Janine Antoni


Seam; Round the World, Around; and

Janine Antoni was born in Freeport, Bahamas, in 1964; she lives in New York. Antoni first visited Sabbathday Lake from November 17 to 19, 1995 with France Morin, Kazumi Tanaka, and Nari Ward. She returned the following summer.

One of the works that Antoni produced out of her experience at Sabbathday Lake is Seam (1997), a series of photographs consisting of mirrored photographic pairs of architectural spaces and forms in the Shaker community that are gender-specific. For example, in the Dwelling House, the men eat their meals at a designated dining room table and use a designated staircase, while the women eat their meals at their own designated table and use their own designated staircase. As Antoni has stated, "Although they are gender-specific, [these architectural spaces and forms] are exact replicas. But, put side to side, they become mirror images. I photographed those objects as objectively as I could and then printed them together so that they could be looked at. And then I looked for the places in the village where the male and female sides met, to see what I could find in those spaces" (Janine Antoni, in Janet A. Kaplan, "The Quiet in the Land: Everyday Life, Contemporary Art, and the Shakers: A Conversation with Janet A. Kaplan," Art Journal 57, no. 2 (Summer 1998): p. 7). She stated further: "I had already done a lot of work myself about trying to find things that were gender specific and even uncodable to the opposite sex, and here I found these two things that were the same and yet gender specific. I thought about what it means to look at the other sex as a reflection of yourself, but turned around. As I looked at how the architecture was set up, I noticed very important things. We would think that the separation is about being celibate, about keeping the men away from the women. But, when you sit in the Meeting House, you are facing the men. You are singing to the men, and they are responding to you. If you walked up the stairs in the Dwelling House at the same time, you would meet each other at the top. There was this wonderful moment, before meals, in which we would walk down the hallway, turn to go in the door, and acknowledge the men on the other side. Acknowledgment is the key word. There wasn't this denial. Many religious communities are celibate. That is not unusual. But there are very few that live together in the same house. You really have to come to terms with that decision, which is still very curious to me, but a challenge" (ibid., pp. 23-24).

Antoni's Round the World, Around (1996) is a self-documented video, approximately three minutes long, of her own spinning motion in the Shaker Meeting House, evoking one way by which the Holy Spirit has manifested itself in Shakerism. The Shakers use the term "gifts," which have been received by the community from the beginning of its history in the late eighteenth century, to refer to many things, including "instances of spontaneous spirit possession in the form of whirling, dancing, speaking in tongues, and seeing visions subsequently recorded in drawings and songs" (France Morin, "Simple Gifts," in Heavenly Visions: Shaker Gift Drawings and Gift Songs, exh. cat. (New York: The Drawing Center, 2001), p. 28). As Morin further observed, the "experience of trance has fascinated many artists, perhaps because this space between heaven and earth, between entropy and order, between inspiration and control, functions as a crucial site of interchange (ibid., p. 48). One Sunday during her stay, Antoni attended the weekly Meeting with the community, as she did every week. After the service ended, she asked the Shakers for permission to return to the Meeting House, alone, with her video camera. They agreed. She then stomped into the room as her camera recorded in crisp detail the benches that flank each side, stood in the center, and began to spin around. The images that the camera recorded ceased to be recognizable as they bled into a blinding whirl of light and color. She filmed until she fell to the floor three minutes later. Her action emphasizes the illuminating space between one form of Shaker worship and her own creative practice.

In addition to Seam and Round the World, Around, Antoni also developed a third work while she was at Sabbathday Lake entitled and (1996-99). This sculpture consists of two 600-pound limestone blocks, one on top of the other, which she had transported to Sabbathday Lake. A vertical steel pole connects the two blocks, and a horizontal pole was inserted into the top block. For five hours a day over a period of six weeks, Antoni pushed the pole in a circle. She also worked on the sculpture at Skowhegan School of Art in Maine in 1998. Through her labor, the blocks sculpted one another until they became interconnected. In this respect, they suggest the process by which two bodies, individuals, or even communities transform one another through mutual interaction.