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University Galleries set to present Jen Bervin: Shift Rotate Reflect, Selected Works (1997-2020)

Installation view of Jen Bervin's Silk Poems at Tufts University Art Galleries, 2019.

Installation view of Jen Bervin's Silk Poems at Tufts University Art Galleries, 2019. Left: Charlotte Lagarde, Jen Bervin's Silk Poems, video Right: Jen Bervin, Silk Poems and 7S. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Julia Featheringill/Stewart Clements.

University Galleries of Illinois State University is pleased to present Jen Bervin: Shift Rotate Reflect, Selected Works (1997–2020) from August 15 through December 13. In accordance with public health guidance, attendance at University Galleries will be kept under 50 at all times, and visitors must book an appointment through Bookings. University Galleries remains free and open to the public. Additional information for planning a visit to University Galleries is listed below.

Shift Rotate Reflect, the first survey of work by American poet and artist Jen Bervin, presents 23 solo and collaborative projects, artist’s books, embroideries, videos, drawings, prints, and a performance created from 1997–2020. The selected works demonstrate the interdisciplinary range of Bervin’s long-term research on topics including legacies of women artists and writers, relationships between text and textiles, and abstractions of language and landscape.

Jen Bervin and Charlotte Lagarde, still from Su Hui's Picture of the Turning Sphere, 2016-2020. 5-channel video installation. Courtesy of the artists.

Jen Bervin and Charlotte Lagarde, still from Su Hui’s Picture of the Turning Sphere, 2016-2020, 5-channel video installation. Courtesy of the artists.

The exhibition will premiere Su Hui’s Picture of the Turning Sphere (2016–2020), a collaboration with filmmaker Charlotte Lagarde. The multi-channel video and textile installation, self-described as a “feminist listening room,” focuses on Chinese poet Su Hui and her 4th-century reversible poem, “Xuanji Tu.” Structured on an astronomical gauge and stitched in five colors, the poem was written in a 29-by-29 character grid and can be read in any direction to yield almost 8,000 possible interpretations. Bervin and Lagarde created a rotation of four projected videos featuring commentary from eight Chinese women: an algorithmic game theorist, calligrapher, art researcher, astrophysicist, artist, novelist, and literary scholars. Bervin and Lagarde also partnered with a contemporary embroidery studio in Suzhou, China, to create two new renderings of the poem using a specialized double-sided silk embroidery technique on translucent silk screens. The finished embroideries and a video projection of the embroidery process are included in the installation.

Three other major projects, in addition to individual works, will be featured in this exhibition: The Dickinson Composites (2004–2008), River (2006–2018), and Silk Poems (2010–2017). For Silk Poems, Bervin partnered with scientists at Tufts University to fabricate a nanoimprinted poem on a silk biosensor. Her silk research spanned 30 international nanotechnology and biomedical labs, textile archives, medical libraries, and sericulture sites. The full project is comprised of the nanoimprinted poem on a microscope for viewing; a video documenting Bervin’s research and process by Charlotte Lagarde; and the Silk Poems book featuring Bervin’s poem written from the perspective of a silkworm and composed in a six-character chain corresponding to the DNA structure of silk. River is a scale model of the Mississippi River from the geocentric point of view, hand-stitched in silver sequins and spanning 230 curvilinear feet. The Dickinson Composites, a series of 6 x 8 feet embroideries, is comprised of stitched composites of the variant marks American poet Emily Dickinson used in her manuscripts to link alternate words and phrases. These marks and the original line breaks were often omitted by editors for print editions, and Bervin describes The Dickinson Composites as being “aligned with mending, restitution, and the deeper gesture that Dickinson’s poems and variant marks make.”

Bervin’s solo and collaborative work has been exhibited internationally. She has authored 11 books, including six artist’s books. Her Silk Poems was a New Museum Book of the Year and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and her Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems (with Marta Werner and Susan Howe) was a Book of the Year selection by The New Yorker. Read more about Jen Bervin.

Lagarde has made more than 20 films, which have been aired on PBS, HBO, and the Sundance Channel, and exhibited at MASS MoCA. Her many awards include an Academy Award, the PBS Independent Lens Audience Award, and the Ashland Independent Film Festival’s Best Documentary award, as well as fellowships from Sundance, BAVC, and Camargo Foundation. Read more about Charlotte Lagarde.

Shift Rotate Reflect is curated by Kendra Paitz, University Galleries’ director and chief curator. This exhibition is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. An exhibition catalog, which is also supported by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, is forthcoming in 2021.

Programming and related links

  • Online panel discussions ad additional programming, including a performance of Bervin’s Silk Line, will be announced throughout the duration of the exhibition via University Galleries’ Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.
  • A reading list prepared by Jen Bervin will be shared online early in the exhibition.
  • Educator resources, activities for children and youth, and art lesson videos will be shared.
  • A selection of artist’s books from Milner Library’s Special Collections will be on display in the Special Collections department. Information on visiting the Special Collections is available here.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) response

Please note the following updates as University Galleries reopens to the public.

  • In accordance with Illinois Board of Higher Education and Restore Illinois Phase 4 guidelines, attendance will be kept under 50 at all times.
  • University Galleries remains free and open to the public, but visitors must book an appointment through Bookings.
  • Visitors to University Galleries will be required to wear a face covering and practice physical distancing.
  • University Galleries’ main entrance will function as the “in-door” and the emergency exit in our gallery will function as the “out-door” to reduce congestion in the entry vestibule and lobby.
  • Hand sanitizer stations, physical distancing decals, and directional arrows will be located throughout the gallery spaces.
  • There will be additional cleaning of high-contact points and restrooms.

Information on Illinois State University’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response is available here. Information on Illinois State University’s requirements for face coverings and physical distancing is available here.

University Galleries, a unit in the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, is located at 11 Uptown Circle, Suite 103, at the corner of Beaufort and Broadway Streets. Parking is available in the Uptown Station parking deck located directly above University Galleries.

You can find University Galleries on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and sign up to receive email updates through the newsletter. Please contact Gallery@IllinoisState.edu or call (309) 438-5487 if you need to arrange an accommodation to participate in any events related to these exhibitions.

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