Jennifer Baumeister's work combines her interests in a way which can be challenging and provocative for her audience and her work engages us on different levels, from the intensely personal to the apparently humorous. Having studied sculpture Baumeister embraces the use of a wide variety of techniques and media for presenting her ideas, from combining more traditional sculptural elements with computer technology to create installation pieces to the making of short films Baumeister's work engages the senses with sound, space, light and touch and includes time based video pieces. Exploring sociological, psychological, philosophical and technological aspects of post modern life Baumeister seeks to engage her audience with a subtlety all too often absent in contemporary art.
Examining the work there are several themes which seem to emerge, including
the interconnection between the personal and the wider political climate in
which we live. Recurrent motifs or themes would include a serious concern with
emotional and mental health which is explored in one way or another in all Baumeister's
output, from the earlier pieces such as Trauma (2000) and Traumkind -'Dreamchild'
(2001) and the film, Schattenprinzessin - 'Shadowprincess' (2002) to the more
recent Heim - 'Home' (2003), Hotel (2003) and now Comfort XxL (2004).
The inclusion of a fleeting element of humour which seems to evaporate the longer we engage with the piece is another feature of several of Baumeister's works, at its most clear in Hotel (2003) this sense of fun can serve to engage the audience prior to making them think and wonder about what they have seen. In addition there is a strong engagement with a process of research and much of Baumeister's work demands a long period of research, design and meticulous planning before it can begin to take shape, it gestates as ideas and sketches for a considerable period before an often long and arduous birthing process can begin.
The early work, Trauma (2000) is an installation in which the viewer witnessed
a line of expressionless figures 'dressed' in projected images and accompanied
by a multilingual soundtrack detailing international statistics on Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder, the syndrome commonly experienced by survivors of life threatening
events from war to domestic violence. The work engendered an atmosphere of unease
and this is something common to much of Baumeister's work.
Comfort XxL (2004) the most recent work also integrates a humorous element with a more serious and profound comment on post-modern life. Whilst we in the West find ourselves surrounded by technology designed to fulfil every possible desire this seemingly unstoppable 'advance' is simultaneously allowing us to become increasingly isolated, with lives devoid of the 'human touch' so vital to our wellbeing. The Comfort XxL machine paradoxically 'provides' a virtual human connection whilst highlighting our lack of such input in reality. Indeed the machine actually renders itself obsolete for, helpful as it might be, users can't help but become aware of what is lacking, the interaction provided by a real conversation with a real person. Wherever it has been shown publicly (at bus- and police-stations, in schools, in hospitals, etc.) queues have formed, a testament to our need for comfort as well as our curiosity about new machines (labour saving devices?) and what they might be able to offer.
By creating work which is stimulating and thought provoking, serious and humorous and which explores the paradoxes of life at the beginning of the 21st Century Jennifer Baumeister invites her audience to experience, to think and to engage with the world. The audience for Baumeister's work are always active participants, makers of their own meanings rather than passive viewers; they bring themselves to the work and are active in creating their experience, taking away with them the memory of an interaction with an artist as well as with the particular piece of work.
Rebekah Guthrie is a practising psychotherapist and art graduate who has written on contemporary art including for 'City Life' magazine between 2000 and 2002 for the last 8 years.