Janet Biggs: Extreme

Transcending physical and mental limits to conduct a visual survey of extremes.

About the exhibition
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 by Barbara Polla


Janet Biggs seeks out and explores the Extremes, whether geographic, climatic, physical, mental, or psychological. The extreme attracts Biggs and will continue to attract her, just as light fascinates moths.

An intense explorer of the most remote and dangerous places – such as the Horn of Africa – Janet Biggs pushes herself to physical and mental limits to capture extremes. She has captured the world's fastest motorcyclist racing across Utah’s salt flat, horses wildly galloping on treadmills, Olympic swimmers defying gravity, and herself exploring deep salt mines… step by step, the artist is constructing her own universe, her own identifying images, her Weltanschauung, even when she has to seek out this vision in the geographical extremes of ice or heat.

“Afar”, Biggs’ most recent work, recently presented at the SCAD Museum of Art, depicts her travels in the Afar Triangle, a politically and geologically unstable but visually arresting desert region at the intersection of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, in Africa. This volatile environment of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and intense heat serves as a metaphor for the ongoing political instability of a region in which salt traders, nomadic people and militia vie for scarce natural resources. In this and other explorations, which sometimes seem surrealistic, the artist takes us with her as she discovers and represents realities that we would not see without her art.

Beyond extreme, Biggs’ work is often strange, mysterious, unheimlich - yet beautiful. “Uncanny” perfectly fits Janet Biggs’ investigation and creation of duality: a complex intertwining of freedom and constraint, excellence and frailty, strength and solitude.

With this background, Biggs presents images that take us to remote, often unknown or ignored worlds, to sulfur spewing volcanoes for In the Caldera and endless Arctic icefields in Fade to White. She leads us on explorations of subterranean crystal mines, active volcanoes, neuroscience laboratories, and introduces us to the individuals who populate these worlds. Biggs makes a mark, sometimes literally "shooting" in these worlds, as in Arctic Bang. While Biggs admires the infinite possibilities of interactions in nature, she is aware that our human actions, willingly or not, disrupt nature’s harmony. The reference to Niki de Saint Phalle’s shootings is strong here (so strong that there is even some physical resemblance between the two artists) and goes beyond formal aspects to a position in the world: revolution is on the march.

The uncanny in Biggs’ work also stems from another duality: being an "engaged" artist, engaged in freedom, ecology, and gender neutrality, both revolted by the lack thereof and fascinated by the beauty of the world as it is. As an “engaged” artist, she records the beauty of a world she criticizes with such acuity that she even wants to “shoot it” – though admitting beforehand that such an action has no effect, other than presenting the futile beauty of her images. Despair and action are a signature of the artist’s position: the despair is existential, the action artistic. Janet Biggs’ art acts on the viewers to subjugate them – and lead them to new possibilities, questions, and desires.

Janet Biggs is one of a number of outstanding contemporary American video artists. She is also a performer and a photographer.

About the curator

Barbara Polla is an independent curator, a writer and currently a gallery owner. She has also been an elected politician for twelve years in Switzerland, and an MP from 1999 to 2003. Whether in politics, in art or in writing, she commits herself to promote freedom: freedom of thought, expression and movement, for all individuals, whenever possible. As a curator and gallery owner, Barbara Polla often shows unconventional artworks, creates projects in which she involves both renowned artists and emerging talents and aims to discover, show and promote hidden and uncanny beauty. Barbara Polla works with a number of projects, and whenever she embraces one, she will explore it intellectually, artistically, in collaborations and as a writer. Her current projects include art & prison; art & science, liking memory and video art; and gender issues.

She has always been interested in the power of difference and diversity, of “reverse thinking”, of challenging stereotypes, and is amazed by the energy generated by rupture, by getting out of frame, by “coming out”: uncanny Energy. 

Barbara Polla lives and works in Geneva, Switzerland; she has curated solo/group shows in Turkey, Lebanon, Australia and elsewhere, both in galleries and institutions. In parallel with this, she organises various cultural events such as Video Forever (screenings & conferences about video art, in collaboration with French curator & art critic Paul Ardenne) and Poetry Nights. She teaches creative and critical writing at HEAD Geneva, is an active blogger and publishes assays (on gender), books about art and personal fictions and poetry.