Monday, February 16, 2009

Artist Spotlight: Jennifer Ekstrand

Questions from Jada Schumacher

1. What is the role of memory in the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement? How do the concepts of “memory” and “modular” inform each other?

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement has influenced memory just as anything can influence the memories of people that participate in it. By completing a variety of processes without the help of professionals, a person can gain a greater connection to the items and spaces around them. By fixing up a home on your own, you gain a greater sense of ownership to that home. When you have put a great amount of your time and effort into that space, it is now more than a space you occupy. It is a space you helped to create. The DIY movement includes more than just the home; it has touched everything from photography, to cooking, to fashion. Because of this I think that DIY has given people a sense of self-accomplishment. With the accessibility to the Internet and information being at our fingertips, a person can learn to do ultimately anything; a person can become an “expert” in anything they choose.

Modular can describe memory as memories are always small parts of a larger all-encompassing whole. Just as a modular structure is made of smaller modules, our lives are innumerous events creating memories we keep whether we choose to or not. The many events that occur throughout a person’s existence create a life. The concept of modular can inform everything in our lives. There is always something bigger and that something bigger is a part of something even larger. I think it is interesting to think of these concepts and how they can connect my previous body of work and my more current body of work. Everything is connected; there is so little way around it. As humans we make connections and we create modular structures literally and figuratively.

2. Considering previously discussed interventions such as “Pimp-My-Billy” and Aisle Studio Project, how does art involving the DIY process affect consumer perceptions of the big box shopping experience? How can DIY art change/enhance/enliven my daily to-do-list?

The “big box” shopping experience offers a consumer quick, easy, and inexpensive options for home decoration, design, and home improvements. They are similar to fast food restaurants, where a customer can quickly get a meal “their way,” yet it’s just like every other meal that leaves the drive thru window. Art dealing with the DIY process could possibly affect consumer perceptions of the “big box” shopping experience by offering alternatives. An artist dealing with these issues turns sources of conformity and sameness into a source of creativity and change. By dealing with these topics, a more all encompassing questioning occurs; our culture is questioned. America is a place to be free and unique yet it is far too easy to fall into norms. Each person wants to stand out but not too far.

Although these ideas come through in work dealing with the DIY process and making use of objects easily purchased from big box stores, it also speaks of art history and the use of the ready made object. By purchasing objects from Ikea, I take an already existing and successful aesthetic, and give it a new purpose and author. By placing manipulated Ikea-made objects into a gallery setting, they no longer fill a necessity within a home. Instead, they become a cultural object with little of the function that they once held.

DIY art can change, enhance, and enliven a person’s daily to-do-list by simply calling into question certain ideals, perhaps freeing people from their mandatory daily to-do-list. Big box stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Ikea ultimately enhance a person’s daily tasks. They are little helpers making our lives so much easier and so much more stylish. I do not wish to suggest that these institutions are a completely negative thing. Instead, I wish to appropriate the objects available to a consumer through these stores and make use of an already existing aesthetic.

3. What things in life require reading directions to accomplish? Which labels/directions do people usually skip (or gloss over)? Can passed-down generational wisdom be considered as “directions”? What things in life do you wish came with directions?

Things in life don’t actually require reading directions to be accomplished. I think that everything could be self-taught. However, directions provide a stepping-stone and help in accomplishing tasks with greater ease. Often times, people don’t read directions and do not want to be directed. There is something about the Ikea instructions that are often more confusing than informative to the assembler. They completely avoid the use of the written language to help a consumer assemble their products. They are entirely visual and become interesting drawings on their own.

People tend to skip or gloss over almost every label or direction. The public will choose what they want to pay attention to. When it comes to written directions a person would more likely skip over the written, step-by-step directions and refer more to the images. In this way Ikea plays to that tendency in people. However, the problem with this is that there are always things lost in translation between the visual and the written language.

Everyone has moments where they wish they had directions to get them through. I don’t know that in the end that would be the most helpful option. I do sometime wish that art making came with directions. However, the challenge of it all tends to be my motivation. I wish to overcome the confusion I encounter while trying to convey my ideas and understand ideas of other artists. I think the struggles we come across in our lives are important to a greater understanding.

