A short conversation with Jen Kutler

“I don’t know shit about art. And you can quote me on that.”

Jen Kutler was almost infuriatingly nonchalant about her considerable skills as an artist. She’s a trained musician; an electrical engineer; and she combines those two talents into real skill as an artist.

Her art installation, titled “The Other,” is an unusual and interesting blend of her skills in both areas, using sound and electrical current to comment on the absence of human connection in modern society.

It’s made up of a shovel and a pillowcase, using similar technology to what you might find in smartphone screens to pick up on the electrical currents sent through touch and create a polyphonic sound wall, personalized to everyone’s touch.

“I actually chose the pillowcase because it was going to be in another show about items that you find in your bedroom,” Kutler said. “And the shovel was because I wanted to find something that represented absence. A shovel seemed like the best bet.”

This kind of care and thought is crucial to how she makes her art. She gets an idea and she runs with it, even if it means that she has to figure out something entirely new in order to achieve what she wants.

“I pretty much taught myself electrical engineering while trying to hack a vibrator,” Kutler said. “And coding, you know, I learned from this guy in the U.K. called Grumpy Mike—and he was a total asshole, but I learned everything I needed to know.”

We got to see some of that electrical engineering when she performed at the opening, with her shiny purple vibrator hooked up to a synthesizer to fill the echoing basement with ambient noise as she went through a raw and evocative performance on stage. (You can read more about my thoughts on her performance at my review of Entanglements).

“The Other” will be on display at the Yards by appointment until Feb. 15. I highly recommend finding some friends and checking it out.

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