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Artist pioneer blurs lines between art and science

For poet and artist Jen Bervin, helping change the way people conceptualize the divides between art and science has always felt like a duty.

This week, Bervin will bring her experiences to the Wexner Center for the Arts, where she will hold a guest lecture Friday. Bervin will speak as a part of the Wexner Center’s “Artist’s Talks” series, during which artists like Adam Pendleton, Chris Ware, and Marc Pally have graced the stage.

“If I had to offer a reason for [students] to come, I’d say my work makes connections between disciplines in a way that’s pretty unusual,” Bervin said. “It may offer new possibilities to students who have a desire to think more expansively, more deeply, about combining their own interests in ways that are unexpected and vibrant.”

Bervin has published 10 books and won numerous awards for her work. Her work also has been featured in publications like The New York Times, The Nation and the New Yorker.

Despite all her success, there were points in her career — just like every creative — where she questioned her own confidence in her work and artistry.

Jen Bervin will host a guest lecture at the Wexner Center for the Arts on Friday. Courtesy of Khashayar Naderehvandi.

“I was completely lost and felt like I had no center … I was a part of something and walked away from it because I was uncomfortable with the work I was making — not necessarily the quality of the work itself, but how I felt after making it,” Bervin said. “It was something akin to disgust; I didn’t think the work was garbage, but I felt like I was making garbage.”

During this time, Bervin shifted from art to poetry. It was a frightening shift, but a change she knew she had to make.

“If it was something I didn’t want to live with after making it, it was hugely problematic to ask the world to live with it,” Bervin said. “My desire to slow down and shift into another field entirely was a response to my frustration.”

Bervin explains that in the early phase of her creative life where she stopped making visual art entirely, she immersed herself in the works of people like Paul Celan, Gertrude Stein and Hélène Cixous. The goal was to acclimate herself in the unfamiliar world of poetry.

“I remember requesting a list of small literary magazines and their postal addresses, although now every small magazine has a website,” Bervin said. “I was living in Bisbee, Arizona, about five minutes from Mexico — really beautiful Sonoran high desert; and I moved there because I could rent a house, work at the library, carry a studio and house rent with ease, and have ample time to read and make work.”

Bervin’s resiliency and courage in her field seems to inspire anyone she meets, as well.

“I know from being an inherently shy person myself, that there’s a certain jolt in saying yes to an idea that makes me uncomfortable,” said Darren Higgins, a Vermont-based journalist and writer. “[It’s inspiring how Jen] didn’t seem to panic, or at least not outwardly, about having doubts and collecting endless amounts of information without a sense of where it’ll lead. It’s frightening but thrilling, and there’s productive energy in that discomfort.”

The lecture takes place Friday at 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

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