Jonathan Ehrenberg, Glenfiddich’s New US Artist-in-Residence, on the Influence of Whiskey


In March we discovered that Scottish whiskey distiller extraordinaire Glenfiddich has an artist-in-residence program (it’s now in its 12th year, in fact), and on May 28 the whiskey-maker and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) picked Brooklyn-based video artist Jonathan Ehrenberg to be the international residency’s American participant for the summer of 2013. The three-month residency in Dufftown, Scotland, will result in a new series of works inspired by the distillery and the surrounding environment. We got in touch with Ehrenberg, who had just landed in Scotland on Saturday, to ask him about his plans for the residency and his taste in whiskey.

What do you plan on working on during your residency in Dufftown?

I’m planning on making several short videos that feature the landscape, history and folklore of the area — the gaps between, and intersections of these worlds.

In what ways do you think the setting — both specifically a distillery, but also Scotland in general — might influence your work?

Many of the local folktales have a direct connection with specific features in the landscape, so these spaces exist in a tangible, everyday way but they also exist in the realm of dramatic visual metaphor. In my videos, I usually make sets from scratch, but I’m planning to experiment with shooting in the landscape, nearby castles and local distillery buildings. I’m interested in incorporating these locations in ways that highlight their distinct histories, and also frame them as abstract, set-like, fictional spaces.

Your videos often features figures who undergo physical transformations, or seem to develop surreal, plant-like appendages; have you ever thought of your work as a metaphor for the process of distilling whiskey?

I never though of that — I guess in this case the transformation has a happy ending! It’s been fun to see the process up close — it’s very tactile: giant vats that bubble over when yeast is added, warehouses full of stacked, ancient-looking barrels. Some of those images will probably have to make it into the new project.

What is your favorite whiskey-based drink?

Glenfiddich, neat of course!

The full roster of Glenfiddich artists in residence for 2013 features Daniel Barrow (Canada), Yuvan Bothysathuvar (India), Agi Chen (Taiwan), Jonathan Ehrenberg (United States), Marie Von Heyl (United Kingdom), Erick Meyenberg (Mexico), Jungho Oak (Korea), and Zhang Yunyao (China).

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo by Maria Rapoport.)