GIBBERISH: SAPIENT FOOL’S GOLD JEANNIE LYNN HULEN MARCH 25TH - MAY 2ND
ABOUT GRIN GRIN is a contemporary art gallery located at The Plant in the historic Olneyville District of Providence, Rhode Island. Directed by Corey Oberlander and Lindsey Stapleton, GRIN was founded in 2013 as a space for artists to develop and exhibit their work, with a steady curatorial hand. Our intent is to develop an intellectually demanding yet aesthetically pleasing program, focusing on emerging artists working across mediums. Our hope is to stimulate fresh dialogue while continuing to promote the development of the local creative community. Our mission is to support the careers of underexposed artists with a devotion to craft and conceptual advancement. To purchase any available works, please see our Artsy page or contact us directly at contact (at) grinprovidence.com. All sales are Tax Free!
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STATEMENT Circumventing overburdened themes such as environmentalism, in favor of a non-linear, fantastical position, I hope to call attention to less evident aspects of the relationships between people and the natural world, including intellectual, psychological, and numinous facets of this symbiosis. For most of my artistic career my work has been based on the conceptual ramifications of material. Although I have utilized numerous materials, my concepts stem from my traditional ceramic training. I have consistently drawn upon Ceramic’s post-industrial and consumer meaning, and have referenced the object’s material value and historical significance pertaining to terracotta and porcelain. Humor, sarcasm, and outright distain for popular and contemporary culture have also been expressed through use of materials. For many years my studio work relied on my conviction that art can and must be explained and articulated through words, both written and spoken, and that definitions and explanations could be clearly stated for everything meaningful. After becoming a parent, I realized that some things can only be understood visually, or experienced physically. Wanting to tap into this transformational personal realization, I have begun a transitional series of installations titled “The Gibberish Series,” in which I am trying to exemplify this idea of material voice, particularly clay. Though a toddler’s speech may be described as “gibberish” when initially learning to utilize spoken language, oftentimes the expression is both authentic and effective, if unconventional. At times, the hazy process of uncovering and deciphering information can be more enlightening of the human condition than clearly articulated data. As a result of this transformation in thinking, I have begun investigating real and imagined qualities of materials, particularly clay, allowing material to speak for itself as opposed to employing materials to serve as clues for narrative. In a manner quite distinct from my previous approach to studio work, this has lead me to investigate a body of work that, though grounded in a very materialized reality, has become a rather non-linear experiment in the fantastic. I am using clay in a way that epitomizes its’ geological traits and origins, while simultaneously inverting physical laws and visual expectations of our world. Riverbeds soar in the clouds while the tree of life showers fool’s-gold geological formations, bloodlines permeate all, sewn into rain and piecing together the animal coats of many colors. Salt binds the surface of the faux, faux rocks and inverts the form to contain an essence of life. While it was my past inclination to pre-plan and analyze every facet of my work, I have begun to suspect that some expressions can only be approached cautiously, in a circuitous manner. It is this chimerical quality that I am trying to harness and express in my current work.
ABOUT THE ARTIST Jeannie Hulen is Chair of the Department of Art and Associate Professor of Ceramics at the University of Arkansas. In 1995 she received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute, and in 2000 a MFA from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. She has held solo exhibitions in Taiwan, Houston, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, Utica, NY, Kansas City, MO, and Fayetteville, AR. She has participated in many national group exhibitions including shows in conjunction with the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts from 2007-2013. In Fall 2009 she was a Resident Visiting Artist at the Graduate Institute of Applied Arts, Tainan National University of The Arts in Tainan, Taiwan. In Taiwan she produced a body of work called “Made in Taiwan.” The work examined the current relationship between the United States and Taiwan, through the use of slip-cast toys and hand-made ceramic figures, historically referential of Japanese haniwa soldiers, Chinese terracotta warriors and plastic toy soldiers from the United States. jeanniehulen.com
A CONVERSATION WITH JEANNIE HULEN ON THE OCCASION OF HER EXHIBITION GIBBERISH: SAPIENT FOOLâ€™S GOLD Alexis Lowry Murry: What first attracted you to ceramics as medium? Jeannie Hulen: I have been working in clay since high school. I initially thought I was going to be a potter when I began working in clay. I attended the Kansas City Art Institute because at the time it was considered the best undergraduate program for ceramics. ALM: Your previous work explored issues of mass consumerism JH: Yes, much of my work since 2002, explored consumerism. After 9/11 my ideas shifted toward the current socio-political climate, and I began questioning capitalism, consumer culture, and war. ALM: This installation is quite departure from your previous concerns. It is both whimsical and surreal. Can you describe the world you have made here? JH: The incubation of this body of work was an idea to use clay as a geological material and create a landscape that communicated the essence of the natural world while simultaneously shifting some of the perceptions of that environment. I was attempting to create a moment such as when you see
a mountain town in the clouds, seemingly floating because of low hanging fog. I wanted to consider the real physical world as opposed to the socio-political world my work had been invested in for years. I was also tired of seeing clay used to illustrate and represent something else. I wanted clay to be clay and to stand for itself in the work. I was also working through visual experience and ideas versus making work to serve a specific idea. I no longer wanted to convey rigid predetermined meaning or concept, in favor of trying to convey a sense of place through visual articulation. To specifically address the terra-cotta clay on the top of the cloud forms, clouds are formed from clay or dirt particles in the atmosphere that collect water around them. As the water builds up clouds are formed and rain begins when the clay and water become too heavy. I also had in mind a reversed vision river, with the riverbed on the top of the water underneath. The hand forms in the clouds, as well as the animal forms, serve to reintroduce the body as an element in the work, and to add a haunting or disturbing component. As a whole, this piece is supposed to shift one's internal balance visually and conceptually.
