Interview: Jenny Kendler

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Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I realized a while back that I look far more to non-art sources for inspiration, or if I’m looking at art, it’s generally vintage naturalists prints, or historical art and art objects from Western and non-Western sources. I read a lot and take inspiration from both fiction and non-fiction, as well as nature/activism magazines (favorites include Orion, YES! and National Geographic). One unusual source, in particular, is a collection of pre-1900’s nature books that I own. The etchings in them are endlessly interesting. 

I also watch a lot of films, and will admit to loving to browse my Tumblr feed, when I have free time, to search for all kinds of interesting images which I keep organized on my computer for future reference. I dream about art often, and sometimes get good ideas from reading through the dream journal I keep near my bed to note strange images or interesting ideas.


Do you ever work collaboratively? If so, what type of projects have you worked on and what was your role?

I  enjoy working collaboratively as I find that it always provides a new way of creating, and often allows you to recognize and get outside of the “rules” you may have set up in your own practice. 
Some projects that I have collaborated on include “In a Landscape Where Nothing Officially Exists,” a performative project for the 100th CAA in Los Angeles (2012). The project was orchestrated by fellow artist/environmental activist Dai Toyofuku who assembled a group of artists and conservation biologists to create the project, which asked people in the audience to take conceptual responsibility for certain endangered species in California. In exchange, as as a reminder or their commitment, they were given an original artwork of the species. The project, which included animal, insect and plant species, was about creating generosity and community across species lines. 

Myself and artist/illustrator Molly Schafer also collaborate on The Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP), which we founded in 2009, and to date has raised over $10,000 for biodiversity conservation efforts. 
Through ESPP, we were invited by the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization revered in environmental circles for their hard-hitting legal activism on behalf of threatened species and wild-lands, to participate in their amusing Endangered Species Condom Project, an effort to raise awareness about the link between overpopulation and species loss. Molly and I created the artwork for the first round of the project, which included 450,000 condom packages given out nation-wide, and was covered in a New York Times article and featured on a billboard in Times Square. 

Could you speak a little about The Endangered Species Project? (It’s a great thing, I have gotten two prints as gifts for people.)

Thank you, we truly appreciate your support!

Molly Schafer and I came up with ESPP when we found ourselves increasingly frustrated by the limitations of the white wall gallery system. While we were both making work that spoke about the human relationship to the natural world (and I do still feel art has an important role in any movement), we wanted to do something that also had a direct, tangible impact on biodiversity and critically endangered species. 
We came up with the concept of creating limited-edition prints of these species, where each edition number would be the number of that species remaining in the wild. For example, only 45 Amur Leopards remain, so the print edition for that artwork is 45. We saw this as a way to link the concepts of scarcity and preciousness between both this rare art object and the endangered individual species. In order that 100% of the purchase price goes to conservation, project is sponsored by OtherPeoplesPixels, the artist portfolio website company I co-founded with my husband in 2005.

Artwork for the prints is created either by Molly or myself — or one of the 11 other artists who have collaborated with us on the project. To date we have created prints to benefit 21 species (both animals and plants), and interest in the project continues to grow. (To learn more about the project and to support the species of your choice with the purchase of an archival print, please visit: http://endangeredspeciesprintproject.com)

Do issues relating to food ever enter into your artwork/activism?

Sure, I think that anyone interested in connecting to the Earth and their environment has to think about where our food comes from. My interdisciplinary practice includes leading wild-foraging walks and workshops, most recently at the ACRE residency in Wisconsin. Leading more of these walks is something that I’d love to continue to do, since I think that learning about the edible plants that grow all around us makes us more attentive to nature, provides historical context for food-culture, and inspires people to get more involved in the natural world. One of the main focuses of my practice is to have people engage/re-engage with the wonder inherent in our participation in nature, so watching anyone realize that those little “clovers” (actually Common Yellow Woodsorrel, Oxalis stricta) that grow all over taste like delicious lemon-lime is always a joy!

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By Sarah K. Benning

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