ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with Jenna Hamed as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Jenna Hamed is an art worker and photographer based in Queens, NY. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Apparel, Textiles and Merchandising from Eastern Michigan University, and a Master’s Degree in Arts Politics from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her text- and image-based works can be found in online and print publications, on the streets of NYC, as well as in her e-zine publications, which she sends out to subscribers on a regular basis.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
At this moment, my practice is centered in different forms of documentation: I shoot street, portrait and still life photography on 35mm film; I work with archives, and I organize site-specific performance events in public space, respectively––each of which engage ephemera/l qualities captured through text and image sequences. One can say that The Book is a central part of my practice––bookmaking has taught me to take extra care of the production process, and to own the means of production. In brief, I’m obsessed with the “work” aspect of “artwork”.
By embracing production as a practice, I can think intently about materiality and tangible qualities of my work. And as a film photographer who shoots analog, it is especially important for me to stay connected with the hands-on process of image-making and the photograph’s physical form.
The intimate space of The Book offers readers perspective of the matrix of gazes and levels of awareness between subjects: from the people the background, foreground, those out of the frame at the moment the image was taken; and of course, the photographer. I think deeply about the camera’s intimidating presence, its history and its ongoing role in colonial conquest, surveillance and exploitation. With that in mind, I am constantly thinking about how the camera and image-making practices can be used to resist from inside The State: which is built, operating and thriving on conquest, surveillance and exploitation.
One way that is helpful to think through this is how in the era of facial detection and hyper-surveillance software, film photography can be a form of encrypted or “off the grid” image production. You can create an image bypassing all forms of computerized technology by processing images taken on a film camera and developing those images in the dark room. This is helpful for me at times when I am photographing situations where I need to maintain confidentiality for the subjects and/or myself. This also helps me think through the redress of the archive, another system that continues to administer colonial violence––how are we building a structure that allows us to preserve our objects over time, providing a crowdsourced catalog of context for future use, given its limitations? I’m still trying to figure out what an archive outside of the institutionalized context looks like, and what language we can use— that’s how organizing performances in public space helps me test that question.
Can you tell us about Enduring Apocalypse which is a project that includes multiple collaborations and a performance?
The theme of Enduring Apocalypse was conceived from the conversations between Kamelya Omayma Youssef and I this past summer, ruminating on the idea of a performance marathon event. One sunday afternoon, we were at a bookshop with friends, and noticed that books on floods kept appearing––and this was shortly after our hometown of Dearborn, MI faced a series of floods from rainstorms.
How apocalyptic, we would repeat to each other.
At this time, it was announced that the East River Park (and many other neighborhoods and publicly accessible spaces in NYC) was undergoing demolition plans. This was due to the failures of our government in addressing the fundamental causes of climate change, and instead choosing to adapt the cityscape to the climate’s change.
The question I always come back to when I catch myself subsumed in existential dread for the fate of our planet is: as artists, how then are we to respond?
We were amid the disheveled aisles of the $1, $2, and $3 book carts when the idea started unraveling. We talked through the theme of this event being based on the inevitable end; the end of the world; the apocalypse. The concept of Enduring Apocalypse started to take form.
I released an open call across art platforms and networks soliciting 2-sentence proposals for 10 minute performances by artists of any discipline. Ultimately, I chose not to reject a single proposal, and when we had more than 50 performers and collectives for the lineup, the remainder of performers were on a waitlist.
Each performance was so vastly different from the next, each artist contributed a different interpretation of the theme, resulting in a sequence of performances that were randomized, yet managed to sustain a rhythm within the dis-order. I want to emphasize that the order of performances were not curated, aside from the modifications in the order of performances based on logistical purposes. The marathon was held entirely outside in the Abrons Arts Center amphitheater, so holding the event in an open-air space added more variables to the multitude such as the weather conditions, the time of day, and the environmental factors all woven into the performance experience. Although I embraced randomness as a method for the un-curated sequence of performances, Tsohil Bhatia and I coordinated the logistics of the event together using an obsessively detailed minute by minute schedule of the event flow.
Organizing this event has taught me to think outside of the systems and spaces we’ve become accustomed to exhibiting work in, and to explore use of the non-artspace spaces. Curation is only one method of order, and we should consider the element of randomness and dis-order as an alternative. I’m interested in these antitheses especially as we carry on into the current age of the algorithmic order.
