A Look at the Landscape of Our Time from a Hundred Feet Underground
Read an interview with artist Jenny Perlin, whose Bunker launches this year’s Doc Fortnight film festival.
Jenny Perlin, Sophie Cavoulacos
Feb 18, 2022
A still from Bunker
Sophie Cavoulacos: What was the starting point for Bunker? You mention it was in part about life in America under Trump. But what I am drawn to in your work is that there isn’t usually such a clear-cut answer.
Jenny Perlin: I’ve been interested in Cold War structures and their remnants for most of my life. Growing up in the Midwest I learned, later than I should have, that the Christmas tree farm we regularly visited overlooked a uranium processing plant disguised as a working dairy farm, and that the dry cleaner near my high school had been some kind of secret 1950s lab. I was always aware of the thousands of nuclear weapons buried in the landscape of my part of the country, and became interested in what might have happened to them. I began keeping track of real estate listings for missile silos and subterranean spaces. So the project was a long time in coming. When the Trump administration came into power, I was shocked but I also felt a sinking sense of familiarity. The furious sense of isolated self-reliance belongs to the earliest and most damaging narratives that underpin American history.
Jenny Perlin. Each thing its place. 2019
We’re so delighted you’ve agreed to give our readers a preview of Each thing its place, which we’re also screening in the festival. I wondered how you approach the different parts of your work. For you, is it cultural histories on one side, and animation on the other?
I conceive of my filmmaking as a braided process. While I work on something longer, I need to make smaller films and drawings and write essays and take pictures and do a lot of other things. While I was making Bunker, there were so many experiences and emotions and material living in me as I transcribed these hours of conversation and logged footage. I felt I needed to make animations responding to elements of my experience with each subject. The film Each thing its place is a response to my time spent with Milton Torres, who I filmed on his second day of full-time living at the VivosX bunkers in South Dakota. The images are from the first printed book on mining from the 1600s and the colors in the background are my interpretation of the colors of the landscape where I spent time with Milton. So to me there is no difference in the work, it is more that the films are different ingredients in the same project.
Doc Fortnight 2022, organized by Sophie Cavoulacos, Associate Curator, Department of Film, with Chandra Knotts, Filmmaker Liaison, screens February 23–March 10, 2022.
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