Can you say more about “representation through the idea of formlessness”? I'm interested in the apparent contradiction there. To represent is in some way to re-render something — physical or not — but formlessness seems to resist that re-rendering, especially in the context of sculpture.
I think about my work as being much more about a psychological space that's created upon looking at the object. That's the simplest way to describe it.
Formlessness is really just a concept that's used to describe something that is fluid or changes state. It also frequently alludes to things that are bodily. And I think about my work — even though [it’s] really grounded in the body as reference — as encompassing that ability to change and be something that's more of a psychological state than a replication of something.
Why the focus on the body?
I'll go back really far. When I first started working with ceramics, I was trained pretty traditionally, and I made functional work. As an undergrad I was reading John Dewey and thinking about art as experience and the role of the artist in the fabrication. And also, after making things that people were using, how that continues into somebody's home or into their hand — that those objects in some way become extensions of our bodies. Like a coffee mug. I feel really weird when I'm not walking around with some kind of coffee; teaching all day, I need to have something in my hand.
So when I first started making sculptural work, that's how I started thinking about how the clay could be: this thing that's of the body, but other than the body. How our body is us, but not us at the same time. And then [how] society dictates, in many ways, how we experience ourselves and how we try to create the person that we are, both physically and socially.
Oftentimes I think there’s a real disconnect. The older you get, the more you start thinking about how your body is changing versus how you perceive yourself. When you’re young, you try to figure out who you are and what your identity is — and maybe that aligns with what your body is, or maybe it doesn’t. Sometimes you figure it out, but then you start to age and all of a sudden have that crisis again.
You draw a lot from pop culture and mass media in your work too, which are also things that tell you or signal to you how to experience yourself. How do those play in?
Images and media dictate our identity in so many ways. So I am pretty much always in conflict. Deciding how I want to be versus what society tells me I'm supposed to be — trying to find that place where you're not wanting something because somebody told you you're supposed to have that thing. I think it's an important conversation to have in general.
How does that play out in your art process?
Well, first of all, I'm lucky because I really like to consume a lot of media, so that really informs my practice. But in the last five or six years I’ve been really specific about what kind of media I focus on. I watch a lot of pop culture stuff: both stupid things and things that are a little bit more serious. And I have six or seven fashion magazine subscriptions, so a ton of images are coming in to my house.
I like to think about that as a catalog of things that become the source material for my work. I can get really bogged down on wanting to make something really specific that tells a story, but the work is sometimes way more successful when I just live within that catalog and forget about it in some way.
Something like artistic “play”?
Yeah. I think people that don't work with ceramics have this idea that it's easy to work with. And in so many ways it is: it's immediate, it's fluid, you can just drop it and then all of a sudden it’s a piece of an object. Robert Arneson is a famous ceramicist who was part of the Funk movement in California, and he says that clay is innately funny. I like to think about the role that humor and happenstance can play within the creation. Finding that boundary between planning something out and letting the clay speak to you in some way.
How do you think of humor within the psychological spaces you’re creating?
I mean, I think we can say this about a lot of things — politics, or just society in general — it's heavy. So having a little bit of humor about serious topics is an easy way for people to be able to engage with the work.
There are also concepts of the grotesque and uncanny within the work. And I like that to be part of it, so it makes people feel a little bit uncomfortable. But I don't want that to be it, either. I think a lot of people have this internal conflict over wanting to do something or own something. You want to participate in life in a certain way, but know that this thing we’re participating in is fucked up.
So we’ve been talking broadly about your work, but what have you been working on in Wassaic in particular?
I've been revisiting some older shapes from four or five years ago, and reevaluating how they fit within my practice and some of the newer forms that I've been working [on]. Merging things together.
I'm still experimenting with that. I forgot that 80s sci-fi and feminist sci-fi and fantasy were part of my research, and that the reason that my work is a little bit surreal is because I’m into that.
We've talked about psychological space a couple times, and yesterday was the May open studios. How was that experience? Did you treat that as a psychological space “lab,” in a way? Did you try to gauge peoples’ responses to the space, or did you not think about it in those terms?
Yesterday I didn't really think about it in those terms.
But I [was] actually surprised. Sometimes I feel like people look at the objects and they just really want to know what they are. They're searching for something that's really specific. But I didn't get a lot of that yesterday.
Part of it may be that it’s literally my fingerprints in some of these pieces. I think using that draws it into real life and the maker. And then because it’s grounded in some way, people are maybe willing to look at it a little bit more openly.
How do you respond to that or anticipate that “tell me what it is” reaction? Do you play with it in the work itself?
I like to play with it back and forth.
It’s sort of infuriating when somebody — especially somebody that’s close to you, that knows your work — reacts that way. Somebody told me this looks like a sewing machine on the stool, so it’s definitely not staying on that. Or one time, my partner told me a piece that I was looking on looked like “pregnant ET.”
But obviously, they're referencing something. So [the question becomes]: how much can I take it away from that? Where it's still of the body and references a specific part — a joint or a tummy roll — but is not that thing either.
Yeah, you can't take it outside of a broader category of things. It's not like, “this is the left knee joint” or anything.
Yeah, and I think scale is a big part of it. I play with things being slightly larger or slightly smaller than you might expect them to be in real life.
Are the works that I'm seeing around me about the size of your usual works?
Usually the objects are a little bit bigger. If you're talking about the body, it's a little bit more effective sometimes when somebody can physically experience something.
Do you want to invite the viewer to touch the objects, then?
No, I don’t. It's more like, “I would really love to do this, but I know that I'm not supposed to touch something.” Wanting something, and then the failure of not being able to have it.
Jessika Edgar is a ceramic artist based in Metro Detroit. Her research focuses on concepts related to identity and value through an investigation in contemporary craft and sculptural abstraction. Raised in both Western Massachusetts and Southern California, Jessika has an MFA in Ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art (2011), an MA in Studio Art (2009) and BA in Studio Art (2008) from California State University Northridge.
Jessika has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at The Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Regis Center for the Arts, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, RI, Ceramic Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, India, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX and Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and Gyeonggi Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, Icheon-si, Gyeonggi-do, Rep. of Korea. She has been awarded residencies at Vermont Studio Center, Guldagergaard: International Ceramic Research Center, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Wassaic Projects, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and A.I.R. Vallauris. Jessika is currently an Assistant Professor and the Area Coordinator of Ceramics at Wayne State University.
2019 Summer Residency