Mysterious, witty, and melancholy, many of the sculptures on view in In the Shadow of the Sundial demonstrate the artist’s fascination with survival tactics found in nature, evolutionary strategies such as camouflage, encrustation and various symbiotic relationships. In Kendler’s hands, ready-made objects such as decorative tchotchkes, kitchen knives, books—and even a 1980’s boombox—undergo a process of “rewilding,” as the artist adorns and transforms them with materials bearing embedded histories: air quality-indicating lichen, shells of organisms threatened by ocean acidification, or ash Kendler creates by bio-charring Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring.
In Galleries 1 and 2, Goldfinch is thrilled to present “In the Shadow of the Sundial,” a solo exhibition by multi-media artist and environmental activist Jenny Kendler. The exhibition is on view from April 24 through May 28. We will have an Open House reception on Sunday, April 24 from 12-4pm.
From large-scale public projects and installations to intimately scaled objects, Kendler’s interdisciplinary practice examines and “re-stories” our relationship to and within the natural world. For the past 15 years, her work has explored seemingly overwhelming environmental concepts—from extinction to climate change—through sculptures and installations that beckon for an emotional, and often private, encounter with their viewers. For Kendler, these intimate, emotive experiences are instrumental in larger conversations about how we view the more-than-human world and our relationship to our ecological pasts, presents, and uncertain futures.
Mysterious, witty, and melancholy, many of the sculptures on view in the exhibition demonstrate the artist’s fascination with survival tactics found in nature, evolutionary strategies such as camouflage, encrustation and various symbiotic relationships. In Kendler’s hands, ready-made objects such as decorative tchotchkes, kitchen knives, books—and even a 1980’s boombox—undergo a process of “rewilding,” as the artist adorns and transforms them with materials bearing embedded histories: air quality-indicating lichen, shells of organisms threatened by ocean acidification, or ash Kendler creates by bio-charring Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring. These alterations, which often engage old traditions of craftsmanship, speak to what Kendler describes as our “sublimated longing for connection to the natural world,” through which decorative objects like porcelain birds act as “surrogates” for a connection to nature. Through these transformed works, Kendler’s practice gently reminds us of the power in patient, diligent looking, in order to see beyond the immediate form or surface of things.
Themes of mourning and funerary practices are quietly woven throughout the exhibition. Fragments of natural materials like seeds and bone are reconstituted as objects that ask us to consider notions of heirlooms and archives. What do we preserve and pass on? What do we inherit, and how do ideas of value shape our perspectives about the natural world? The hackberry seeds, for instance, that comprise an intricate necklace on view in the exhibition are made from the same compounds that compose the precious gemstone opal. As Kendler asks: “What if our heirlooms were not jewels, but seeds?”
For the artist, the sundial alluded to in the exhibition title is a very real one, encountered in a particular place and time, and recalled from personal memory. More broadly, it speaks to the way we have always accounted for the passage of time, measuring it in various ways, while currently standing “in the shadow of a momentous time of change, a moment of intersecting crises,” Kendler notes. Though slow and analog, the sundial—an ancient device—continues to capture shadows from the same sun that has always shone. As Kendler’s work considers notions of deep time and questions the ecological legacies we leave behind, it asks us to consider our echoes in the natural world, and to be careful with the shadows we cast.
Jenny Kendler (b. 1980, New York City) is an interdisciplinary artist, environmental activist, naturalist & wild forager who lives in Chicago and various forests.
Since 2014 she has been the first Artist-in-Residence with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Kendler is Board Co-Chair of artist residency ACRE and sits on the Fundraising Committee of the Board of international climate change organization 350.org. She is also art coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Chicago and a member of art collective Deep Time Chicago.
Kendler holds a MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006) and a BFA from The Maryland Institute College of Art (2002, summa cum laude).
