Installation artist breaks barriers

Last Thursday evening, Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall was colored with the presence of celebrated contemporary artist Jessica Stockholder. The artist began her performance by first explaining the nature of art through her perspective.

According to Stockholder, a self-described introvert, art comes from a solitary place where the introverted can blossom. As Stockholder spoke, a projector displayed images of larger-than-life installation pieces, full of color and vibrancy: Rather than using art to tell a narrative, her pieces come together based on the interaction of space with the materials in a specific area, exploring the relationship between physicality and thought

Stockholder was born in Seattle and lived in Vancouver, Canada. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria and went on to receive her Masters of Fine Arts in sculpture from Yale. Her work has been exhibited at acclaimed venues such as the Dia Center for the Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, SITE Santa Fe, the Venice Biennale and the Centre Georges Pompidou. Stockholder taught various classes at Bard, NYU and Copper Union, and until 2011, she served on the faculty of Yale. She currently has a seat as faculty chair of the department of visual arts at the University of Chicago.

Stockholder first introduced the audience to her installation piece Peer Out to See, a large colorful work that formerly inhabited the Palacio de Cristal in Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid. The title is a play on words related to the large colorful platform in the installation, referring to an actual pier and sea, a parallel to her understanding of materials. Stockholder explained that the piece is a product of her interpretation of space in the Palacio de Cristal, as the palace itself is constructed by windows, creating a wonderfully airy and lighted environment.

Color is actually an event, the product of light reflecting from an object, even though most perceive it as a static phenomenon. Playing off of this notion, color serves as the primary motif in this work and many of her other pieces. Her installation piece Color Jam at an intersection in downtown Chicago also deals with this motif. In the piece, three large diagonal swashes of color have colored the busy intersection, rising onto buildings and becoming partially three-dimensional. Stockholder explains that the piece is a juxtaposition of the static nature of art and the very busy intersection. The diagonal nature of the stripes of red, turquoise and green contradict the square created by the two streets meeting. Once again, she uses color to underscore the relationship of the physical and the abstract. Stockholder was very pleased with the connection between the piece and its audience. The people of Chicago were constantly interacting with the bands of color, and the colors themselves would interact with the light, allowing them to change in appearance and nature throughout the day.

The artist describes herself as dancing within the intersection of painting and sculpture; her installations can be interpreted as paintings of three-dimensional space. Stockholder frequently blankets floors and walls with color and geometric design or found objects, all of which defy the norm of rectangularity and containment. In turn, she uses the architecture of a location without being limited by the location, emphasizing that her work grows from the space available. Instead of allowing her mind to guide the blank space given to create a piece, Stockholder lets the space dictate the direction of her art. For this reason, she brings found objects that follow the movement and interaction of space and material into her work. Whenever asked about her choice of objects in her art, she responds with “I don’t know” because in her mind, materials are not predetermined, but simply come together.

This philosophy stems from the idea that language and human understanding were developed through interaction with space. Thus, Stockholder emphasizes her relation to materials; in her production of a piece, her understanding of individual materials is deepened. She seeks to find the origin, composition and nature of the materials she uses, in turn furthering her connection with the piece itself. As a whole, Stockholder does not merely present works to appeal visually to an audience. Rather, she makes the audience a part of her pieces, framing the interaction between living, space, light and materials, eventually expressing a metaphor for the actual human condition.