The Julia Stoschek Foundation presents the European premiere of Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation, the first major retrospective of the work of groundbreaking video and performance artist Ulysses Jenkins. A pivotal influence on contemporary art for over fifty years, Jenkins—who was born and lives in Los Angeles—has produced video and media work that conjures vital expressions of how image, sound, and cultural iconography inform representation. Using archival footage, photographs, image processing, and soundtracks, Jenkins interrogates questions of race and gender as they relate to ritual, history, and the power of the state.
The exhibition is co-curated by Erin Christovale, curator at the Hammer Museum, L.A., and Meg Onli, independent curator (former Andrea B. Laporte Associate Curator at ICA Philadelphia), where the exhibition was previously on view. The Julia Stoschek Foundation presentation is coordinated by Lisa Long with curatorial assistance from Savannah Jade Thümler.
Organized closely with the artist—including the digitization of a sprawling archive and conversations with Ulysses Jenkins and his collaborators—the exhibition encompasses a broad range of over fifteen videos and almost sixty works in total that showcase his collaborations, mural paintings, photography, and performances, revealing the scope of Jenkins’s practice.
Beginning as a painter and muralist, Jenkins was introduced to video just as the first consumer cameras were becoming available. He quickly seized upon television technology as a means to broadcast alternative and critical depictions of multiculturalism, citing the catalyst of Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) and its call to Black filmmakers to control their subjecthood by controlling in turn the media that depicts them.
From his work with Video Venice News, a Los Angeles media collective he founded in the early 1970s, to his involvement with the artist group Studio Z (alongside David Ham- mons, Senga Nengudi, and Maren Hassinger), to his individual video and performance works with Othervisions Studio, Jenkins explicitly comments on how white supremacy is embedded in popular culture and its effects on subjectivity. Jenkins studied under Charles White, Gene Youngblood, Chris Burden, and Betye Saar, and has collaborated with many artists, including Kerry James Marshall, who performed in Two-Zone Transfer (1979); David Hammons, who was the subject of King David (1978); and Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger, both of whom appeared in Dream City (1983), among other works.
Among the many video works of the exhibition is Mass of Images (1978), an innovative video art piece that critiques the media’s role in perpetuating racist and harmful images of the African diaspora in the United States. Like other works in the exhibition, it is grounded in issues that remain at the heart of contemporary conversations about inequality and environmental devastation amplified by unchecked capitalism, governmental oppression, and the impact of systemic racism on Black cultural production.
Though many emerging Black video artists who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s cite Jenkins as a major influence, his groundbreaking and prescient work is only now being revisited by scholars, curators, and a wider group of artists. Particularly relevant for today is the political and social commentary embedded in Jenkins’s work, such as his questioning of Black stereotypes in the American entertainment industry in Mass of Images (1978) and Two-Zone Transfer (1979), or calls to protect the rights of Indig- enous groups and promote environmental conservation in Bay Window (1991).
Three videos by Ulysses Jenkins have been acquired by Julia Stoschek for the collection: Mass of Images (1978), Two-Zone Transfer (1979), and Dream City (1983). “After decades of creating his own networks of distribution, I wanted to ensure his work becomes a permanent part of this collection,” said Julia Stoschek. “Welcome, Ulysses!”