Profile: Renée Green (1959)

Renée Green is an American artist, writer, and filmmaker. Her pluralistic practice spans a broad range of media including sculpture, architecture, photography, prints, video, film, websites, and sound, which normally converge in highly layered and complex installations. She works to draw on cultural anthropology as well as social history, making her works well-researched and many times involving collaborators. Some of the topics she has covered include Sarah Baartman, the African slave trade, and hip hop in Germany.

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In 2014, Green published Other Planes of There: Selected Writings with Duke University Press, a work that compiles a substantial collection of her work written between 1981 and 2010.

Early life and education

Green studied art at Wesleyan University, with an intermediary year at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Green also attended the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. In 1989 she was a participant in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program (ISP).

Green wrote Discourse on Afro-American Art as her graduating thesis from Wesleyan University, a “textual analysis of criticisms, which were written by both Black and White critics from the 1920s and the 1960s.” A seminal influence was Green’s participation in cataloging Sol LeWitt’s donated collection to Wadsworth Atheneum. Green wrote the catalog entries for Adrian Piper, and Lawrence Weiner.

Her brother is Derrick Green, the frontman of the metal band Sepultura.

Work

Green’s work adopts the form of complex and highly formalized installations in which ideas, historical events, and narratives, as well as cultural artifacts, are examined from myriad perspectives. As scholar Alexander Alberro notes, Green’s attempt is not a didactic one, rather an invitation to participate in the construction of knowledge, as well as shifting perception: “Green consistently gives the spectator a central role in the process of deconstructing genealogical discourses and assuming subject positions. Indeed, a feature that recurs in her installations is the production of interactive environments that galvanize the viewer into the role of an equal participant in the construction of meaning.”

Green explains in her own words the impetus behind this activity of collecting and exhibiting different data and materials: “I wanted to begin by examining an artifact, a text, a painting or a group of paintings, a decorative object, an image, a novel, a poem, a garden, a palace, a house. By beginning with these objects or places, and the contexts in which they appeared, it was possible to detect the intricate working of certain ideologies which were being put forth […] and to attempt to decipher the contradictory pleasure which might accompany them.”

A lot of the materials collected for her projects come from the immense repository already in existence in our culture, but her work can not be considered as a mere assemblage of cultural artifacts, nor an appropriationist practice. In each of her projects, Green produces works of art in different mediums like photography [Secret (1994–2006)], prints [Code: Survey], films [Some Chance Operations (1999); Wavelinks (2002), Elsewhere? (2002], and sound [Vanished Gardens (2004), Muriel’s Words (2004)], which are integrated in highly designed installations or environments. Due to the selective accumulation of materials Green’s work has been labeled in some instances as archival.

As a result of the complex web of relations and conceptual links among the materials and projects, these normally take place during a duration of time, and in different locations, in which the same theme is presented in different formats. For example, Import/Export Funk Office (1992), was presented as an installation in Cologne and Los Angeles, and exists also as Cd-Rom (1996); or Code: Survey (2005–2006) takes the form of a permanent public work installed at the Caltrans Headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles, and as a website, which can be accessed worldwide.

Due to the density and formal complexity of her different projects, Green uses the standard catalog published alongside her exhibitions, as a part of her work. These books function in a variety of levels: as an exhibition catalog, as an artist’s book, as a repository of documents, as transcripts of conversations and scripts of the films and videos produced for the different projects.

In 1997 Green was chosen by the American Federation of the Arts to design Artist/Author: Contemporary Artist’s Books.

Green has also written extensively, and her work has been published in different publications from the United States and Europe. Among the publications are October, Texte Zur Kunst, Transition, Sarai Reader, Multitudes, and Collapse.

Indeed, Renée Green’s video works tend to be more formally subtle. Her video, Climates, and Paradoxes (2005), considers the centenary of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity via an excavation of the history of a high-rise apartment building in Berlin that Green once lived in and that occupies the former site of the pacifist organization Bund Neues Vaterland, of which, the video’s associative narration informs us, Einstein was the twenty-ninth member. Walking in NYL (2016), follows from Green’s long-standing interest in Lisbon and the broader Portuguese sphere of influence

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