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Meet Jenny Yurshansky

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Yurshansky.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
My background is that my parents are Soviet-Jewish refugees who emigrated from the Soviet Union era state of Moldova. I was born on the way to the U.S., in Rome, grew up in Los Angeles, and after college, I lived between Los Angeles and Sweden for eleven years.

Shifting between borders and cultures has been the narrative of my life. This reality has influenced my work, reflected by what I was seeing as part of the growing numbers of immigrants and refugees in Sweden and who I grew up with in Los Angeles. Coming from comparatively diverse Southern California, where most of the people in my inner circle were either immigrants or first-generation Americans, my research for the past seven years has been on the impact that waves of migration have had in creating a transforming idealized landscape, a space for the projection of cultural shifts in values and norms.

In 2010 I moved into a 100-year-old church in Sweden that was situated amid forest and fields. My former partner and I were rebuilding it into an artist studio, residency, and sculpture park. Plants surrounded me on all sides and at all scales. Learning to read the forest became a substantive part of my daily life. Paying close attention to the relationships between the plants that lived nearer to us and those that seemed wilder but once you dive into the particulars of plant life you soon learn the forensics of what they are actually saying about humans and our impact. It was fascinating and opened up a whole new language for me and reshaped the lens through which I thought about what I was making and the translation of my ideas and the form of my work.

Please tell us about your art.
I have a conceptual and research-based practice that informs the material qualities of the artwork that I produce. My history and perspective of being a refugee have deeply informed me. I am interested in the psychic and cultural legacies of loss and trauma that refugee groups carry with them over into their new homes, that replay in the continuum of their lived experience. This topic only becomes more pertinent as the lessons of history fade. I use absence and erasure to widen the space for meaning to be dismantled and re-imagined continually. This subtle approach in presentation slows down the time it takes to experience the work thereby creating time for dialogue with the larger issues that each piece deals with.

I explore the empiric and its tension with the poetic. Using these guidelines I dig deeply into the holes that exist in the systems we have created to categorize the world such as time, memory, history and language. These boxes are unpacked and run through the parallel filters of scientific inquiry and personal experience, often by making use of absence so that room is made, to determine that which is known, by first establishing what is not known.

My work is a balance between the hands-on tactile and in-the-field approach that then is followed up by study and research through observation, discussion, and reading. I often speak with experts in the area I am researching and allowing them to open doors of inquiry for me that I was not even aware of and then pursuing those rabbit holes further.

I like to be involved in every aspect of making and that goes as much for the research side of the process and when it comes to fabrication it usually involves quite a bit of experimenting to come up with new processes that I can manipulate for creating my pieces. I like inhabiting the spaces of scientific or library-based research but with the eyes of an artist who is interested in not only the data-based information that can be found there but also the cultural signs and layers that saturate their structures and overlay meaning onto how we absorb that information.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
I think there ought to be even more support offered for emerging artists, institutional and financial. Valuing it as a necessary component of cultural life on both the national and local level. We need to find more avenues to support artists and really understand that our contributions make a society that much more interesting and rich. Public access to the arts also creates a deeper understanding of why it is a fundamental component.

I think that there is often a divide of class or a feeling that the general public has where they do not believe they have the knowledge or ability to understand art that keeps them out of museums and public opportunities for engagement. Outreach goes hand in hand with the general public’s belief in supporting artists through publicly funded programs.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
In January I just published a book “Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory (Recollections)” with Pitzer College Art Galleries, you can acquire a copy at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions or through my website. I will be part of the Mexicali Biennial for 2018-19, locations will be shared soon.

The book functions as a site for the activation of public discourse. I designed it so that all of the stories are on separate cards and can be read in a group at random or can be shared and dispersed if one wished, much like seeds or plant cuttings. I see these stories as triggers for considering the journeys and lives of the human migrants they were companions to and with whom we must continue to renew our efforts in recognizing our collective place in this landscape.

In 2016, the stories from the book were presented as an audio guide at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, where many of them were first introduced in Los Angeles, as a way to directly encounter these blacklisted species. The site is of particular interest given its historical significance, and it is a great model for the fantastical elements of the fabricated paradise that is modern-day Los Angeles. The garden is overrun by peacocks, the original Tarzan was shot there, and the property’s horse stables (later Santa Anita Racetrack) were an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII.

“Lucky” Baldwin, the former owner, and Henry E. Huntington (of the Huntington Library) were responsible for popularizing and encouraging the spread of a great number of the exotic plants we see throughout Los Angeles. You can experience the audio guide while you are visiting the arboretum here:

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Davina Schrier, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

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