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Jaanika Peerna

March 6, 2014


Estonian born, New York based artist Jaanika Peerna is currently spending a year in Berlin and her first exhibition in Italy has just opened in Ravenna.  Jaanika’s  work criss-crosses the boundaries of drawing, light installation, performance, sculpture and video.  These disparate disciplines are drawn together, meshed inextricably in a way that makes them undoubtably the work of one artist.  Line,  curved or straight, is an overriding element. It loops, flows, curves, folds back on itself, always with an elegance and grace, both of which qualities are also intrinsic to Peerna’s dance performances. Her work is achingly beautiful, evocative and ephemeral.  The materiality of her drawings, two-dimensional and manipulated into three-dimensional objects have yet, an evanescent quality which echoes the flickering of light and the moving of images in her film and light installations. One after another images float in front of the viewers eyes only to disappear lost forever in a memory that cannot be truly recaptured by video: presence is essential.  Like fleeting moments of sound and movement, the intangible senses of touch and taste, the energy of her performance lingers, an afterthought, an after image, which perhaps can only be recaptured through closed lids.  The marks on paper, the residue of chalk on floors, the suspended strips of mylar, are evidence.  They are the discarded clothes, the shed snakeskin, the beautiful detritus of something that no longer exists, which no longer holds its original shape but which is a beautiful reminder of it. They invade the space, possess it for a while and then leave, becoming like silence after sound.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 12.54.37 PM

Photo credit:  Nelson Conde

I first met Jaanika Peerna in 2011 and below are extracts from a conversation centering on the work in her current show in Ravenna. Like all of her work the exhibition in Ravenna was part performance part practice/experimentation with the potential to be changed, developed, refined and anticipating the next exhibition/performance/event.


Photo credit: Rosetta Berardi

FR. Your work now seems much more to do with performance than it was when we first met in 2011.  How did this come about?  Has there been a gradual change of emphasis or was performance always part of your intention for your work?

JP. It is interesting that you are asking, since the performance part of my work is the biggest question mark for me right now. I wonder about the direction, need for it and the ways it relates to rest of my work a lot.

It has been an organic move towards performance though. About 5 years ago a former pro dancer came to my solo show opening and after experiencing the exhibition said: “Jaanika, I feel like dancing again!!”. I suggested her to work with me the next exhibition I had coming up and create her movement piece based on my drawings using them as movement notation. She did. I felt tight connect since when I draw I “embed” movement into my drawings…and here she was “taking it out” of my drawings and bringing it back to physical 3d space…the next step was for us to perform together at my exhibition opening where she “danced” my drawings and I was drawing her movements onto paper. Live, in real time. At some point I found myself performing on my own…kind of extending my exhibitions into movement. Often the performances take place in the context of my exhibition but lately I have also collaborating with light artist, musician and designer for example and those have been independent of my exhibition.

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Photo credit:  Lindsey Castillo

FR. How do you generate a drawing performance. what underpins the work?  Is it a spontaneous response to what is happening on the paper or support as you do it – or is it planned in advance in a more considered way?

JP. It varies somewhat and as I mentioned in my last answer I am in a questioning and transition phase with performance work.

One option is the response to the movement of the dancer. Other options  arise from a communication with a dancer, a  musician or   a line of light . On a few occasions it has been a pure response to the movement at hand and a sound coming from speakers.  Another time I was responding to a dancer who responded to a group of drawings (not mine!) and we also had soundscape with sounds of drawing and electronics mixed in. Reflecting on my performance work it seems like I determine some rules, anchors, connection points and then let the piece evolve on it’s own determined by the communication with the surface, another performer, the moment at hand.

I also did a performance in Ravenna at my show opening there last Friday and am not very happy with it. It was solo and drawing with chalk on floor as well as interacting with the strips of tracing paper hanging from the ceiling above. The last one really made me wonder whether I should continue them and I am not sure even why I have the questions. People seem to really like them and yearn to witness a physical action in front of their eyes.

FR. Has drawing always been at the forefront of your practice?  Or has it evolved from something else and if so what?

JP. I would say YES. I see all my work as drawing. Whether it be a video or light installation which I see both as drawing with light, placing works in a room, drawing in space, leaving lines on paper, traces of movement …and now performance which is focused on drawing.


FR. Your most recent work is sculptural.  Was this just appropriate for this exhibition, this space or is your work taking a new direction?


JP.  So true. Sculptural indeed. But still drawing.  I start with drawing free hand as straight lines as possible on mylar and then use the drawings to create sculptural forms. I used to draw curvy lines on flat paper, now it is a conceptual shift and I am drawing straight lines and turn them into curves by physically bending them. Also I am considering the properties mylar has, how it bends when attached to a wall from the two ends. So again I apply simple rules and see what are all the options sticking with the rules.


I think this shift towards sculptural is just an organic transformation (perhaps getting closer to performance since sculpture is 3d and drawing 2d!) if you know what I mean.


I had visited the gallery space in Ravenna last October and knowing the space in that way did shape the exhibition a lot. I do have a growing interest in working with a given space, considering architecture, light of the location exc.. and the Ravenna exhibition shows that clearly.