Questions from Lars Jerlach

1. What do you hope to achieve by making art?

There are a great number of things I hope to achieve by making art. Making art is a great vehicle to question. In our culture it is easy to become complacent and art doesn’t allow that. Because of this, making art helps me to question events in my life as well as the culture I am a part of. I hope that by making art, I can create in people a questioning as well. I also hope to achieve a greater understanding of a variety of topics including art in general.

2. What is the motivation behind your practice?

I am a student and I am an artist. I am motivated by a constant want to understand, be understood, and be believed. I want to create artwork that I can believe in and that others can believe in too. I am constantly searching to understand art making and the reasoning behind the art I create. I am motivated by the desire to learn how to best communicate my ideas visually and intellectually. I am also motivated by something completely unknown to me. I have a desire to make, and I think it is something that artists have in common. When not making or not researching in some way, I feel as though I am not contributing. This sensation motivates me to keep creating, researching, and thinking critically.

3. Do you think about the audience when making art?

The audience is extremely important to me when making art. Without the audience there is virtually no point to making art. To make art for no one completely removes a purpose to the act of art making. Making art is to convey some kind of idea or message to an audience, I think it is dangerous to not consider an audience whatsoever when making art. That said, I do think about the audience when making art, I think about how my work will be seen and how it will be interpreted. I think about how I want my art to be seen and interpreted.

4. What is the role of memory or nostalgia in your work?

Memory and nostalgia played a greater role in past work that dealt with the death of my father and my attempts to understand memories as well as the person my father was and what that has made me. I haven’t completely come to understand how memory and nostalgia will play a part in the work I make for the artist-in-residence grant, but I think it is important for me to consider if I wish to find a common thread in past work and future work. I don’t think that I need to continue in that way, but naturally, the art I make will have those elements because I feel past experiences and memories will influence my work whether I choose to make that a main element of my work or not. It’s just a matter of me finding these more subtle elements. My previous body of work dealt with memory and nostalgia more literally, I think the role of these themes will play a much more abstract and subtle role in the work I am creating at this time.

5. How do you create a sense of universality between yourself and the audience?

I hope to create a sense of universality between the audience and myself by using materials and a language that are relatable and simply by conveying ideas that are encountered by most people. In the past I addressed ideas of memory and loss, ideas that affect everyone in a lifetime. In my current body of work I hope there will be a sense of universality by using materials that people encounter on a daily basis in their homes, media, and stores. By using Ikea specifically, I am using a language that is quite established within our culture with the Ikea catalogue being distributed to well over 100 million homes. Ikea even speaks about diversity, their goal is to supply furnishing solutions for our diverse way of living today. I think by using an already established aesthetic creates a great sense of universality.

6. On what criteria do you judge the relative success of one of your pieces?

I judge the relative success of my work on criteria based on understandability and believability. Does my audience trust in that I am a reliable source and does that audience understand what it is that I am trying to convey? One of my pieces would be successful if it is expressing the ideas I want to speak to and that it is clearly stated. I also judge the success of my work on my understanding of it. If I don’t understand it yet, I have little control over my audience and the work, leaving it lacking a power I’d want it to possess. Success also comes with finding a unique way to convey certain ideas. It is a daunting task to create something “new,” but I think it’s still possible to find somewhat unique and interesting ways to make art and communicate. I would also consider my work successful if I had some amount fun making it. I often find myself stressing over every bit of my process, I’ve found that if I’ve enjoyed the process it has felt more successful. Of course it helps if my peers find it to be a successful investigation. I am human, and tend to need the encouragement of others. I think that’s a natural part of art making. We all want to be accepted.

7. How would you describe the process of your art practice to somebody with no artistic background or knowledge?

To be successful in describing the process of my art practice is a challenge when explaining it to a person with no artistic background. It is incredibly difficult to explain how almost anything can become art. I try to explain my art practice as a way of communicating my ideas visually. I will find an interest in an idea and attempt to communicate this idea through a visual means. I may choose to use painting, photography, or video; whatever will best convey my ideas. In order to arrive at the final product, most of my time goes into research. After I have researched, I will create some form of a final product and further my understanding in what I wish to convey to my audience. A large part of the process of finding a greater understanding of my work is through conversations with my colleagues.

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