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Bryan Zanisnik Keeps It in the Family

June 20, 2014

How does an artist figure out what’s truly essential? Performing A Woman Waits For Me II (2014) with his parents at Pace University in Lower Manhattan, artist Bryan Zanisnik discusses how he draws on his family and personal history in his artwork. In this film, Zanisnik returns to his parents’ home in Springfield, New Jersey to dig up the long-forgotten home movies he made as an adolescent. Inspired by Hollywood film directors like Martin Scorsese, the VHS movies are an unironic mix of slapstick comedy and gangster violence, with Zanisnik’s grandmother often playing an armed and dangerous protagonist. Uncovering the videos in graduate school was a eureka moment for Zanisnik.

“I thought, ‘This is who I really am.’ These interests in the abject, the absurd, the humor, the gender inversions, the fragility,” he explains, “the conversations between the performer and me behind the camera was really getting to the core of what I wanted out of an artwork.” Frequently incorporating his parents in his work, Zanisnik creates performances in which power dynamics—such as struggles for control between parent and child—play out in surreal scenarios.

As part of the exhibition Oblique Strategies at Pace University’s Peter Fingesten Gallery, Zanisnik performs inside a wooden museum display case transformed into a mobile sculpture, as his parents and the audience look on. Tightly confined inside the sculpture and straining to move through the building’s hallways, Zanisnik intentionally knocks into onlookers, challenging them to respond. For Zanisnik, the performance A Woman Waits For Me II (2014) evokes his own emotional journey from a reclusive adolescent to the artist he is today.

Also featuring the artworks Meadowlands Picaresque (2013); Dissociative Pastry and Stone (2011); Repetition Compulsion (2010); Ten-Thousand Meals Than Ever Yet (2009); When I Was a Child I Caught a Fleeting Glimpse (2009); He Is Not a Man (2007); Next of Kin (2007); Family Reunion (2006); and Remembrance of Things Past (2006).

More information and credits


Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Producer & Editor: Rafael Salazar & Ava Wiland. Cinematography: Rehana Esmail, Rafael Salazar & Ava Wiland. Sound: Nick Ravich & Ava Wiland. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Design & Graphics: CRUX Design & Open. Artwork: Bryan Zanisnik. Music: Robert Carlton. Thanks: Charlotte Becket, Douglas Campos, Alice Capotosto, Martin Kagan, Suzanne Kim, Emmy Mikelson, Peter Fingesten Gallery, Pace University, Smack Mellon, Bob Zanisnik & Carol Zanisnik. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Art21 New York Close Up is supported, in part, by The Lambent Foundation; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Bryan Zanisnik

Bryan Zanisnik was born in 1979 in Union, New Jersey and currently lives and works between New York and Stockholm, Sweden. Dealing with both autobiographical and social subject matter, Zanisnik creates videos, performances, installations, and photographs, often with elements of the absurd and the abject as he investigates the dynamic between performer and audience. His projects have included staging a boxing match with his childhood bully, exploring and documenting New Jersey’s Meadowlands, and creating The Philip Roth Presidential Library from hundreds of second-hand copies of books by and about the author.

“I thought, ‘This is who I really am.’ These interests in the abject, the absurd, the humor, the gender inversions, the fragility, the conversations between the performer and me behind the camera, was really getting to the core of what I wanted out of an artwork.”

Bryan Zanisnik

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