Her work has been exhibited at museums and biennials including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC), Storm King Art Center (New Windsor, NY), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY), The MSU Broad Museum (Michigan), the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis), the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco), iMOCA (Indianapolis), the DePaul Art Museum (Chicago), the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (India), the Yeosu International Art Festival biennial (Korea), the inaugural Chicago Biennial, and the 3rd Terrain Biennial (Arizona). Her work has also been included in group exhibitions at Exit Art (NYC), CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art (San Francisco), La Box at les Écoles Nationale Supérieures D’art (France), Claremorris Gallery (Ireland), Public Pool (Detroit), and in Chicago at Columbia College, Johalla Projects, and Gallery 400 among others.
She has been commissioned to create environmentally-engaged public art projects at locations such as Chicago's Millennium Park for the Art Institute of Chicago, The Lincoln Park Conservatory fern room for Experimental Sound Studio, The Arts Club of Chicago, the 606 elevated trail, Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, the Louisville Riverwalk, a remote desert in Arizona and a tropical forest in Costa Rica.
She has been invited to speak about her environmentally-engaged practice at universities, institutions and symposiums including the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH), SxSW Eco (Austin, TX), the Goethe-Institut (Chicago), Northwestern University (Chicago), the Botanical Speculations Symposium (SAIC) and delivered the closing lecture at the Shapiro Research Symposium (SAIC).
Alongside an interdisciplinary team, she was awarded a major Humanities Without Walls grant for her community-engagement project Garden for a Changing Climate. Kendler is a co-founder of the artist website platform OtherPeoplesPixels, and created the The OPPfund, which gives grants to arts, environmental and social justice organizations, and awards the MAKER Grant each year to two socially or environmentally engaged artists in partnership with Chicago Artists' Coalition.
She was also the co-creator (with Molly Schafer) of The Endangered Species Print Project, which from 2009-2018 worked with over 20 artists to create limited-edition artworks which raised funds for critically endangered species. The project was exhibited at spaces like the Notebaert Nature Museum, galleries and film festivals and was covered in Orion Magazine's 35th anniversary issue. ESPP raised over $15,000 for conservation. Kendler's work has been covered in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Art in America, Hyperallergic, The Chicago Tribune, The American Scholar, Juxtapoz, OnEarth Magazine, Chicago Magazine, ArtSlant, in a special Earth Day feature for Mashable—and she has been interviewed on NPR and by Chicago's ABC7 News, among others. Kendler and her work have appeared on the cover of The Public (Buffalo), The Courier-Journal (Louisville), and on the cover of the Chicago Reader three times—in 2014 accompanying a 6-page feature article.
Her artwork and writing has also been featured in a number of published books, including Loanwords to Live With: An Ecotopian Lexicon, Sustainable Solutions from Oxford University Press and Why Look at Plants? by Dr. Giovanni Aloi. The Center for Biological Diversity's Endangered Species Condom Project, for which she created artwork, was profiled in The New York Times and featured on a billboard in Times Square.
"Jenny Kendler has mastered the art of leveraging elements from the nonhuman natural world—be it amber, kudzu or a whale’s ear bone—into pieces that draw us to examine the nuances of our surroundings. Kendler’s work is as pervasive as nature itself. Her project “1000 Flags/1000 Waters,” in which blue flags are dispatched to communities advocating for clean water, was featured in the MCA’s exhibition “Water After All.” A selection of sculptures on threatened bird species will be shown at Vienna’s Dom Museum, and “Music for Elephants,” a score played on an ivory-keyed piano that counts the number of elephants poached for their tusks, will be featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Her first museum solo exhibition opened at the MSU Broad Museum in January 2021 and included a piece that highlights how the structure of venomous sea snail’s shell directly contradicts the theory of intelligent design. As an activist, Kendler takes her works to the streets through movements like Extinction Rebellion, where she incorporates communal art activities into environmentalist nonviolent direct actions. In this moment where the call for social justice is high, she is pushing to articulate the connections between the social and the environmental in support of a unifying movement toward justice."
Watch Kendler's artist talk for the Visiting Artist series at the College of DuPage here.
Watch a short documentary by On the Real Film about 'The Playhead of Dawn' here.
"In the Shadow of the Sundial" exhibition installation photos by Ryan Edmund.