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Jeanne Dunning Work Premieres at Block

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January 10, 2006 | by Judy Moore

A new work by internationally renowned photographer and video artist Jeanne Dunning exploring young children’s conceptions of gender differences will premiere at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art this winter.

Dunning created the video and photograph installation “Making Boys and Girls,” on view in the museum’s Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery Jan. 20 to March 12, in response to a scientific study reported in a 2004 issue of the journal Psychoanalytic Quarterly, in which three- and four-year olds were asked to construct boy and girl “body-puzzle” dolls with detachable body parts, such as eyes, ears, noses, bellybuttons and male and female genitalia.

Many of the children in the study created unconventional dolls -- placing both genitalia on the same doll, substituting other body parts for genitalia and genitalia for other body parts, or not including any genitalia on the dolls, a phenomenon which fascinated Dunning.

“The article had no pictures,” said Dunning, “and while I was reading I could not stop thinking about how much I wanted to see all these anatomically fantastic dolls. Eventually, I decided to reenact and document my own version of this study so that we could get to see the dolls.”

Accompanied by a videographer, Dunning visited 14 different families and, with parental consent, videotaped 17 boys and girls aged three to five assembling dolls like the ones described in the study. “Making Boys and Girls” includes video footage of the children responding to and interacting with the dolls and photographs of the dolls each child made.

Although Dunning calls the project a reenactment of the original study, she also believes approaching it with a different “interpretative lens” yields rich results.

“In recreating this material and casting it as a work of art, I hope to show the wealth of possibility in the responses of these children to the ‘puzzle’ of gender,” Dunning said. “Watching these children struggle to sort out questions of gender difference sheds light on the legacy our own childhood struggles have left in us.”

Issues of gender identification and the body run throughout her art, but Dunning sees a new dimension unfolding in “Making Boys and Girls.”

“Much of my work comes out of an interest in the ambivalent relationships and contradictory expectations we have with gender,” she said. “The thing that is new for this project is its overt relationship with documentary forms and with the notion of reenactment.”

Dunning will discuss “Making Boys and Girls” during a special gallery talk at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2. Reservations are required. Call (847) 491-4852 or email block-museum@northwestern.edu.

Jeanne Dunning has exhibited in museums, galleries and exhibitions throughout the world, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Italy’s Venice Biennale. Her work is represented in a number of public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For more information, call (847) 491-4000 or visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

A new work by internationally renowned photographer and video artist Jeanne Dunning exploring young children’s conceptions of gender differences will premiere at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art this winter.

Dunning created the video and photograph installation “Making Boys and Girls,” on view in the museum’s Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery Jan. 20 to March 12, in response to a scientific study reported in a 2004 issue of the journal Psychoanalytic Quarterly, in which three- and four-year olds were asked to construct boy and girl “body-puzzle” dolls with detachable body parts, such as eyes, ears, noses, bellybuttons and male and female genitalia.

Many of the children in the study created unconventional dolls -- placing both genitalia on the same doll, substituting other body parts for genitalia and genitalia for other body parts, or not including any genitalia on the dolls, a phenomenon which fascinated Dunning.

“The article had no pictures,” said Dunning, “and while I was reading I could not stop thinking about how much I wanted to see all these anatomically fantastic dolls. Eventually, I decided to reenact and document my own version of this study so that we could get to see the dolls.”

Accompanied by a videographer, Dunning visited 14 different families and, with parental consent, videotaped 17 boys and girls aged three to five assembling dolls like the ones described in the study. “Making Boys and Girls” includes video footage of the children responding to and interacting with the dolls and photographs of the dolls each child made.

Although Dunning calls the project a reenactment of the original study, she also believes approaching it with a different “interpretative lens” yields rich results.

“In recreating this material and casting it as a work of art, I hope to show the wealth of possibility in the responses of these children to the ‘puzzle’ of gender,” Dunning said. “Watching these children struggle to sort out questions of gender difference sheds light on the legacy our own childhood struggles have left in us.”

Issues of gender identification and the body run throughout her art, but Dunning sees a new dimension unfolding in “Making Boys and Girls.”

“Much of my work comes out of an interest in the ambivalent relationships and contradictory expectations we have with gender,” she said. “The thing that is new for this project is its overt relationship with documentary forms and with the notion of reenactment.”

Dunning will discuss “Making Boys and Girls” during a special gallery talk at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2. Reservations are required. Call (847) 491-4852 or email block-museum@northwestern.edu.

Jeanne Dunning has exhibited in museums, galleries and exhibitions throughout the world, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Italy’s Venice Biennale. Her work is represented in a number of public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For more information, call (847) 491-4000 or visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

Topics: Campus Life