Alexis Lowry Murray: 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 MURRAY
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.