Based in Brooklyn, poet and visual artist Jen Bervin works in hybrid forms that blend language, writing, and the visual arts; the combinations and emphases change with each project, but all of her works involve strong conceptual elements with a minimalist’s eye for the poetic and essential. Much of Bervin’s work rotates around the poles of text and textile, continually interrogating and elaborating that ancient connection through poems, archival research, artist books, and art.
In recent years, she’s done a number of projects focused on Emily Dickinson—a series of large-scale embroidered wall works which address Dickinson’s “variant markings,” the + signs in her manuscripts that direct readers to other possible words or phrases. A book on these were published by the country’s most important publisher of artists’ books, Granary Books: The Dickinson Composites (2010) followed by another, The Gorgeous Nothings with Marta Werner (2012), which makes available hitherto unpublished manuscript facsimiles of the “fragments” that Dickinson composed on envelopes, and frames them with a close look at her use of the envelope as both a charged and flexible artistic support. The poet Susan Howe called the new book an “absolute perfect combination of solid scholarship and art.”
In 2013, Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings was re-envisioned as a trade book for Christine Burgin Gallery and New Directions, and was selected as a Best Book of the Year from Times Literary Supplement, Hyperallergic, and The New Yorker. The Poetry Foundation nominated it as a 2014 Pegasus Award for Criticism Finalist, noting: “The Gorgeous Nothings contains perceptive essays by Werner, Bervin, and Howe, asking us to reconsider the relationship between a poem and the scene of its initial creation in manuscript form; they also encourage us to re-think our assumptions about what constitutes a ‘finished’ poem. The collection offers non-specialist readers unprecedented access to these manuscripts – as well as a valuable introduction to the most pertinent issues in Dickinson manuscript scholarship today.”
Jen Bervin’s other books from Granary Books include: Draft Notation (2014), an artist book inspired by Anni Albers, Black Mountain College, and Bauhaus design studies made by weavers on typewriters; and The Desert (2008), an artist book and sewn poem in which a reader must seek out the few remaining words amid the pale blue rows of stitching veiling Van Dyke’s prose, and, on the back of the page, as a kind of drawing where the acts of poem-making leave their thready record. Bervin is also author of three books from Ugly Duckling Presse: The Silver Book (2010), A Non- Breaking Space (2005) and Nets (2004), a book created within a palimpsest of Shakespeare’s sonnets to yield crystalline and prescient new poems.
After eight intermittent years in the making, her large-scale art installation, The River, a 230 ft. panoramic scale model of the Mississippi River composed of hand-sewn silver sequins, is on the verge of completion. Installed on the ceiling, the piece shows the river mapped from the geocentric perspective—from inside the earth's interior looking up at the riverbed. The piece is roughly two-thirds of a football field in length; it took the same amount of time to sew as it would to walk the length of the river.
Her current project, The Silk Poems, an experimental book that takes this textile as its subject and form, explores the cultural, scientific, and linguistic complexities of silk, mending and the body in poems imprinted on silk film. Currently in the research phase, this project includes consulting nanotechnology and biomedical labs, and over fifty international textile archives, medical libraries, and sericulture sites in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The Silk Poems has received support from a Creative Capital Grant in Literature (2013) and The Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship at the Liguria Study Center in Italy (2014).
Bervin’s honors also include a Rauschenberg Foundation Residency (2015), The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation Residency (2012, 2009), Von Hess Visiting Artist Fellowship at the Borowsky Center for Publication Arts in Philadelphia at University of the Arts (2012), Visual Studies Workshop Residency (2010), New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowship (2007), The MacDowell Colony Residency (2006), The Camargo Foundation Fellowship in Cassis, France (2006), Mellon Research and Travel Grant (2005), Centrum Arts Residency (2004), The Center for Book Arts, Fine Printing and Letterpress Workshop Fellowship (2003), and an Edward M. Lannan Prize from the Academy of American Poets (2000).
Her work is forthcoming Art of Typewriting, edited by Marvin and Ruth Sackner (Thames and Hudson) and RE:PRINT (Berlin: Luxbooks); it has been published in Mel Chin’s The Funk & Wag from A to Z, edited byNick Flynn, (Yale University Press), Shakespeare in America. James Shapiro, ed. (The Library of America), The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare. (Telephone Books/Nightboat Books), I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues Press), READ (1913 Press), Figuring Color (ICA Boston/ Hatje Cantz), Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (Northwestern University Press), La Familia Americana (Spain: Antonio Machado Libros), The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (UK: Reality Street Editions).
Bervin’s works are held in more than thirty collections including the Walker Art Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, Stanford University, Harvard University, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry, the British Library, and le Bibliothèque nationale de France. Current and upcoming exhibitions include “Material Fix” curated by Alison Ferris at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, “Behind the Personal Library: Collectors Creating a Canon” curated by Alexander Campos at The Center for Book Arts, “Word and Image” curated by Francesca Capone at The Cohen Gallery and an upcoming solo show, both at Brown University’s Granoff Center.
Jen Bervin’s work has been covered in national and international publications and media outlets such as NPR, The Nation, Artforum, Art in America, Frieze, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Poetry Foundation, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. She is on the faculty of the graduate program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In 2015, she will teach a master class at Yale University and will be a Fitt Artist in Residence at Brown University.
Website address: jenbervin.com
Email address: jenbervin (at) mac.com
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Jen Bervin Studio
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Photo credit: Florian Holzerr