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Virtual Residency: Malia Jensen

The Portland Art Museum and NW Film Center is pleased to introduce an artist-in-residence series launching with an online presentation of Malia Jensen’s Nearer Nature: Worth Your Salt. As part of reimagining our work with artists in the COVID-19 era, we are exploring new ways of presenting works by contemporary visual, cinema, and new media artists. For the first edition, Jensen’s 6-hour video Worth Your Salt will be available 24 hours a day, free of charge via the PAM/NWFC museum at home website, nwfc.pam.org, from July 30 through November 7, 2020.

Worth Your Salt, Click image to view.

The Nearer Nature Project was created with support from the Creative Heights Initiative of the Oregon Community Foundation. Additional online content will be scheduled throughout the virtual residency, including a virtual studio visit with the artist that took place on May 27.

Nearer Nature: Worth Your Salt began in response to an impulse that is all too familiar in the COVID-19 era: the artist missed her connection to nature. Interested in cultivating a project that would enable her to explore our complex relationships with the natural world, Jensen carved six sculptures from livestock salt licks. Beginning in February of 2019, she installed them in wild places across the state of Oregon to encourage animal interaction with them. Over the next year, eighteen motion-triggered cameras monitored the sculptures and the surrounding landscape, recording not only wildlife but also the dissolution of the carved salt sculptures and the changing seasons. Footage from each camera was collected monthly, necessitating over 120 “camera checks” and an intricate filing system. Jensen worked closely with a video editor and a small team of assistant editors, assembling the many thousands of 30-second clips into a six-hour video, compressing a total of 24 hours of surveillance footage into a grid format.

Nearer Nature: Worth Your Salt, 2020. single-channel HD video, courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Jensen’s work gives us a window into the ordinary life of the natural world. Patterns emerge: changing light, growing antlers, pairings, births, behaviors shifting with the seasons. The mundane becomes beautiful, underscoring our interdependence with the ecosystem and the myriad ways we walk on shared ground.

Each salt sculpture was designed and carved to represent a different part of the body: a Brancusi-esque head, a breast, two hands, a stack of doughnuts (the stomach), and a foot. Jensen placed them throughout Oregon so they would not only connect with the state’s diverse ecology and wildlife population, but also resemble a reclining figure when viewed on a map, symbolic of the human community Jensen hopes to engage through this project, and, she explains, “representing the larger body that we are all a part of.”

Image of artist caught by field camera

Nearer Nature has been activated by community engagement. In the fall of 2019, a five-hour version of Jensen’s video was installed in 12 public places near the original sculpture/camera locations: Oregon Feed and Irrigation, Tygh Valley General Store, the Riverside Restaurant, Neah-Kah-Nie High School, an Oregon Health and Science University Hospital research facility, Skyline Tavern, the San Dune Pub, Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness, and more. This aspect of the project gave Jensen an opportunity to connect with her extended Oregonian neighbors; embracing vulnerability and bridging cultural differences with common interests, facilitating conversations between strangers and encouraging the act of slowing down to examine the natural world from multiple perspectives.

The public programming offered during this virtual residency will continue in this tradition, providing further avenues for the larger community to center nature in their lives at a time of physical distancing and social transformation. Nearer Nature asks us to reflect on the ways in which we are connected and nurture the life that exists just beyond our view.


About the Artist

Malia Jensen (b. 1966, Honolulu, HI) received a BFA from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 1989. Her diverse studio practice, encompassing sculpture, video, and photography, is informed by an interest in natural cycles and the fragility of the constructed systems we use to navigate the world. Jensen’s work has been exhibited at The Schneider Museum of Art, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Tacoma Art Museum, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Holter Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, and Mesa Arts Center. She has been an Artist in Residence at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Ucross Foundation, Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Portland Garment Factory; and a visiting artist and speaker at Whitman College, Southern Oregon University, Pacific Northwest College of Art, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has completed several public commissions in the Northwestern United States, and her work is held in numerous public and private collections. Her work is represented by Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York and Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, where her related exhibition Eremocene is on view August 6–29, 2020. Jensen lives and works in Portland, OR.