Jenny Polak is an artist making architectural installation, drawings and web projects. Her designer alter ego, Design For The Alien Within, promotes hypothetical hiding and dwelling places to accommodate people without immigration documents. Posing as modern furniture or infrastructural elements, the works infuse design logic with the dangers of today’s immigration politics. The cultural resonances of visibility and secrecy and the cheery terms of interior design consumption recast immigrant-citizen struggles at home, at work, and in prison. In alluding to illegal assistance of undocumented and stateless people, she draws both on family history and current events.
Artist Bio / CV
I was born in England and have degrees in Architecture from Cambridge University and in Art from St. Martins School of Art, London. I came to New York 1990 to get an MFA at the School of Visual Arts, and stayed for a Fellowship at the Whitney Independent Study Program. My window installation for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum Trojan Horse Travel Agency is on view through December 2007, and starting September 2007 I will be showing new work at the Soap Factory, Minneapolis and in Jamaica Flux, Queens. My family history of hiding and migration drives my work, which encompasses drawing, architectural installation and web-based art.
My designer alter ego, DESIGN FOR THE ALIEN WITHIN, currently designs built-in hiding places for undocumented people. In a 1995 residency at Sculpture Space, Utica I had begun to analyze and create architectural forms for the hiding of fugitives. I recently made fictional hiding places for people without documents during residencies at the Newark Museum, Islip Art Museum and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
A residency with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum enabled my first web project, digital models of immigrant detention sites. The 2006 launch of the initial online version of DESIGN FOR THE ALIEN WITHIN was supported by a 2005 Franklin Furnace Future of the Present award and a 2006 Digital Matrix award.
I have exhibited widely in the US and the UK, for example in the Newark Museum and the Whitechapel Art Gallery. In London, I participated in the first exhibition of British Jewish Women artists and in New York, in the 2003 inaugural exhibition of Exit Art’s new building. I have worked with such public artists’ groups as the Art for Change (UK) and RepoHistory collective (US). My work has been discussed in the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Guardian (UK), Brooklyn Rail, Artthrob (South Africa), on New York 1 and on Public Radio in Australia.