Jenny Perlin’s Refractionist art
Jenny Perlin visited UMBC to discuss her unconventional animations. Photo by Brent Bemiller.

Jenny Perlin’s Refractionist art

Jenny Perlin, a traveling artist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, the Cooper Union, and The New School in New York, was invited to share her arts and knowledge with the UMBC community.

Inspired by issues of truth and misunderstanding, Perlin uses art to replicate reality in an unconventional, indirect way that amuses viewers whilst provoking their thoughts. The meaning behind Perlin’s art ironically erupts from a scientific perspective. Astronomer William Herschel had discovered infrared light just like how many create art — accidentally.

However, the key that links Perlin’s perspective and Herschel’s discovery is this: infrared light is not visible to the human eye, and yet its existence makes great impact on the world. Perlin hopes that her Refractionist art has the same effect on people; that the meaning of her art is hidden, yet impactful. The goal is to make the invisible visible to the eye.

Perlin’s animations are hand-drawn and filmed on a faulty 16mm camera which creates a blackened, jumping screen every few seconds in her videos. Perlin adores this disruption for she believes it to express how she, as a human, has no right to complete control even over her own creations. There is a natural distraction that will always emerge.

Perlin pursued ideas with scientific descent that embraced colorful and imaginative visuals. For one of her projects, titled “One Hundred Sinkholes,” Perlin found inspiration in one of her greatest fears: sinkholes. She associated them with sudden displacement which is a terrifying phenomenon.

Perlin took images of sinkholes and simplified them by merely outlining their sharpest, most definite features and coloring in the created shapes with bright colors. She created an animation out of 100 of these small drawings. This project gave her control over her fear, and Perlin found a dynamic beauty in sinkholes.

Another film, titled, “Those are Stars,” was an animation inspired by The Child of the Cavern, a book by Jules Verne. The book described a girl who, having lived underground all her life, was awestruck by the stars when brought to the surface.

Perlin’s drawings, reflectant of the story, were simplistic yet easily embodied a child’s enchantment with the sky and stars. Figures of thin ladders and arrows were youthful, accompanied by a variety of colors which helped the film carry an optimistic, exploratory tone.

Perlin’s ongoing project, “Long Sleepers,” was created upon hearing the story of Peter Klaus who, after becoming belligerently drunk, falls into a twenty-year slumber and awakes in his predestined future. Much like an adult realizing their age and contrasting it with their youthful mind in comparison, Peter Klaus finds himself in complete confusion as to how so much time has passed without his knowing. There is an innate human fear of growing old.

Inspired by this tale, Perlin is currently creating a film which follows real characters that seek to halt time, or more specifically, demise. This summer, Perlin will visit Vivos, a company which creates and sells underground bunkers, in hopes that this will give her more ideas and conclusions for her project.

Perlin’s pieces all carry meanings that are not directly explained, giving the viewers discretion and power over discovering their individual interpretations. Her pieces confront natural human fears, giving Perlin a sense of strength in this predictably unpredictable world.