Looking and listening in the work of Jennie C. Jones

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Lee, Elizabeth Gordon

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I explore in this thesis the “acoustic panel paintings” and sound compositions of sonic and visual artist Jennie C. Jones. Both paintings and compositions address the core concerns of the artist—histories and surrounding discourses of modernism and the avant-garde that have either erased or siloed modern Black cultural production. Jones’s work, in a formally pared down and minimalist visual language and abstract sound compositions, engages specifically with the place of Black music, in particularly experimental jazz, and the ways in which the movement is meaningfully neglected in dominant histories of the avant-garde. Much of the writing on Jones’s work thus far often reproduces the very silences that her work destabilizes and reduces her practice into a project of revisionism. In this thesis, I work through and present an alternative sort of analysis—one that is not trapped within discursive debates that only engage with the racial significations present in her work—but instead grounded in an exploration of how actually engaging with these subtly complicated and functional objects and in turn leads to a more nuanced investigation of Jones’s intent. Relying on a close assessment of my own interactions with the works, I argue that Jones’s paintings in their quiet unsettling and attunement of the viewer to examine their own approach, meaningfully addresses our own practices of looking and listening within exhibition spaces—one that offers a freedom of interpretation and holds great political potential for the present.



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