Video Viewing Room: Jenny Perlin

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Jenny Perlin

The Bunker Films

I started traveling to meet people living underground in former missile silos and munitions bunkers in the American Midwest after the 2016 U.S. elections. It seemed a necessary way to try revisit and reclaim some of my own upbringing. I knew there was more to the place than the way the media portrayed it. And I wanted to travel alone, to go “home” and experience the otherness I always felt growing up in southwestern Ohio.

Twenty years of living in Brooklyn had gotten a little boring. I wasn’t used to being agreed with so often and knew my left-leaning friends who had stayed in the Midwest were working harder than ever to maintain and support the causes they held dear. For whatever perverse reason, I missed the sense of alienation that had once tormented me as a young person. The adrenaline of the unknown.

There are three Bunker Films so far. Two of the films are portraits of people; one is a portrait of a company doing brisk business crafting new underground shelters for wealthy clientele. A fourth film, about a country-wide chain of several collective shelters, is in the editing phase.

People ask me why I make these trips alone and how I can deal with spending days and nights underground talking with strange men who like to declaim their philosophies for hours on end. In short, I suppose that talking to others allows for a kind of dissolution that I find both satisfying and strange. As the conversation continues, it’s not that I agree with their perspective, but that their person-ness is present before me, and in the context in which they are speaking, it is simply logical that what they are saying comes out of them. Only later, usually as I’m transcribing the interview, does it hit me where I’ve been. But by then, the empathy is there too, all mixed in.

Jenny Perlin, April 2020

DOUBLEWIDE, 2020, HD, color, sound, 18 minutes

Doublewide is a look at a Texas-based company that sells, constructs, and installs custom-made, secure steel subterranean hideouts for wealthy clients. A trip to one of their newly completed massive underground bunkers in Michigan reveals a fortified underground world for the wealthy to retreat from global crises.

Your Friend Milton (Bunker F-1206), 2020, HD, color, sound, 17:30 minutes

It is a hot day in South Dakota at the end of June, 2018. Milton Torres has just left his ex-wife and 12 year old daughter in Chicago and is spending his first full day in his new home, a 1940s munitions bunker. He is the only full-time inhabitant of VivosX, a compund of 575 bunkers on a vast tract of rural ranchland. 99-year subleases are available to people who dream of safety during apocalyptic times. This film is a portrait of Milton as he begins his new life, alone, in the country.

Ed of Subterra, 2019, HD, color, sound, 20:25 minutes

Ed of Subterra is a portrait of Edward Peden, founder and sole inhabitant of Subterra Castle, a 14,000 square foot former missile silo in Eskridge, Kansas. Ed has lived at Subterra for over two decades, making a space twenty-feet underground into a home and sanctuary. Three years ago Ed had a stroke, and he will probably have to sell Subterra and move aboveground. His wife Dianna, with whom he built the space, moved back to Topeka a few years ago, but Ed chose to stay behind in his castle.


Jenny Perlin makes films, videos, installations, and drawings. Her projects draw on interdisciplinary research interests in history, cultural studies, literature and linguistics. Her films incorporate innovative techniques to investigate history as it relates to the present. Perlin shoots 16mm film and digital video and combines live-action, staged, and documentary images with hand-drawn, text-based animation. 

Her films have been shown as single-channel works and multi-channel installations at numerous venues including the Guggenheim Museum, Mass MoCA, MoMA, Guangzhou Triennial, IFC Center, Berlin and Rotterdam film festivals, the Drawing Center, and The Kitchen. 

Perlin received her BA from Brown University in Literature and Society (Modern Culture and Media), her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Film, and completed postgraduate studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. 

To learn about Perlin’s 2007 exhibition at The Kitchen, Transcript, visit our Archive Website, and to learn more about her work, visit the artist’s website.

Image: 1) Still from Jenny Perlin, Ed of Subterra, 2019, HD, color, sound, 20:25 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

The Video Viewing Room series makes recent video works and archival performance recordings available online for one month at a time. This initiative revives The Kitchen’s longstanding Video Viewing Room—a dedicated space within our buildings from 1975 through the early 1990s. Functioning at first as a resource facility where visitors could watch their own tapes or view videos from The Kitchen’s archive and collection, in fall 1978 the Video Viewing Room began to feature curated programs of artists’ videos. To see a hand-drawn floor plan that shows where the Video Viewing Room was located within The Kitchen’s space at 59 Wooster Street circa 1984, click here.

Video Viewing Room: Jenny Perlin is made possible with the support of the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust; annual grants from Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation and Howard Gilman Foundation; and in part by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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