Starting a few days ago, passerbys of some of London’s ITV buildings were treated to an unsettling sight if their eyes lifted to the sky. What appeared to be 84 men, standing on the edge the rooftops as if about to jump, were installed by Mark Jenkins and collaborator Sandra Fernandez as part of a campaign being run by the Campaign against Living Miserably, or CALM. Dovetailing nicely with the American street artist’s habit of leaving his signature packing tape works in the public arena for people to come across, the project saw Jenkins working with the friends an families of the men who took their own lives.
Mark Jenkins (born 1970) is an American artist who makes sculptural street installations. Jenkins’ practice of street art is to use the “street as a stage” where his sculptures interact with the surrounding environment including passersby who unknowingly become actors. His installations often draw the attention of the police. His work has been described as whimsical, macabre, shocking and situationist. Jenkins cites Juan Muñoz as his initial inspiration.
In addition to creating art, he also teaches his sculpture techniques and installation practices through workshops. He currently lives in Washington, DC.
Jenkins was born in Alexandria, Virginia, but first began experimenting with tape as a casting medium for creating sculpture in 2003 while living in Rio de Janeiro. Wrapping the tape in reverse and then resealing it, he was able to make casts of objects including himself. One of his first street projects was a series of clear tape self casts that he installed on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Jenkins became immediately interested in the reactions of the people and considered his installation as much a social experiment as an art project.
In 2004 he moved back to Washington DC and in 2005 he began working with Sandra Fernandez on the Storker Project, a series in which clear casts of toy babies are installed in different cities to interact with their surrounding environment. Jenkins and Fernandez continued to create other installations using tape animals–dogs playing in litter, giraffes nibbling plastic bags from trees, and ducks swimming in gutters. Other outdoor projects which explore culture jamming include Meterpops, Traffic-Go-Round, and Signs of Spring.
In 2006 Jenkins began the Embed Series. The tape casts were filled with newspaper and cement and dressed to create hyper realistic sculptural duplicates of himself and Fernandez. These new lifelike sculpture installations created confusion causing some passers-by to make calls to 911 which caused police and sometimes rescue units to arrive on his “stage”.
In 2008 Jenkins collaborated with Greenpeace on an awareness campaign, Plight of the Polar Bears, to draw attention to the melting Arctic ice caps. Jenkins created realistic figures appearing to be homeless people but with plush polar bear heads. The installations resulted in bomb squads being deployed to destroy the works subsequently creating controversy over the regulation of public space in the post 9/11 era.
Jenkins has participated in public art events Interferencia (Barcelona, 2008), BELEF (Belgrade, 2009), Dublin Contemporary 2011, Inside Out (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, 2009),Living Layers (Rome, 2012) and Les Vraisemblables (Nuit Blanche, Paris, 2014).
Indoors Jenkins has exhibited internationally in galleries and museums as well as continuing his Embed Series in public settings such as cafeterias, schools and building lobbies. He was part of Kevin Spacey’s Tunnel 228 project in London. In 2011 he made installations for a theatrical piece Is Maybe at the Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. Group exhibits include: New Blood curated by Morgan Spurlock at Thinkspace Gallery (Los Angeles, 2012), POW’s Santa’s Ghetto (Bethlehem, 2007), The Underbelly Project (NYC, 2011), Anonymous at PERMM Museum (Perm, 2012), Pinic In the City at Sangsangmadang Gallery (Seoul, 2009), White Walls at the Beirut Art Center (Beirut, 2012) and Street and Studio at Kunsthalle Wien (Vienna, 2010). Solo shows include Glazed Paradise at Diesel Gallery (Tokyo, 2008), Meaning is Overrated at Carmichael Gallery (Los Angeles, 2009), Terrible Horrible at Ruttkowski;68 Gallery (Cologne, 2014), Moment of Impact at Lazarides Gallery (London, 2015), and Remix at L’Arsenal (Montreal, 2016).
In 2018, he and Fernandez created Project84, in London, England. The work was designed to raise awareness of adult male suicide. Jenkins’ own brother was lost to suicide.
Project 84 brings attention to the fact that 84 men commit suicide every week in the UK, and wants to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues. The website features stories and videos about each victim and there is a online petition to encourage the British government to fund more suicede prevention and bereavement support programs. The installation will be on view through April 1st.