The Zimmerli Art Museum Presents JESSE KRIMES: APOKALUPTEIN: 16389067
Making art serves as an important meditative process for individuals to contemplate - and reflect upon their own roles in - the world around them. Jesse Krimes: Apokaluptein: 16389067, on view at theZimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University through December 14, 2014, is the culmination of one man's experiences. Krimes, who lives and works in Philadelphia, created the individual panels for Apokaluptein: 16389067, the mural at the center of the exhibition, while serving a prison sentence. An art school graduate and professional artist before the arrest, he did not have access to traditional art supplies during the six years of his incarceration and invented a print-transfer system using a plastic spoon, images from The New York Times, and hair gel on prison bed sheets to achieve a silk-screen effect. The result is a 15x39-foot quilt-like installation of thin cotton, loosely nailed to the wall to form a delicate curtain. Figuratively, however, the sheets are very dense, creating layers of meaning. They invite viewers to look more closely and not only join the conversation that the artist has initiated, but also consider their own mediated view of the world.
Jesse Krimes is part of a large movement of visual artists, writers, and performers who use their creative processes to share their personal experiences with, and examine issues within, America's legal system. Artists, advocates, and scholars will address a broad cross-section of topics as part of Marking Time: Prison Arts and Activism Conference, which runs from October 8 to 10. Krimes presents a talk on Wednesday, October 8, at the Zimmerli; it begins at 4 p.m. and is followed by a reception. Organized by the Institute for Research on Women at Rutgers, the conference is free and open to the public, with programs at various locations on campus and in New Brunswick. For the full schedule, visit irw.rutgers.edu.
"The Zimmerli is honored to be the first museum to give Jesse Krimes a solo show and to exhibit Apokaluptein: 16389067. A monumental and complex work that is both beautiful and haunting, it represents a trace or a memory of lost time and the artist's physical isolation from the world and all that anchors us. Jesse's description of his time in prison as a space in which 'all measure within prison seems to collapse, leaving only time to reflect' is palpably visible in the poignant fragility of the mural," commented Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli's Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator.
The process of creating Apokaluptein: 16389067 began in 2010, when Krimes was transferred to a federal penitentiary in New Jersey, where he spent the final three years of a 70-month sentence for a non-violent drug offense. (The title is a combination of the Greek word "apokaluptein," meaning to uncover or reveal, with the artist's prison identification number). Friends and family sent him issues of The New York Times, allowing him to virtually experience the world beyond his walls: this was how he witnessed such dramatic events as the earthquake in Haiti, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Krimes began to collect images without a preconceived idea of how he would use them; but, in time, he realized that these images fell into five primary categories: man-made disasters, natural disasters, ideal vacations, commercial advertisements, and artistic representations.
Combining fragmented images (all related to the five categories), Krimes conceived a new narrative. He inserted the heads of contemporary politicians, celebrities, and offenders onto common Christian imagery - archangels, angels, and demons - to emphasize the dangers of our culture of celebrity worship, where impractical (and sometimes harmful) role models are lauded in the media. The panels developed into a division of Heaven, Earth, and Hell, but the incorporation of a tripartite structure extends beyond theology to theories that shape philosophy, governments, and the arts.
Upon completing each of the 39 panels (36 are on view), Krimes mailed them to a friend to store for him: a step that helped him feel as if he were transferring part of himself outside the walls of his confinement. Following his release in September of 2013, Krimes assembled the panels; he felt a certain sense of closure, but was still confined to home. While making minor revisions to a panel, he discovered that the obsessive method of working that once kept him disciplined, focused, and calm now generated anxiety, frustration, and anger.
Upon the initial installation of Apokaluptein in early 2014 in Philadelphia, Krimes finally felt a tangible end to his long and complicated experience. In remembering this time, he speaks of surviving the intense carceral system without allowing its techniques of conformity to strip him of his individuality and mold him into a "criminal." The panels had provided a refuge for his identity and upon seeing them assembled for the first time, the tension and fear that were with him continually as he worked on the mural panels were drained of their power over him. In the fall of 2014, Krimes was ready to "release the work from [his] care." He continues to feel a strong connection to the mural and it evokes his personal experience, but it bears mental and emotional weight. By physically detaching from it and and making it accessible to the public, he feels that he is able to move forward.
While the mural was an exercise in self-reflection, he also intends for Apokaluptein to foster difficult conversations. Krimes acknowledges that the project has "always served as a medium of communication, especially while I was incarcerated." But as viewers examine (and are encouraged to re-examine) the panels, new details and levels of interpretation continually emerge. Krimes states, "It provides a tangible object that reflects something intangible - and because of that, it is a catalyst for shared experiences and emotional connections."
Images and themes throughout the mural are reminiscent of other works that have become well-known in art history. And although he may tap into centuries-old archetypes, Krimes speaks in contemporary terms and the final product uniquely expresses his own creative path. As he meticulously combed through the newspaper every day, Krimes made connections between repeated messages about consumer culture and desire as well as the paradoxes. He recognized the "natural disaster" coverage of the devastation in parts of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake; yet, that other parts of the nation were marketed as an "ideal vacation" to elite travelers. Even a comparison to American postwar and Pop artists seems almost ironic, as those same artists not only worked when modern consumerism was in its infancy, but now are full-fledged products in their own high commodity market (which is depicted through advertising in the "Hell" portion of the mural).
Also on view are 30 objects from Purgatory, a series of 300 sculptures: though physically less imposing than the mural, they are equally thought-provoking. These were the artist's first attempts at making art in prison when his sentence began in Pennsylvania in 2009. He glued playing cards together with toothpaste and soap shavings, creating a deck-sized block, then cut window-like openings into the block, using the interior connector of a AAA battery. Krimes transferred portrait heads cut from the Times onto wet fragments of prison-issued soap, creating what he interpreted as "offender" portraits. He concealed each one in the stack of cards, which essentially served as an anti-reliquary, or "reliquary from Hell."