Briefly describe the work you do.
In my work, I am interested in moments when the emotional body merges with the physical body. Sometimes these moments occur in measurable science and sometimes these moments are more mystical in origin. I spend a lot of time reading medical studies, researching things like psychobiology, gathering information from scientific journals, and learning about holistic healing practices. It is important to me that my projects are grounded in truth – be it data derived truth, experiential/cultural truth, or physical truth – and it is important to me that my projects invite viewers to analyze and personalize the presented information in a new context.
I believe in empowered viewership and I am intentional about the presentation of my work along with the incorporation of the corresponding research. This plays a big role in what I call reciprocal sculpture. In my definition, reciprocal sculpture occurs when the viewer is sculpted by the experience of engaging with a sculpted object. For instance, in my project “Room for Space,” I created a meditative sphere that, according to current research into meditative processes, had the potential to sculpt a viewer biologically (changing the physical structure of the brain, increasing the speed of neurons, growth in circulatory enzymes, alteration of genetic code, etc). By engaging with this object in the gallery, viewers could synthesize the stated research with their own experience of staring at the object and could determine if they felt (or even believed in) the occurrence of an internal change.
This dialogue between object, viewer, and documentation is the crux of my studio practice and is what guides every decision I make in my work. For me, it is not about proving or disproving any of the research I use; it is about offering a question to an audience and allowing space for a full spectrum of answers to unfurl.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
What is interesting is that while my work is entirely rooted in ideas of science and medicine, I have zero training in either area. I have considered enrolling in courses about anatomy, biology/physiology, or neuroscience but have opted not to (so far) because I think it is important for me to maintain an outside perspective on these subjects. This enables me to think about accepted truths in new ways and I am able to remain informed without being limited by what I have been trained to know.
Another contributing background influence is my exposure to alternative medicine through my upbringing. I was raised by a mother whose health needs placed her outside of traditional medicine and thus, I became aware of many holistic healing techniques and expanded ways to think about the body. I have been able to pull from this history and use it to inform my own approach to both traditional and non-traditional biologic investigations within my art.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I guess my studio practice is fairly non-traditional because it involves so much research and reading prior to the materialization of the project. When I am physically working in the studio, it is often to execute the design that I have carefully concocted during my research process. Moments of “toiling genius” are not really relevant to me for that reason. While I do spend plenty of time testing prototypes or experimenting with materials, most of my work relies of the precision of my plans.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Certainly the role of improvised scientist. My work has also become much more performative over the years, which is not a direction I consciously chose. I have toyed with this level of performativity and have opted away from the pseudonym (Dr. Ande Erson) that I adopted for a while, thus taking a step away from direct performance. But by making performative objects, inviting viewers to engage with my installations, and incorporating my own actions into the exhibited work, it all situates me in the unsuspecting area of performance and situational aesthetics.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
While I love the morning, I am definitely a night-time maker. Which is good for when I am teaching because I can still utilize the evenings for creative production. Weekends and summers are also important because of their long chunks of uninterrupted time, which is important for the making end of my plan-plan-plan-plan-MAKE process.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
5 years ago my work was more metaphorical. The ideas were still the same – external ways to measure/interpret internal functions of the body – but I was inventing the language instead of turning to outside research. I was also more object oriented, whereas my current work is more installation based. But the core motivations behind my artwork have been the same for my entire career as an artist. Even while I was an undergrad painting major at Guilford College, the motivation for my work was directly connected to the themes I am dealing with today.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I am always looking for inspiration and compatible information. When I first began thinking sculpturally as a student, Kiki Smith was fundamental in my development. James Turrell has also been important to me. I have read everything I can find from Barbara Maria Stafford and am a recent appreciator of Brian Massumi. Any contemporary artist who is blurring the boundary between art and science is also on my radar – I think it is important to pay attention to those who are building similar conversations around you. Even if your paths never cross directly, it is important to be aware of one another.
On a personal level, the list is exhaustive including my special family, past mentors, and healers of all varieties.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
You know, the more I have been reading about neuroscience and cognitive science, the more I have found myself wishing I studied these subjects earlier in my career. I am quite pleased with the route I have chosen, but between my strong interest in the subject and my obsessive research tendencies, I think I would have made an excellent cognitive scientist, had I ended up in that direction. Though as it is now, I still have the option to collaborate with these fields academically and this is wonderful because that means we can conduct joint research that is both cross-disciplinary and mutually beneficial. Which to me, is the best of all worlds.
Jessica Brooke Anderson is an artist and researcher currently located in her home-city of Atlanta, Georgia. She received her BA from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and her MFA in Sculpture from the University of Tennessee, where she also served as a Teaching Associate and Director of the University exhibition space, Gallery 1010.
With a clean and minimalist aesthetic, Jessica’s work navigates contemporary notions of health and biologic phenomena. Her installations are immersive, participatory, and intentionally suspended between the boundary of art, science, and alternative medicine. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally including a recent installation on the border of Tornio, Finland and Haparanda, Sweden as part of an exhibition curated by the Magneetti Northern Media Culture Association. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Spark Box Studio, in Ontario, Canada and, most recently, the “Silence. Awareness. Existence.” Residency at the Arteles Center in Haukijärvi, Finland. Jessica has received various awards for materials, research, travel, and merit and has presented her research at conferences and panel discussions across the United States.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.