Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Jen on Jen on Jen

Written by Sarah Amiel
Meet Jennifer Sullivan: a soft-spoken, emerging female artist who resides in Brooklyn. Born and raised in Albany, she moved to New York In ’95 to get her BA at Pratt and then her MFA at Parsons. Aside from being insanely gifted, she is also super-cool; besides being a multi-talented artist, she has lived in an adobe house in New Mexico, can rock Madonna karaoke like it's her full-time job, and would rather be friends with Britney than Lindsay (though she doesn't even own a TV or an iPod). Thanks to Sadie, I recently had the opportunity to ask her about many of these things.
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Meet Jennifer Sullivan: a soft-spoken, emerging female artist who resides in Brooklyn. Born and raised in Albany, she moved to New York In ’95 to get her BA at Pratt and then her MFA at Parsons. Aside from being insanely gifted, she is also super-cool; besides being a multi-talented artist, she has lived in an adobe house in New Mexico, can rock Madonna karaoke like it's her full-time job, and would rather be friends with Britney than Lindsay (though she doesn't even own a TV or an iPod). Thanks to Sadie, I recently had the opportunity to ask her about many of these things.

Sarah: What are you working on right now?

Jennifer: My current work is called WJEN Radio Station, which started out as an idea for a self-portrait as a radio station, but has morphed into many things. It's like a variety show where I play all the different parts, sort of like Jen on Jen on Jen. It started out as a small audio boom box where I would sit [behind the desk it was on]. It then turned into a boom box where I could actually fit inside.
 
Sarah: Sounds exciting! What kind of art inspires you?

Jennifer: I like contemporary art, folk art, African art, but I get inspired by so many different forms of art. I love viewing movies for inspiration, [like] John Cassavetes’ Faces. Before cable there was [this] thing called Cable Z where you could watch obscure movies on TV, and they show those at a theatre in the city. I admire people like Cassavetes; he does emotional work and there is a quality of realness incorporating everyday life [and] human issues that makes me cry.

Sarah: Being a woman artist, do you find it difficult to get your name out there, especially in such a competitive city?

Jennifer: I have considered myself a feminist from a very young age. However, I was in a feminist art show recently, and I got really upset with it. I felt like I was being defined as “woman artist” versus just “artist.” As if I needed a classification. To me, it seems a bit unfair.

Women can be more complacent [than men], and you need to have confidence when it comes to getting your work shown. There is a lot of social climbing in this industry, but for me, sometimes I just like meeting people and not just solely for my career. I feel it's a sad way to live [to be complacent], and would like to think my career is in my own hands.

Sarah: How do you think, moving forward, you can conquer anyway?

Jennifer: I've tried in the past taking a different risk everyday; this interview being one of them [giggles]! I like to push myself. [And I] like curating shows as much as being in [them].

Sarah: Who are your idols?

Jennifer: Louise Bourgeois [is] a huge inspiration; she had so much perseverance [and] was ignored until she was in her seventies. By the time she became successful, she didn't give a fuck what anyone [had] thought of her before [that]. I think it’s really important not to allow other people to define how successful you are. It’s all about what's inside. I also love Grace Jones. To me she is just awesome, redefining what it means to be a woman. It is whatever she wants it to be, even if it is masculine at times. Kate Bush is also a hero of mine; I'm pretty obsessed with her. I feel she's like the Björk of her day!

Sarah: Who do you think gives women a bad rap in this day and age?

Jennifer: I think the women's fashion magazine industry. I made a decision at a point in my life not to necessarily ban fashion magazines, but they didn't make me feel good about myself. I feel it's just this idea of giving people what they want, but really constructing how women should be living their lives.

Sarah: The generation of today is one of narcissism; girls at a young age are exploiting themselves with all these different mediums to showcase themselves. What do you think has to change in terms of a movement?

Jennifer: Good question! Girls are electing themselves to do this and it’s sad; a lot of these girls just want to aspire [to] be objects out of a gossip magazine. I think we are at a point where some women feel guilty for wanting to be pretty, but there's a grey area in today’s culture. It's very complicated; you can't force anyone to be a certain way. It's weird because the porn industry makes more money than Hollywood, so that scares me to know, but I don't have an answer. I wish I did!

Sarah: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Jennifer: Super Confidence. Impregnable confidence. I watch The Secret! To me, it’s true things simplified. I'm a Buddhist, and I meditate everyday. It’s a great way to help clear your mind, and I think The Secret helps people with that.

Sarah: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Jennifer: In high school I was a bit of a weirdo, a lot more shy. I listened to Dinosaur Jr., Jane's Addiction, Hole, and Nirvana.

Sarah: Would you rather be friends with Lindsay or Britney?

Jennifer: BRITNEY! I am so intrigued by her; even though she is tragic at this point, she's not letting the system get to her. She's just being human; she's not living this false life. I definitely don't condone it, and I think she needs help, but at least she is real.

Sarah: Cats or dogs?

Jennifer: Cats. They are more independent and cuddly.

Sarah: French fries or mashed potatoes?

Jennifer: Mashed Potatoes.

Sarah: What advice would you give to a woman artist or any artist coming into the world?

Jennifer: I'm really glad I got my MFA degree; it's not necessary, and it’s so expensive, but it helps. I think the real thing about art is figuring out how to support yourself while leaving enough time to create.

Sarah: What's on your bucket list?

Jennifer: To do a solo show that would be profitable, own a home, and a museum perspective. One of my big ideas of success is to have Jerry Saltz, an art critic for New York Magazine, [review my work]. Though I change my mind daily.

Sarah: What's is in your iPod?

Jennifer: I don't own an iPod. I'm obsessed with karaoke, so I play everything out of that. Lil Wayne and Madonna. Sounds of the Seventies, Elton John. "Crazy for You" by Madonna is one my [favorite] karaoke songs to do.

Sarah: Book of the moment?

Jennifer: Autobiography of Gypsy Rose Lee, who was a burlesque stripper. I love self-help books also!

Sarah: Who was your first kiss?

Jennifer: I really don't remember!!! I think it was maybe someone in acting camp...

Sarah: What shocks you these days? I find that artists aren't always shockable...

Jennifer: What shocks me is what is being defined as normal in the world.

Sarah: And the most important question of the night… If you were stranded on an island, what three things would you bring?

Jennifer: A pen. A paper...and…I don't think I'd want my third thing to be a person. [She looks around.] A lighter? [LOL].

You can check Jennifer's work out at www.jennifersullivan.org.
 
Photos and illustrations courtesy of Jennifer Sullivan

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