Colby Jennings – Springfield, Missouri

still from im(pull)se, 18”x24”, 2013

still from im(pull)se, 18”x24”, 2013

Briefly describe the work you do.

The briefest of descriptions would be that I watch, see, listen, record, capture, examine, recreate, collect, and archive. All of my work is inspired by personal anxiety in some manner or form. As those anxieties evolve and cycle so does my work. I currently think of my practice as a form of scientific or anthropological research. I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, sketching, and dreaming before I actually get to the making. When I do get there, it typically involves performance as a method of reenactment or video as a method of collection and archive.

At what point I your life did you want to become an artist?

My first memory of what I wanted to do when I grew up is of being a paleontologist. Not long after that though I switched over to becoming an artist. It’s been pretty consistent ever since. I have always had great support for my creativity from my family. Whether always having an ample supply of arts materials or getting to visit excellent museums and art galleries, many members of my family made sure art was a part of my life.

The biggest struggle in this question came late in high school / early in college. Being a first generation college student, it was incredibly important to make use of the opportunities I had and to do justice for the sacrifices my parents were making. More commercially viable arts were my compromise for a time before a teacher and mentor introduced me to time-based arts. After that, it was clear what I needed to learn and where my work needed to go.

Around the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree I had the privilege to visit a video installation called “Turbulent” by the brilliant Iranian photographer and video artist, Shirin Neshat. If there was any question as to my future before I walked into that room, they were all gone afterward.

lessons (stills from Lesson 01), 24”x36”, 2014

lessons (stills from Lesson 01), 24”x36”, 2014

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I grew up in a small farming community, one of the hundreds that dot the landscape of the American Midwest. My appreciation for both the physical and psychological landscape provided a backdrop for my eventual anxieties, confusions, and fascinations. Growing up, many things didn’t make sense for me as I’m sure is the case for most every other young person. Now as something akin to an adult, I’m discovering through my study of Zen philosophy that to try and make sense of these things would be a frustrating and fruitless energy drain. Instead, I’m learning to observe, and all along Art has been my lens to the world. Making is a method of understanding for me which in turn allows me to disarm my anxieties and confusions.

What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?

Much of what I do revolves around interaction and participation on a variety of levels. Particularly when it comes to my work involving performance, I am interested in endurance on the part of the audience as well as myself. I want my art to be an experience and I have experimented with many different ways of achieving this.

Cultural norms and expectations are something that I’ve spent a fair amount of time investigating. Performances designed for video documentation have been an appropriate practice for these concerns. Costuming, mimicry, and role playing are a part of performance in fine art and theater, but they are also foundational to socially constructed gender roles.

As my body of work has grown I’ve become acutely aware of my archival tendencies, not just as a method of preservation, but as a means of further study and investigation. My videos, photographs, performances, and installation documentations are analogous to a botanists field book or an entomologists case of pinned specimens. They continue to provide new conversations and opportunities for further research.

stills from Balance, 18”x24”, 2014

stills from Balance, 18”x24”, 2014

We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?

I’m not sure I believe in inspiration either, at least not the spontaneous kind. But I do believe in intrigue and investigation. That’s where my work thrives. If I go for too long without dedicated studio time I feel disconnected… from myself and just about everything else. Like a dirty window or mirror, I feel that haze blocking my view when I haven’t been able to work through my perplexities.

I have always respected the work ethic of the people I grew up around. In the rural region in which I was raised, agriculture is a, if not the, driving wheel in the economic and cultural machine. In order to survive off the land, you have to work hard and always. Now, I understand that the work I do isn’t the same sort of work, although it too provides a great number of challenges, but I would like to think that I attend to my art with the same dedication and investment as those that till the soil.

What artists living or non-living influence your work?

I am deeply influenced by the art, words, and lives of John Baldessari, Shirin Neshat, Marina Abramovic, and John Cage. In particular, the evolution of John Baldessari’s interdisciplinary approach along with his commitment and work ethic have been a great source of inspiration and motivation in my own studio practice.   The work of Bruce Nauman has also left an impact on me. Everything from his early studio performances to his neons, prints, and installations encourage my productivity and experimentation. For a number of reasons, Nauman’s “Setting a Good Corner”, stands as one of my most favorite works of art today.

William Lamson and his work are an example of a younger, emerging contemporary artist whose work I find absolutely fascinating.   He, much like Baldessari and Nauman, has used performance in and out of his studio along with installation and sculpture to create work that is high quality in terms of both its craft and concept.

There are many others whose work and careers I follow for a number of reasons. That list would include Mark Dion, Jenny Holzer, Francis Alys, Chris Cunningham, William Kentridge, and Christian Jankowski just to name a few. As for list of influential artists no longer living, the short list would include Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?

I am a husband, father, and teacher as well, so all of the things that go along with those roles keep me more than busy. I also spend time when I can cultivating my mindfulness and ability to remain present in the moment. For someone that deals with anxiety, those are important skills to constantly exercise.

Apart from going to see art when I’m not making I enjoy lots of different outdoor activities, gardening, watching movies when I can, and building the occasional website.


Headshot_webGrowing up in a rural farming community in Missouri, I was deeply influenced by the regional culture and landscape. Connections to myth, land, and labor juxtaposed with questions of perception and self formed the foundation upon which much of my work is built. I hold an MFA from Washington State University in Pullman, WA and a BFA from Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. My work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally including the 2012 Human Emotion Project held in Mexico City, Mexico, 2011 Festival Miden in Kalamata, Greece, 2009 22nd Festival Les Instants Vidéo in Alexandria, Egypt, the 2009 Athens Video Art Festival held in Athens, Greece and in 2008 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, MO. I’m currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Art and Computer Animation at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.

The Studio

The Studio

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.


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