Jennifer Steinkamp (b. 1958, Denver, CO; lives and works in Los Angeles, CA) is a pioneer in the field of 3-D animation. Working exclusively in digital media, she uses cutting-edge technology to render organic and abstract forms in motion and give deeper insight into the often unseen complexities of the natural environment. Her immersive installations are projected at a large scale in response to the architectural interiors in which they appear and alter the viewer’s typical experience of an object within a gallery, inviting a more comprehensive understanding of space and time. For each series, Steinkamp designs and digitally simulates movement of organic and abstract forms such as trees, flowers, floating fabrics, rocks, organisms, and fruit. Her work is an examination of the natural environment that engages with art historical genres such as 16th century Dutch still-life painting as well as scientific illustrations and nature photography.
Steinkamp’s works are displayed as site-specific projections that amplify their architectural setting by blurring the boundary between real and illusionistic space. These animated environments often have underlying personal or historical significance. In her animations of a single tree shown in every season, for example, Steinkamp titles each as an homage to a former teacher, such as Judy Crook or Mike Kelly. Other series, like Still-Life, are a critical nod to the 16th century genre of Dutch and Flemish still-life painting that offered visual allegories about the fragility of life and the passage of time. Composed through the careful orientation of everyday objects such as food, flowers, dead animals, and plants, these historical works were often notable for their static quality and macabre representation of death. In Steinkamp’s reimagination of the still life, she animates this genre through the representation of female fruit bearing plants that move and collide in a poetic dance that celebrates life and regeneration through the natural environment.
Time also plays a significant role in Steinkamp’s work, often depicting cyclical occurrences such as changing seasons and life cycles. These cycles do not typically have a beginning, middle, or end, there is no birth, life, death narrative structure, but rather work with non-narrative concepts of change. Blind Eye, a suite of animations inspired by the landscape that surrounds the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts—are larger-than-life size projections depicting monocular frontal views of a dense forest of birch trees. As the trees sway—sometimes quite violently―the leaves fall like a gentle rain. While the allusion to the changing seasons is clear, these works exist outside of a linear narrative in a moment removed from its temporal context. Each series in Steinkamp’s oeuvre highlights the important historical position she holds as a leader in digital animation and among the first to experiment with constructing imagery—including color, texture, and movement—by wholly digital means. By simulating natural movement in cycles that are at once familiar-seeming yet entirely unique, Steinkamp conjures the uncanny impression of artificial life that is both rooted in past modes of representation while looking, with optimism, towards the future.
Steinkamp received her BFA and MFA from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 1989 and 1991, respectively, and also received an honorary PhD in 2011. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY (2019); The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA (2018); Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, CO (2017); Portland Art Museum, OR (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2016 and 2011); McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX (2016); Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX (2012 and 2014); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, MO (2013); the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE (2013); Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Spain (2009); Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY (2008); and San Jose Museum of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, traveled to the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, MO and Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY (2006). Select group exhibitions and biennials featuring her work include The Age of Trees, Hayward Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2020); Open Spaces Biennial, Kansas City (2018); Virtual Views: Digital Art from the Thoma Foundation, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN (2017); Nature Morte: contemporary artists reinvigorate the still-life tradition, Bohusläns Museum, Uddevalla, Sweden (2016); Momentum: An Experiment in the Unexpected, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (2014); Turning Inside Out: Video Art by Nam June Paik, Joan Jonas, and Jennifer Steinkamp, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE (2012); Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image, Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (2011); The Artist's Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (2010); and California Video, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2008). Steinkamp has participated in multiple biennials, including the 11th Cairo International Biennial (2008) and the 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003). Her work can be found in numerous public and private collections internationally, including the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Istanbul Museum, Turkey; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.