INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA STOCKHOLDER
Elisa Muscatelli – How would you describe your research to an audience encountering it for the first time?
Jessica Stockholder – Boundaries between things, edges, how we understand it, things to be autonomous and dependent.
EM – You are often mentioned as a sculptor even though you have affirmed that your artworks are more about events and situations
JS – I don’t care very much whether I’m understood to be a sculptor or a painter, I do care about the history of both of those categories of human activity. My work is insofar as it’s involved with surface and picture making, and with framing, it’s very much a part of the history of painting, and in so far as I’m interested in material and space in relationship to picture-making, it’s very much in dialogue with the history of sculpture. So both of those histories and conventions are important to me, and the framing device, as a human-made device, seems to have more staying power than the pedestal inside of the art world, at the moment.
EM – Surfaces and textures assume special importance in your artworks. Where does this interest come from?
JS – I’m interested in the relationship between sensuality existing as a human being in a body and the experience of life and time, one moment to another, those are all very particular moments and experiences, and I’m interested in that piece of human experience as it bumps up against abstraction. So language is abstract, and pictures are always abstract; a picture of something it’s an abstraction in relationship to the experience of that something. We propose pictures to be timeless, you know, they’re still, and of course, nothing is timeless, everything has a time. We propose abstraction as a way to communicate with one another over time. So surfaces and textures and the actuality of what things are made, the kind of material, whether it’s plastic or stone or ceramic or paint, all of those materials are very specific, and I use them to create experiences that are both specific, and reference kind of shared forms that transcend their specificity.
So that’s one way to answer your question. I can add also that we see the surface of things, our eyes, our sense of vision respond to the surface, and surfaces have the potential to create illusion and fiction, and they can be deceptive, but they can also be full of a kind of storytelling. My work isn’t literary, I don’t have stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end in a verbal sense, but I really value in painting and surface that capacity for the surface to evoke a kind of other space, whether it’s a perceptually, another kind of space, or and emotively a space too.
The skin is an organ it’s a part of our body, that’s an organ and it’s permeable, so it’s both the boundary between us and the rest of the world, but it’s a permeable boundary, and paint skin is often has a metaphoric relationship to body skin.
EM – Containment, explosion, randomness, obsessive order, forms that try to find different supports in space. What is the bond between such different elements?
JS – Well, I kind of heard two questions in there; one about order and disorder, and the relationship between things. I think that I’m interested in making use of accident and serendipity. I tend not to spend a lot of time looking for just the right materials in my work, I take advantage of what’s here and I create something that is very ordered and controlled, but has room for a kind of riffs on in a way for things that are less ordered. Assists in my work is a kind of group of works that I started in 2015. Those are sculptures that don’t stand up on their own, so they need to be tied to another thing, and that other thing could be supplied by me, but it could be supplied by a curator, or if someone owns the work, they would have to choose the thing and they could be in dialogue with me.
That idea is very parallel to the fact that paintings need an assist, they need to hang on a wall, paintings aren’t made to just lie around on the floor, they hang on a wall. The Assists are related in that way, only there isn’t a convention to support that relationship. If you walk into an exhibition and see my assist strapped to other objects, and you haven’t read something or speak to people about it, you might assume that the object that’s holding up the Assists is a part of the artwork. It’s a complicated proposal, but I really enjoy it, that’s because it’s carried through. I also have made a lot of installation work, and when I use the word installation in my work, I mean work that is tied to the architecture. The boundary, between the thing I’ve made and the room or building that it’s made in relationship to, isn’t a clear one, and the work can’t be divorced from the architecture, even though it nevertheless continues to have an autonomy that’s distinct from the architecture. The relationship of the Assist to its prop is a similarly complicated boundary, just like we talked about earlier, like our skin, is also a complicated boundary between us and the world.
EM – Your installations remind me a lot of the language of fairy tales, where there are often metaphorical elements that refer to the sphere of pleasure
JS – I don’t understand what the things I use to be symbolic in the way that you’re describing the fairy tale, but I think that my work is very much about how pleasure matters in life, and also about the relationship between pleasure and discomfort and struggle and awkwardness also. I can’t make a direct comparison between my work and fairy tales, because my work is not prescriptive or it doesn’t have a suggestion about what one should do in the work. I think my work is a place that acknowledges that kind of subjectivity, the same kind of subjectivity that fairy tales speak to, and the complexity of the negotiation between one’s internal subjective space and emotionality, and thinking, and the structures of the world that we share. My work is involved in that. And also color is a very sensual pleasurable thing, difficult to put words to and say exactly why, but it is. Different colors I think mean different things, some of the meanings have to do with the relationship between oneself, where people are in the landscape; if the ocean’s blue, and the sky is blue, that then the color takes on that meaning around you. If you live in the desert, you probably have a different relationship to what colors mean in that place than where I’m living here in Chicago. Colors are also given different cultural symbolism too, and that changes over time and place. I think we also have a physiological relationship to color and all of that is emotional, it is connected to emotions, and I think fairy tales and stories in general, fictions, address ideas and structures for thinking, and with thoughts about the frame of life in relation to feelings, and pleasures and pains. I think my work in that way can be understood to sit in a similar realm as fairy tales.
EM – I see your works as human beings: some need something to hold them up, others rise like castles to the ceiling, others invade space. There is an incredibly intimate and human attraction in the spaces you create
JS – Well I don’t often have direct reference to human figures in the work, though that’s not always the case this work is right behind me, that has some, but my work is always about the relationship between the body and space and the human hand, and space. The scale of the work is related to the scale of the hand, or the scale of the body, or the head, in relationship to the work, and then kind of often a bridge between the scale of a body and a place it’s in. The scale is always a relative idea, it is different from size; we can measure the size of something, but the scale of something has to do with its relative size. That is always something that comes to matter in the work, in one way or another, in relationship to the body, but I don’t understand myself to be making work, most of the time I don’t make works where I’m asking people to forget the nature of the environment that the work is in. In English environmental works like where you walk in, and like going to the movie; you go to the movies and you forget that you’re in a movie theater, and you get lost into the flow of the fiction of the film. I enjoy that experience, I have nothing against it, I care about that a lot, but that’s not what I do in my work. In my work, I’m interested in maintaining a sense of the actual fact of where the work is even while, I create some experience of disturbing, that has certainty about what that space is. I don’t want the work to erase its place or site, I want the work to ask questions about the relationship between a more fictive space, where one gets lost in the manufacture of something that is not part of our mundane reality, but where there’s a question about the relationship between that mundanity, the actuality of space and place and fiction.
EM – In addition to John Cage, have there been any artistic, literary, or cinematographic references that have had an important impact on your artistic and personal career?
JS – It’s a good question, there’s no one person. I think there are a lot of different people and kinds of work that influenced me. I think that minimalism mattered to me a lot. My work doesn’t look minimal, it isn’t minimal, but I think minimalism, Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Robert Ryman, opened up space for the kind of work that I make, where that minimal work called attention to what was around it, as well as what it was. And also the work of Schwitters, moving into the work of Rauschenberg, clearly dada work. People used objects to make things and brought the meaning of those objects into the work itself. My work has taken a lot from those people, and then also surrealism Max Ernst and Marta Oppenheim’s teacup, and lots of different histories. I grew up in Vancouver, in Canada, on the West Coast, and the First Nations work there influenced me a lot, from the time I was very young, and I’ve gotten very familiar with the work of Robert Davidson and also grew up around a lot of Robert Reed sculptures out there. Also, I went when I was a kid, I was taken to the Louvre and I remember the pointillism, I was really fascinated with how those different little small parts of color added up to be both images and also mixing color from a distance. I had a lot of different influences.