Part of your practice focuses on the book as object, can you share some past or current projects that revolve around this theme?
I think about how each project will culminate into a book. That is due to the heavy hand I had in managing production of exhibition catalogs and brochures, among other printed materials, which developed the foundation of my publishing practice. I handled everything from prepping photo and text documentation being flowed into the books, to working with book designers on developing structures inspired by artist’s books, and to managing the print production and assembly. This experience shaped my understanding of the book beyond a container; but also as an art object informing content, and content informing structure.
I am working on my first two independent book projects, both of which will be available in early 2022.The publication on Enduring Apocalypse will serve as an archive of the event with event photos and a reflection text, as well as instructions and resources sourced from the participants on surviving the apocalypse.
I am also working on a photobook containing a series of artists’ portraits in their work spaces, which will be published alongside interviews with each artist. I am documenting this project entirely with 35mm film. I believe in the constraints and limitations of the analog processes, and I certainly think that capturing, processing and developing an image manually allows for more variation and creative input, which is what I’m interested in as a fine art photographer.
I also believe that maintaining a physical archive–– including the prints and negatives in the archive is an important aspect to the project. Having physical copies of the images enables a more intimate interaction with the work. Those are qualities I appreciate in my personal archive, and I would want that same consideration for the caretaker of this future archive.
The two publications will be the inaugural projects of a small press I am launching: Side Projects Press, which is devoted to publishing and supporting the work of artists who have to work full-time in order to survive and sustain their practice.
I am working in collaboration with Isobel Chiang, a book designer I’ve been working with for years. Together we think through the entire production of the book: the design, materiality, and format. Our working relationship is really special to me, we have a constant flow of exchanging ideas and inspiration, and we are both process-driven and detail oriented. One of my aims is to retain at least one hand-made quality to the books I publish, with elements such as hand folding and binding––we have flexibility to work on these elements since both of these publications will be a limited run.
In what ways is photography and documentation central to your practice? What are some of your current or ongoing photography projects?
My interests in photo documentation derive from my experience of accessing my family’s archives, including that of my elders and ancestors, alongside the many oral stories of their lives between the US and Palestine. These photos represent moments of time we no longer have access to, yet have shaped our current truth; these include photos from my divorced parents’ wedding day, my mother’s portraits from public school in Brooklyn, my grandmothers’ images among the landscape in Jerusalem… I plan to spend the rest of my life working with these materials as they ground the experience of self exploration, and continue to influence my current work in compiling a future archive.
I have adopted my family’s tradition of documenting and storytelling by taking initiative to photograph and interview my friends and comrades, all of whom happen to be incredible artists and thinkers I am lucky enough to develop a stock of documentation with. I engage in conversations about our art making and the personal experiences we’ve had, as well as exchanging ideas and providing supportive accountability.
I feel most comfortable behind the lens, and the camera is an extension of my body. To me, the portrait series is an endless project, and will be a way to remain in conversation with artists.
What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
I recently learned about the work of Davide Sorrenti, specifically his polaroids, and I can’t get his images out of my head. I’m drawn to the way he documented his friends with intimacy and rawness, and how his photographic style speaks to his lifestyle as a young photographer coming up in the 80’s and 90’s on the Lower East Side.
What I can take away from Davide is the way that I can remain authentic to the craft of photography by documenting my own perspective. There is something so extraordinary about capturing one’s own orbit to produce a body of work that is authentic to their experience and perspective. Living in New York City gives me access to an endless stream of places to explore and people to meet, which has essentialized the camera as a note taking device. Everything feels like an experimental performance, we’re always walking into a scene, and there is always an audience. There are unexplainable magical and serendipitous moments, vivid textures, resonating sounds. I’m interested in fabricating those experiences for others through event organizing, too.
Do you have any performances or projects coming up in 2022?
It’s a hard question because I have no idea what 2022 has in store for me, for us, for the world. As of now, I am planning to organize experimental guerrilla publications and sound installations, spanning public spaces throughout the city.
Above all, I want to pace myself, prioritize rest and work on projects that allow me to be present, since the nature of my archival work situates me in the past, and film photography has me constantly looking toward the future.
JENNA HAMED ONLINE: