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).
Jenkins also teaches, initially through his website and YouTube. Later he held workshops in various countries and cities. Jenkins said the following about the illegal aspects of street art during an interview with Pitchaya Sudbanthad in 2005, “I think my point is that visual outliers are what’s needed to keep the environment stimulating, but unfortunately the only visual content that’s updated with any real frequency are commercial advertising spaces. This is why the ephemeral nature of street art is so essential—because it creates a visual heartbeat in the city by people who are living in it, rather than just marketing to it. But what does the city do with these works? They remove them as quickly as possible and threaten to put the people who make them in jail.”
In a later interview with Brian Sherwin in 2009 he said, “There is opposition, and risk, but I think that just shows that street art is the sort of frontier where the leading edge really does have to chew through the ice. And it’s good for people to remember public space is a battleground, with the government, advertisers and artists all mixing and mashing, and even now the strange cross-pollination taking place as street artists sometimes become brands, and brands camouflaging as street art creating complex hybrids or impersonators. I think it’s understanding the strangeness of the playing field where you’ll realize that painting street artists, writers, as the bad guys is a shallow view. As for the old bronzes, I really don’t see them as part of what’s going on in the dialogue unless addressed by a new intervention.”
Jenkins gives a lecture presentation titled The Human City that compares humans to blood cells and streets and veins to arteries and sidewalks. He sees street art as a nutritious element rather than a virus. He’s presented at the Droog Event 2: Urban Play (Amsterdam), Pictoplasma conferences (Berlin, NYC), Eyebeam Art and Technology Center (NYC), University of Michigan, and Hongik University (Seoul).