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Jenny Perlin, Film

Jenny Perlin is an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received a BA from Brown University, her MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program. She has had solo exhibitions in Slovania, Berlin, New York, Rijeka Croatia, Toronto, Dussledorf, Amsterdam, Chicago, Switzerland, and Miami. She is currently a professor at Lang College, The New School, and The Cooper Union, New York. Perlin shoots 16mm film and digital video and combines live-action, staged, and documentary images with hand-drawn, text-based animation.


 In 2000, I was trying to finish a film and I didn’t want to use a voice over so I started making animations and it took off from there. The process becomes zen. With animations, there’s a walking to it. I have to walk in a circle or back and forth for days. It’s this walking meditation process that is amazing. There’s a physical rhythm to it. I get sore because I’m walking, bending and drawing.

In 2001, there was this exhibition called Into the Light curated by Chrissie Iles at the Whitney Museum of American Art, I talk about it a lot. It really changed my life. It made me realize there was a possibility for artist films. Not only was it possible but it was historical, it wasn’t new it was something that people have been trying out for ages. That was incredibly helpful as an artist who wanted to use film as artwork, instead of being forced to tell stories in a traditional way.

The reason I like film is because people have to go through it. That power of time-based work is a real thrill.


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I’ve always been curious about people, people who have jobs and lives that are unimaginable. I have a very strong documentary drive. When I was in college I did some internships in documentary. I was very shocked when I realized that documentary wasn’t just filming people for weeks and weeks and then showing that but it was constructing this story out of the materials that they gave you. For me that was just the same as making something up. I quickly turned away from documentary.

In my version of documentary, there are associations from research. That’s when they stop looking like documentary. There’s a net of associations that makes perfect sense to me but might not be obvious or make sense to everybody and it’s my job to point it out.

After about 20 years I started thinking about myself as a real artist. I wish I could say that was a joke. I think I’ve always thought of myself as a word person and a literary person. I was a literature student so I wanted to have text, pictures, music, and voice. I wanted a container to put all those things. Film was that container. There is something about my personality that I like to feel foreign in what I do, no matter what. There’s something generative about feeling like an outsider, to me. That motivates me in a way.


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–Jenny Perlin, as told to Studio Beat

Photos by Rachel MacFarlane

Visit Jenny Perlin’s website here.

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