Jessye McDowell

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JESSYE MCDOWELL

Exhibition Artist

 
 

About the Artist

 
 

Jessye is a mixed-media artist based in Maryland.

 

2017 Summer Exhibition
2016 Summer Residency

 
 
 

 
 
 

Interview

with Lucy Commoner, May 2017


What is your history of involvement with the Wassaic Project and how has that engagement impacted your practice and your teaching?

I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk about this, because I’ve had such a great experience not only at the residency, which I did in June 2016, but throughout the year! The residency itself was fantastic; the quality of the people (both running the show and the other residents) and the work was really motivating and created a great sense of community that lasts well beyond the one-month residency period. Those relationships have developed into other exhibition opportunities and collaborations, including the great show curated by Wassaic’s Will Hutnick and Mark Jacob Epstein for the SPRING/BREAK art show in February 2017, TO SEE THE MOON FALL FROM THE SKY. I would say it’s that sense of community that most impacts and reinforces what I try to do in the classroom, which is to create a supportive environment for creative play, and a sense that we’ve all got each other’s backs and want one another to succeed. It’s a good way to be as an artist and as a human, and it actually makes you want to work harder!


Most of your work involves digital technology and ranges from digital prints to video and interactive work. How would you characterize the intentions of your practice in general? In addition to the digital connection, what other common threads run through your work?

I’m very influenced by my background both in fiction — I was an English major as an undergraduate — and in media studies. I think that manifests as an interest in the cultural narratives surrounding technology, how technology shapes the stories we tell about ourselves, as well as what it is possible to express. I’m interested in the utopian and dystopian ways we talk about technology; in all my work I try to inhabit a space between critique of technology and appreciation of its pleasures and potential. A lot of the time this means I’m using technological tools and aesthetic forms in some way that is in opposition to their commercial purposes. This is motivated by a pretty unabashedly utopian idea, that technology can be used to amplify those aspects of humans and communities that exemplify us at our best, as opposed to merely fueling an excessive and gluttonous economy.


You are using 3D modeling software in these works and in many of your digital prints. Can you explain 3D modeling as a tool and how it interfaces with your creative process? 

Good question! I’m attracted to 3D modeling because it feels uniquely magical to me, almost like what I imagine the magic lantern shows of the nineteenth century might have been like. 3D modeling has physics akin to the real world — you set up lights, a camera, run simulations (like fluid and cloth), and give things textures that determine how they interact with their environments — but you aren’t limited to what could actually exist. It brings together ways of thinking that relate to painting, photography, and even sculpture, but places them in a virtual realm not limited to material properties. For me it relates to the notion of how the natural, physical world is becoming so enmeshed with the virtual one, how those realities and states of being are ever less distinct from one another. I’m interested in that crossover between “natural” and “artificial,” and that shows up in the way these images are a bit disorienting – they have an “object-ness” that suggests a diorama, or physical model I built and photographed in the studio. The fact that the images exist entirely virtually reflects that increasing fluidity of the boundaries between the natural and the synthetic; real and fake; representational and imaginary; nostalgic and futuristic.


The three pieces shown here seem inspired by nature and traditions of the past, but are digitally created in a way that makes, in your words, the “familiar seem strange.” Can you talk about the source material for these works and how you manipulate the combination of art historical traditions, nature, and digital technology to achieve your artistic objectives?

I have two current bodies of work I make using modeling, a series of landscape-based works, and a series based on floral still life painting. Both series are responding to paintings that struck me as really weird and beautiful but also kind of cheesy and kitschy — which is often what happens to technological tools that first seem state-of-the-art and quickly become nostalgic relics. I’m interested in what happens when you take these images that helped define our notions of beauty and the sublime — which quickly also became kitschy and sentimental — and filter them through these digital tools.


What insights/feelings would you like an observer to take away from your artwork?

It might be a weird thing to say, but my hope is that these images give both pleasure and unease. The images are slippery because they reference familiar forms but don’t function in quite the same way as paintings made by putting hand to canvas. Hopefully there’s something unplaceable about them, kind of like the concept of the uncanny valley, where something seems so close to being real but there’s some intangible quality that’s missing, and that creeps you out.

 
 

I’m interested in the utopian and dystopian ways we talk about technology; in all my work I try to inhabit a space between critique of technology and appreciation of its pleasures and potential.
— Jessye McDowell
 
 

Photos by Walker Esner