indeed but which actually came up with another intention : cutting Art off the popular culture. Deprived from its root Art would become abstract, etheral, emptied of political messages. Art stopped being the media of political concerns it stopped pissing off politicians for a while. The idea was so great that many countries around the world adopted it. And most of you know the results as we now have been formatted to discuss the shapes, the colours, the brightness of execution, the talent of the hand that painted but rarely we can come up with the feeling that the piece of art we see sends us a strong criticism of established values.
I’m not saying there are no artists criticizing their government, the society they live in. I’m just saying they are heavily counterbalanced by a mass of public funded artists ready “to sell available human brain time” (to quote the former chairman of the first French private TV channel)
So maybe street art, urban hacking will change that. Other arts as well, but the first two have an advantage, they are popular in their essence. People can see, grab, copy them, and finally create them themselves.
Browsing the net in search of artists who initiated and worked on street projects i found Packard Jennings. And wow… He was the guy i was looking for.
We, at Generation Bass were very curious to know a bit more about Packard Jennings. So we sent a few questions and very kindly he answered them. Enjoy the interview and Packard Jennings’ work.
GENERATION BASS : Do you consider yourself as an artist or a militant ?
PACKARD JENNINGS : I consider myself an artist and an activist. Sometimes as an assertive activist and sometimes I’m a lazy activist. I’m in awe of the risks that I see many activists take on behalf of others, putting their lives on the line. I don’t conflate what I do with that.
I don’t see myself as a militant, which suggests rigidity. As an artist I’m always questioning. Many of my works are experiments on our relationships with political and social structures and not coming from a place of certainty or statement of ‘fact’, even though they may seem that way. Let’s just say my political views are extremely liberal.
GB : Your art is characteristic in the way that it strongly interacts with modern society, do you think you would have done something else if society was different ?
PHJ : It would be a great relief if the world was suddenly a fair, just and peaceful place. A place where people’s needs were all met. In that case, I would still be an artist and filmmaker, but not a political one. I love creating and making things. Maybe I’d try my hand at cat videos.
GB : Do you see yourself as a urban hacker ?
PHJ : Sure, you could say that phrase suits many of my projects.
GB : As La trahison des Images (« ceci n’est pas une pipe ») from Magritte you yourself make your artwork exists through the questioning people will have when they see « these worlds hold no power over you ». Am i wrong ?
PHJ : I came up with the phrase “These Words Hold No Power Over You” (as seen on The Last Billboard in Pittsburgh, PA curated by Jon Rubin) to experiment with whether or not power was able to relinquish its own power. If this piece is working, it hopefully reveals something of the depth of the power of advertising. I think the example of the Magritte one is a good one, but I think my art is still a pipe.
GB : You also willingly or not question again the concept of « art », is it the object itself or the « action related to it » ?
PHJ : I’ve always been more interested in the concept and action/interaction than the means of delivery (object). This leaves me often having to learn new processes. I’ve always been into making things, but in my art the concept is the driver.
GB : There is also an aspect of life-span that appears in your art, placing an anarchist action toy in a famous supermarket will only prevail as long as the toy stays on the shelf.
PHJ : I create some works for a small primary audience of just a few people or one person. This ephemeral moment is where the art happens – where the interaction of people, situation and objects collide. The secondary audience is engaged through documentation, which is how you reach a larger audience, but the art happens and lives in those first moments of engagement.
GB : Is art ephemeral ? To exist does it need to be recreated again and again ? We’re very far from what was done in years, decades, centuries before, it’s a total twist in Art History.
PHJ : I guess everything is ephemeral except energy / matter. Whoa, we are floating away here. I’m no art historian, but from my view the only definition of art is that it continually expands and defies its own definition. Duchamp saw to that. It is an interesting time to be an artist. Everything is fair game. As I see it, there are no rules. The Art Market may not always agree, but I think freedom to move between disciplines is a key component to being a progressive artist in the 21st century. That said, there are still plenty of painters. You can’t kill painting or irony, nor would I want to. There is definitely something to say for people who pick a discipline and follow it their whole lives and go deep. You have to respect it.
On November twelfth, 2008, over 80,000 copies of a replica of the New York Times were distributed in several cities around the United States. The paper included 14 pages of “best case scenario” news set nine months in the future.
In collaboration with Steve Lambert, Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men, along with 30 writers, 50 advisors, around 1000 volunteer distributors.
GB : What do you think of the fact that « street art » as it is called nowadays is now exhibited in galleries ?
PHJ : There is a benefit to viewing this type of work in a gallery if the overall project was complicated. Seeing a multifaceted project in a gallery or book allows people to understand the big picture and put together all the pieces. There is a value to this. Showing street art in a gallery is also a way for the artists to make money from the work. I think they should be able to. It does become problematic if the sales begin to dictate the type of work that the artist makes. Then the street art is a vehicle for gallery sales. It makes the street work a form of marketing for a gallery artist. Bummer. One big problem is that street art is often dead or has a much smaller percentage of the life that it had on the street. It is not as interesting in a gallery context. If people like to see it there and buy it to support the artist’s work, I think that’s fine. Just don’t confuse it for the real thing. The art happened on the street, you are buying a representation of an artwork.
GB : What are the new projects you’re working on at the moment ?
PHJ : I’m working on a large-scale, social practice/filmmaking public project that looks at how can we balance privacy with the desire to share our personal lives online. I can’t say much more, but it will have a mid-sized iteration this fall at a residency in Miami called LegalArt/Cannonball.
Free education advice:
Be an artist, but don’t spend much money on an art degree (undergrad or MFA). There is epic competition for resources and little money. The experience can be great, but the debt is not worth it. You can be an artist without the degree, or go to a state school that is affordable.
Thank you very much Packard Jennings for this interview !
And that is not finished. It you feel the need to urban hack your surroundings, Packard Jennings greatly contributed to the creation of a website called Destructables.org.
“Destructables.org is an advertising free Do It Yourself website for projects of protest and creative dissent. The site features user generated step-by-step video and photo/text based instructions for a wide range of dissenting actions, including (but not limited to): art actions, billboard alterations, shop-dropping, protest strategies, knit-bombing, making protest props, interventions, methods of civil disobedience, stencil work, performative actions, and many other forms of public dissent – from the practical and tactical to the creative and illegal. It is a living archive and resource for the art and activist communities.”
From the wesite presentation.
See more Packard Jennings’ work on his website.
Like the famous Business Reply
“This small, sixteen-page instructional pamphlet is produced to put inside the postage-paid, business-reply envelopes that come with junk mail offers and mailed back to the company of origin.”