I had exhibited a large drawing a year ago which started on a wall but ended on floor – (image below) – and I have made mylar wall works before where the mylar strips stick away from the wall so there has been the interest to push away form the surface of the paper for a while.

Peerna_Liquid Light

FR. Tell me more about the Quiet Storm image.  It is very beautiful, very sculptural, crossing over between sculpture and drawing and even textile in a different way to the other three-dimensional work on paper.  When was it done?

Peerna_quiet Storm

Very well put, Fiona. It is crossing over all those areas. It also has three programmed lights cast onto it.  Each light is programmed to dim and brighten very slowly in its own rhythm.

I have a video of the piece in action but it really does not do justice to the actual effect the change of lights has – in reality is it a much smoother and slower process with shadows slowly ‘moving’ since the amount and the direction of light is in constant flux.

It is made of hand cut mylar strips. In both ends the strips are attached. There are about 6 ot 7 different units like it but they all are different lengths. I used push pins to attach the pieces onto the wall and was very interested in how the mylar strips bend and ‘fall’ in between the corners (where it is attached) creating various linear patterns. I also like that at times the shadows caused by the lights are stronger/ more visible that the translucent mylar strips causing the shadows. The white on white seems to disappear as the shadows rise.

I like creating works that seem to be in the process of becoming, transforming in front of the viewers eyes. I like the works to fall, to flow, to evaporate, to bend, to flow, to….   Few people have mentioned the fabric like quality of some works and I can see why although I am not consciously thinking of fabric or any meanings that it might bring to the works. But pushing and pulling between two and three dimensions has been of much interest to me and with the last show I seem to be taking another step within the theme.


Jaanika Peerna : solo exhibition of drawing and video installation

 avanzare e arretrare       /     advances and retreats

21.02.2014 – 15.03.2014

Ninapi Gallery

Via Giovanni Pascoli 31, Ravenna ,Italy

for more info: Chiara Fuschini


Ninapi Gallery is proud to announce the first solo exhibition of Estonian-born New York artist Jaanika Peerna in Italy.

For the exhibition Jaanika Peerna is transforming the three large gallery spaces into an all-encompassing site specific installation using large scale graphite drawings on mylar and video projections. There will be a live drawing performance at the closing of her exhibition on March 15th.

Peerna’s skillfully made dense surfaces of straight line drawings and video footage of natural phenomena turn into enveloping sculptural forms which every gallery visitor can navigate and explore from various vantage points.  Drawings vary in scale from tiny 10x10cm to vast room-size surfaces which playfully integrate into the gallery spaces creating a sense of walking amidst canyons and flowing rivers. The borders between drawing, sculpture and video melt away—Peerna’s work is pushed by a strong sense of physical presence whether drawing in her studio, filming in the outdoors, or in the creation of her atmospheric exhibition designs.

Jaanika Peerna is an Estonian-born artist living and working in New York since 1998. Her work deals with transitions in light, air, water and other natural phenomena. She has exhibited her work extensively in the entire New York metropolitan area as well as in Paris, Tallinn, Lisbon, Sofia, Dubai, Honolulu, Berlin Rome, and Novosibirsk. Her work is in numerous private collections in the US and Europe and was recently acquired by Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, France. Her work is represented in the United States by Masters Projects in New York and ARC Fine Art in Connecticut, and in Europe by Haus Galerii in Tallinn, Estonia.


Galleria Ninapi è lieta di annunciare la prima mostra personale in Italia di Jaanika Peerna artista di New York.

Per la mostra Jaanika Peerna sta trasformando i tre grandi spazi della galleria in un’installazione onnicomprensiva e specifica per il luogo utilizzando disegni a grafite di larga scala su mylar e videoproiezione. Per l’apertura della sua mostra è prevista una performance di disegno dal vivo.

Abilmente realizzati da Peerna, dense superfici di disegni rettilinei e riprese video di fenomeni naturali trasformati in avvolgenti forme scultoree possono essere navigate ed esplorate da diversi punti di vista dai visitatori della galleria. I disegni variano in scala da piccoli 10x10cm a vaste superfice di dimensione della stanza che giocosamente si integrano negli spazi della galleria, creando la sensazione del camminare tra canyons e fiumi. I confini tra disegno, scultura e video si fondono – il lavoro di Peerna è spinto da un forte senso di presenza fisica sia disegnando nel suo studio, sia filmando in mezzo alla natura, o creando i suoi particolari allestimenti atmosferici.

Jaanika Peerna è un artista nata in Estonia che vive e lavora a New York dal 1998. Il suo lavoro si occupa di transizioni di luce, aria, acqua e altri fenomeni naturali. Ha esposto ampiamente il suo lavoro in tutta l’area metropolitana di New York, così come a Parigi, Tallinn, Lisbona, Sofia, Dubai, Honolulu, Berlino, Roma e Novosibirsk. Il suo lavoro è in numerose collezioni private negli Stati Uniti e in Europa ed è stata recentemente acquisita da Fonds National d’Art Contemporain in Francia . Il suo lavoro è rappresentato negli Stati Uniti da Master Projects di New York e ARC Fine Art in Connecticut.

mostra è supportata da Eesti Kultuurkapital e Eesti Kunstnike Liit

© Fiona Robinson and Jaanika Peerna March 2014

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