Jenny Graf Sheppard: an Experimental Artist

Jenny Graf Sheppard is a talented artist who has enjoyed success in several art forms. When visiting Johns Hopkins, she provided insight into her various works of art, as well as some of her motivations. Sheppard performs experimental music, and even designed and created a piece in 2008 in which food, sound, senses, and social conventions are examined through art. Graf Sheppard also created a piece titled “The Guitars Project,” that examined the effect electric guitars can have on communication and sense perception in Alzheimer’s patients. The piece is classified as a “Creative Aging,” project, and Graf Sheppard’s website describes the piece as: “A 6-month Creative Aging project in which a group of women with Alzheimer’s were introduced to the electric guitar. Each found her own way to use sound as a vehicle for the self. This project includes a vinyl LP Picture disc record, video piece titled “Exchanges” and color portraits. The project was presented at Northwestern’s Neurological Conference in 2004.”[1] When considering and examining this work, it is important to remember that besides being art, it can also potentially help answer questions regarding the ways in which women age, and can help teach us how to approach and prepare for aging and its various effects on the human psyche and senses.

The central work explored by Graf Sheppard when she visited Johns Hopkins was her film “Proud Flesh.” The film is an experimental Western shot in the Badlands. South Dakota was a great location for the film because it was able to convey the openness and vastness that is an essential aspect of Western films. That being said, the fact that this Western was experimental opened the door to a new kind of experience. Graf Sheppard wanted to create a Western film in which the woman or women play a central and or significant role. Partially because the central figure was a woman, Proud Flesh is a film that immediately grabs your attention. This film engages your senses, and provides original and unique sounds that contribute to the overall feel of the film. Visually, the landscape of the Badlands is the ultimate setting for a Western. Graf Sheppard spoke about the importance of the setting to her, and the inspiration it provided. She spoke about how you were able to see purple crystals glimmering on the hills and mountains, and considered the natural beauty of the place as something to be respected and revered.[2] Lastly, what was extremely interesting about Proud Flesh was the fact that it was in many ways an homage to the classic Western. Graf Sheppard says that several scenes and visuals in the film, including the appearance of Geishas, are specifically and directly meant to recall the themes and specifics of the genre.

While Jenny Graf Sheppard has enjoyed success in experimental music, film, and other forms of art, she has been

The Fern Room

commissioned to set the mood for the Fern Room at Chicago Lincoln Park Conservatory. She was attained by the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago, and participated in the Outer Ear Festival of Chicago. Her work on the Fern Room is described as: “Based on native bird song and wing beat pattern, this sound piece uses sounds typically inaudible to humans – sounds in the ultrasonic range that affect plants, insects and other birds in a variety of ways. In addition to actual bird recordings, synthesized sounds based on birdcalls and wing beat patterns were also used. Although we recognize a symbiosis among birds, plants, and insects in an environment, humans cannot always perceive the causes of this “give and take.”” [3] When considering experimental sound, it may not get much cooler than experimenting with sounds typically inaudible to human beings. Jenny Graf Sheppard is certainly an accomplished artist, and the breadth of her work and interest indicates that interesting, entertaining, and explorative art forms should be expected from this Baltimore artist.

[1] http://jennygrafsheppard.com/

[2] Artist Presentation, 2/29/12, Johns Hopkins University

[3] http://jennygrafsheppard.com/

Daniel Keenan

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