“I often take images from the media, altering and setting them into new relationships,” says Jennifer Bolande. This description of the artist’s photo-based, interdisciplinary practice accurately characterizes her long-term engagement with newspapers, as evinced in “The Composition of Decomposition,” a body of work that includes a sculpture, a film, several books and a group of diptychs. It began with an image of exhumed skeletons of 14th century plague victims which Bolande found in The New York Times. She was struck by how the skeletons appears to look up at the camera and wanted to create a site where we – the viewers – could look back at them. This meditation on decomposition, prescient in the current moment of the global COVID-19 pandemic, spurred the artist to explore how newspapers convey meaning through image placement. The skeleton image is the foundation for her sculpture Image Tomb (with skeletons), an over three foot high stack of aging newspapers from which Bolande cut out a rectangular core. In doing so, she created an excavation site of her own and a final resting place for the skeleton image, which appears at the bottom.
The newspapers date from 2013 to 2015 – a time when many readers converted to digital versions of the printed page, precipitating major changes in the ways news was delivered, consumed and processed by readers along with a marked acceleration of the news cycle. From the sub-stack of cut rectangles, Bolande presents diptychs of the chance pairings, maintaining the original order of the pages as they were excavated. For example, in Composition of Decomposition #65, mourners at Nelson Mandela’s funeral face a piece of a Charles Schwab advertisement. The results are fragmentary in nature, with textual excerpts appearing beside cropped photographs, inviting alternate narratives for the news. In her work, Bolande approaches the newspaper physically, allegorically and literally as a vertical accretion of history. Her work is at once interested in “the times” and The New York Times, reflecting on how time is marked in the images and stories we consume through the newspaper.