The cheerleader is an undeniably American symbol. Ever since females wrestled the organized 'yell squad' out of its all-male origins in 1923, women in matching short skirts have served as cultural icons in camps as disparate as Monday-night football, music videos, and pay-per view porn.
Artist Glenna Jennings “came out” as a former cheerleader with a small documentary series about the squad of her California high school alma matter (Granite Hills) in 2003. Since then, she has continued to investigate the multiple significations of the cheerleader in various photographic projects, working within a framework that skirts the boundaries among terms like “the document,” “the archive” and the “constructed narrative”. Raskolnikov is a new series of photographs and the first of these investigations that uses her own cultural artifact (her high school cheerleading uniform) to enact a conflation of Crime and Punishment and her novella Granite, which retells Dostoevsky's novel from the semi-comedic viewpoint of a cheerleader and her meth-addicted boyfriend. The photographs in Jennings' Raskolnikov are not meant to illustrate either text. Rather, these bodies of work exist in tandem intertextual universes. Within this series, the narrative hints of the titles and the recurrent uniform intermingle with the candid feel of photojournalism.
In his essay about Glenna Jennings' Raskolnikov the cultural historian, Fabián Cereijido, writes:
'Abandoned desks, dirty socks, construction sites, orange groves, a hotel room in Mexico; old and young, male and female, firm and flabby. The faces are turned away from the camera or outside the frame. The images center instead on the skin of other body parts: an un-tanned back, a seductive butt cheek, a wrinkled arm, a caring hand. In each case we seem to join an ongoing scene at close range. There are no tableaux, no establishing shots.
Although presented under the sway of a narrative (all the titles are quotes from Crime and Punishment) and dressed in a token of normative femininity (the cheerleader uniform), the people in these images seem to behave and be addressed less as fictional characters or cultural constructions than as folks experimenting, thinking and beholding cultural constructions. Their non cheer-leading selves are conspicuous by contrast. The uniform suggests a sexual identity highly dependent on the discursive effects of social normativity. But this outfit is one outfit, the same in all the images, on all the bodies. It comes to the scene carrying not only its folksy sociological baggage (pointless enthusiasm, heteronormativity, promiscuous availability) but also Glenna's past and sweat.
Outside the frame there is a naked author handing the characters her clothes. The inscription of the artist as the owner of the dress and as an engaged skin-seeking eye, together with the soft enforcement of the narratives conjure a plane of “reality“. This is where a gesture of de-investment and investment (I want to see you in my clothes) negotiates a high degree of mutual availability between artist and volunteers. Inside this 'community' the senseless glee, objectification and promiscuous accessibility normally associated with cheerleading are not vexing normative constraints but props available for thought and enjoyment.'
Glenna Jennings is a graduate of Art Center College of Design with BAs in Photography, English Literature and Spanish, and MFA (2010) from the University of California San Diego. She has exhibited her work throughout the US, Mexico and Europe, and is presently working on a new series of photographs and collaborative film project about the nearby border town of Jacumba. A photographer, writer, and curator, Jennings runs the Geneva-based art collective compactspace in downtown Los Angeles.