ALM: What drew you to use animal pelts, and why don't the figures have any faces? JH: I knew that the animal kingdom needed to be present and I initially began sewing some hybrid rock/animal forms. As I was sewing, the pieces began to take on more animal-specific forms, and I enhanced this by adding limbs, quite literally, as the limbs are porcelain slip-cast tree limbs. I didn’t intend to make an animal so there was no need to anatomically work it out, and the forms came to fruition as a result of the process. I have to say I am the most excited about this facet of the piece, and have been exploring these further in my most recent work. ALM: In this exhibition you write about trying to approach the materials used more organically than you have in the past. Can you speak a bit more about the process of making this show? JH: I said a little about this above. It is more geological rather than organic. I teach glaze calculation, and this course is aimed at gaining an understanding of ceramic materials by through geology and chemistry. I wanted to explore this facet of the ceramics medium. Additionally, my mother is a geologist and for multiple generations her family have been geological engineers, overseeing the mining of diverse elements and minerals for industry. My grandfather was also a Freemason, as is my husband. The origins and history of Freemasonry is steeped in alchemy, and I was working with ceramics materials with these varied things in mind. Some alchemy reference is the rocks on the floor of the tree. They are slip-cast porcelain fired in a salt kiln (the salt is introduced into the atmosphere of the kiln when you reach the temperature 2200 degrees and the salt becomes a chemical reaction to the silica in the clay and forms a glaze). These rocks are faux rock forms that are turned over and filled with calcium chloride and magnesium carbonate.
The original rock form was the house rock siding you can buy from Lowes that is made out of concrete, hence the “faux faux rock". ALM: This last detail is interesting, as it suggests your haven’t entirely left your previous concerns behind. Do issues of consumerism and the built world still interest you at all? JH: I wasn’t trying to leave my studio practice and ideas behind completely. I wanted to let the work and new ideas guide the work, but I have always referenced back to earlier work in all my installations. There are some specific uses of material that reference back. This happens for content and sometimes just because that is the materials I have in my studio. The pink material on the end of the tree is the same pink velvet I used in the pink trike. I wanted to reference the body (this was my first attempt at the body reference before the hands in the clouds) and I like to chuckle a little with my reference. I realize I may be the only one to get this, but it is still my thought pattern. ALM: There are elements of surrealism as well as pop in your practice. Can you speak about some of the artists who have influenced you? JH: Although the work is somewhat surreal I can’t say I was working with any specific artist or work in mind. Although, I am sure that the idea of inverting the world might have been generated from a general surrealist impulse. As far as Pop, there are definitely glittered and bedazzled components of the work. ALM: Where do you see the next step in this transition taking you? JH: I want to just make individual objects for a while, rather than installation work. I will see how that goes. I always say this immediately following an installation, and given a month or two the work gets big again.
ABOUT ALEXIS LOWRY MURRY Alexis Lowry Murray is the curator of the David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University. Before joining the Bell Gallery, she was a freelance arts producer in New York City, where she worked closely with the public arts organization Creative Time on projects with Paul Ramirez Jonas, Trevor Paglen, and Tom Sachs. She has an MA in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and is currently working on her doctorate, which is about Land Art in 1960s.