Julia Csekö: I love asking fellow artists about when they first decided/realized they wanted to be an artist. I find that question reveals information that is part of the thread that connects an artist’s production throughout the years. Can you tell us why, how, and when you first started making art?
Jodie Mim Goodnough: I think it really started for me in high school. I loved my art classes in elementary school, but I wasn’t that good at drawing, so I didn’t think I could be an artist. I also didn’t like getting my hands dirty (I was a weird kid), so sculpture was out. When I got to high school I found the darkroom, and immediately loved it. I don’t think I was very good at photography at first, but something about it just got me, and I took it all four years of high school.
JC- You self-identify as a photographer, but it seems like photography is only a part of your production. Your work involves research, participation and interactions with others, it also involves some sculptural and performative/time based elements. Could it be that photography has become too narrow a term to define what you have been developing throughout the years? Especially with the new series, which involves dancers and an immersion in Dr. Paul Gachet’s work as a physician?
JMG- It’s true that I find the term photographer limiting when describing my practice. I almost feel like I don’t qualify as a real Photographer with a capital P, since I don’t shoot constantly, keep up with photo blogs, obsess over other photographers’ work, etc. When I went to museums as a kid, I was always drawn to the installations and large sculptural works over everything else. Rauschenberg was an early favorite. I think that it’s just taken me a long time to give myself the freedom to try more experimental work - it’s never been for lack of desire to make things other than photographs.
My three-dimensional / performance / time-based vocabulary is still developing, and I’m definitely trying to push that side of my production. I don’t think everything I want to say can or should be said in a photograph. That said, I do absolutely love the camera, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop using photographic images in my work in some way.
JC- How do you see the body in your work? Although you seem to focus on the more intangible aspects of the body such as mental illness, you choose to present the body in many of your pieces in the foreground. Do you think this new series of images is tackling the idea of physicality that is always hovering around your imagery?
JMG- I do purposely forefront the body in a lot of my work, specifically the female body. I’m very influenced by female artists that use(d) their own bodies in their work: Janine Antoni, Cindy Sherman, and Hannah Wilke among others. Even when I was making very straightforward photography, I thought a lot about early feminist performance work; I just felt it somehow. I also think a lot about surface vs. interior in terms of the body – what we present to the world vs. what we feel inside, and why those two things are often so opposed. I think that interest comes specifically from being a photographer, though. The idea of the photograph as absolute truth, as evidence of something real, was destroyed a long time ago, yet we still somehow want to believe that what we see in an image can be proof of something. I enjoy playing with that expectation.
JC- In your work there seems to be a strong self-referent and even confessional tone. In your earlier work it seems like you were more interested in exploring your connections to your family, personal history and memory. There was a strong sense of longing for your father. I’d love to hear about what seems to be a shift in you most recent production, it seems like you are moving a bit further away from yourself and exploring a few new angles, such as a more historical view on your subjects and a perhaps a more distanced perspective? Would you say that your new works bring a slightly more distanced point of view to your overarching subject of interest (Mental Illness)?
JMG- I do feel that way. In school, a number of things were happening for me personally that couldn’t help but show up in my work, including the death of my father after a long illness, and my mother’s hospitalization. My life was getting in the way of perspective, if that makes any sense. The work I was making back then was definitely an attempt to achieve a catharsis, and I knew that at the time. After a difficult few years my life has thankfully come back around to a place where I can get some distance from the topics that interest me. Notably, the topics themselves haven’t changed, just my approach. And the work still originates in a very personal place, but hopefully ends in a more universal one.
Also, I would like to quickly address the term Mental Illness in relation to my work, because it’s certainly fair to say that I am interested in it as a topic or idea, and in this body of work it’s particularly in the forefront. However, the words Mental Illness are tricky for me, because they can easily pigeonhole the work I make, or direct the viewer in a very specific way that may block off other experiences of the work. I would prefer to say that I’m interested in dangerous emotions in general, and the ways in which we cope with them, shut them down, succumb to them or fight them. Even more, I would say that I’m interested in the ways in which our society deals with these dangerous emotions through classification, systems and institutions.
JC- Could these feminine figures serve as a reminder of your own identity in these new works? Or do they exemplify a shift into an almost iconic feminine figure instead of openly, almost unapologetically self-referent one, as in many of your past works?
JMG- Most definitely the latter. These women aren’t me, and they’re not intended to be. To me, these bodies are iconography come to life, symbols of the desire to classify and the failure of that desire. Symbols of dangerous femininity, if you will. For that reason I felt comfortable using dancers instead of searching for people to work with that actually had experience with hospitalization. In these photographs I’m less concerned with the individual experience of the subject and more interested in the viewing and describing being performed by the doctors, and the clearly gendered story of that viewing. That said, these drawings and their interpretation by the dancers I worked with deeply moved me despite my attempted analytical distance from the subject. These drawings were of real women that really lived. It was hard to forget that.
JC- Could you tell us a bit about your process before reaching the photographing/documentation stage, on your interaction and approach to the dancers for instance? What was their reaction to the idea? Aside from exposing them to the images drawn by Dr. Paul Gachet did you direct them to achieve the desired results?
JMG- I’m lucky to be a part of a huge community of dancers, so I felt relatively comfortable reaching out to them for help with this. I met with each of them for coffee to discuss the project and brought along the drawings. I did a lot of talking. Even though they could have easily performed the postures without all of the background information, I felt it was important for them to know that these sketches represented real women who had been confined. I wasn’t looking for them to act a role in any way, but I felt that if they really understood the history of this imagery it would increase their investment in getting the best images we could, and it did. They were a delight to work with – better than I could have imagined.
JC- Have you found co-relations or any particular developments in the ideas of Psychoanalysis and study of Mental Illness of the past and present in your research, if so, do you feel like you could be addressing these in your new works in any way?
JMG- Absolutely. The non-photographic works in this show came out of my growing interest in the architecture of the mental institution. Specifically, I’m interested in the Kirkbride building, a style of asylum architecture popular in the late 1800s. Like the female iconography I’ve referenced from art and photographic history, this specific style of building exists in our collective cultural memory as the icon of a mental hospital. Most of these buildings are in ruins now, and today’s institutions generally look like any hospital, except with locked doors.
But movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, in my generation, Girl Interrupted made the Kirkbride a part of our media memory in the United States. In both of these films, shot on location in Kirkbride buildings, the architecture itself becomes a character – existing both to control and to comfort. The movie Girl Interrupted (and the book it was based on) was a cultural touchstone for myself and for many women of my generation, and it’s the jumping-off point for both the sound and the video piece in A Curious Dance. The objects used to present these pieces were selected for their history as methods of control and surveillance, and to provide a counterpoint to the ethereal nature of the photographs.
ABOUT JULIA CSEKÖ
Julia Csekö was born in Colorado and grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2011 she moved to Boston to pursue a MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University. She graduated in May 2013 having her Thesis Show at Laconia Gallery, South End Boston. She is currently represented by Artfetch.com and MUV Gallery in Rio de Janeiro and lives and works between Boston and Rio. Csekö has participated in numerous international group shows in museums and galleries. Her works are featured in collections, such as the British Columbia Museum in Canada and MAM, Museum of Modern Art of Rio, as well as in several private collections. Csekö’s artistic practice consists mainly of large-scale sculptures and installations, site-specific murals and large-scale paintings.