Dreamlands with Jenny Perlin
Feb 24, 2017

In January, artist Jenny Perlin collaborated with Education for a series of artmaking workshops and gallery experiences for Whitney family and school audiences. Perlin’s film Twilight Arc, 2016 and sound installation Canopy, 2016 were on view in the exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art 1905–2016.

Perlin draws upon a long history of musicians, inventors, and composers who tried to create color organs―instruments that translate musical sounds into color, line, and pattern. Perlin is also interested in other optical devices such as the thaumatrope, popular in the nineteenth century.  A thaumatrope is a disk with a picture on each side, attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are twirled, the two pictures seem to become one.

During Open Studio for families on January 28, participants were invited to make their own thaumatropes. Kids held the strings and twirled them between their fingertips. As the thaumatropes spun, the images on either side appeared to move and merge with one another! Some families captured this illusion by making smartphone videos of their spinning thaumatropes.

Families were eager to ask Perlin questions about her practice, film techniques, and ideas. Billie Rae Vinson, Senior Coordinator of Family Programs remarked: “Jenny Perlin was fantastic in helping families understand how to create an optical illusion, which is actually quite a tough thing to do! Perlin provided an atmosphere where families could learn about and appreciate the history of the moving image.”

Perlin also worked with students from The German School Brooklyn and partnership schools PS 3 and PS 41. Perlin led them in a visit to the galleries and a thaumatrope-making workshop. Jamie Rosenfeld, Coordinator of School and Educator Programs commented: “Our time with Jenny helped students learn more about her work and experimental film techniques. During our conversation in the galleries, students were able to explore the concept of synesthesia, which is when one of your senses mixes with another. For example, you might see colors while listening to music—just as the colors in Twilight Arc, 2016 seem to be connected to Perlin’s sound installation Canopy, 2016. Later, students were invited to imagine the colors that responded to the expressive images on their thaumatropes. Asking Jenny questions about her inspiration and practice illuminated just how experimental this work really is!”

By Anna Kay, Assistant to Family Programs and Alexus Knight, Family Programs Intern