Briefly describe the work you do.
I investigate daily phenomena such as vision, light, space, and the passage of time through a variety of materials, including site-specific installation, video, found objects and appropriated pages from books, Polaroid film, and old photographic materials. My practice takes up one of the main staples of Buddhism, “just seeing what there is to see” – and investigates how this sort of activity is physically and mentally possible.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up with a German mother, an American father, and a trilingual vocabulary. As a child, I had one foot in Germany and one in the United States, and I was in an intensive Spanish immersion program at school. I think this lifestyle really inspired me as an artist: from an early age, I was fascinated by the particularities of the world, and wanted to translate these ephemeral experiences in some way. And by making work, I was able to ground myself in the uncontrollable spinning of the world.
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.”
My studio is absolutely the central hub of my work, like it is for many artists, traditionally speaking. I have been lucky to have a beautiful studio with west-facing windows, so I get amazing sunlight. Because of the light that stretches and moves across my studio walls, I started to make installations that would have never come to fruition in a window-less studio. I’ve been tracking the movement of the sun with masking tape across my walls, forming a sort of map of the earth’s rotation. This work has led to time-lapse videos, photographs, and collages. The light in my studio is constantly surprising and fascinating to me, so I find it to be a very energizing space. It is also a very private space, and I find that this allows me to experiment more and be more open with my work.
Of course, I make work outside of the studio too, and find inspiration in day-to-day life. I often shoot videos on my phone at home, on the street, and in airplanes. I snap photographs constantly. I read books on the train and tear out the pages that resonate with me. My practice is not restricted to the studio, and in fact, I often consider New York to be my studio.
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?
When I first started to make art, I didn’t expect that my work would leave photography. I’ve recently become more of a scavenger, and I use a wide variety of materials that seemed unavailable to me a few years ago.
I also see myself as an artist as curator, which is a new developing path for me. I think that artists that curate gain new opportunities to interact with other peoples’ work, and it also informs the way that the artist views his/her own work. I didn’t expect that I would pursue this path, but it seems to become a more viable and interesting option to me more and more.
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?
The best time of day for me to work is during the late afternoon and evening, when the sun’s beams tilt perfectly into my studio. This is when I make work that deals directly with natural phenomena. I’m not much of a late night worker, so I’m always happy when I can get some studio work done in the afternoon. Lately my schedule has been pretty packed and unpredictable – I just graduated from my master’s program and I’m currently interning with a gallery here in New York, so I just try to squeeze in studio time whenever possible – but preferably when it’s sunny!
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I used to consider myself a photographer first and foremost. I used to make abstract pictures by experimenting with 35mm film – I’d put the film in a glass of water or a lake, or throw it in the laundry machine, or open up the back of my camera while shooting to expose the film to light. I was interested in examining how the camera could be dissected from the inside out, and how the alliance between the human eye and the camera’s eye could be vastly conflated. After my first semester in grad school, though, I felt constricted by the 2D medium and the label of photographer. That’s when I started to branch out into sculpture, installation, and video. Although I’m thrilled that my work has opened up so much, there are still many themes that harken back to my photographer days. I’m still interested in the materiality of photography, and I often peel apart Polaroid film and use photography equipment – like darkroom magenta filters and color gels – in my work. I’m still investigating the faculty of vision, and how our cognition can be altered through certain visual cues – or even a lack of those cues. My work is always encouraging more questions. Can we ever see nothing? And if so, what would it look like?
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
My greatest inspirations are the light and space artists. I love James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Doug Wheeler. The more contemporary artists that inspire me include Olafur Eliasson, Trisha Baga, and Zoe Leonard. I love artists that use the entire space of the gallery for their work, versus simply hanging a piece on the wall. I have recently become fascinated with the writings of John Cage. His writing about music is very relevant to my artistic practice, and I love his ideas about chance, seeing, and nothingness. I have recently also been inspired by phenomenology and writings about vision and seeing – I love Maurice Merleau-Ponty and books like Arthur Zajonc’s “Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind.”
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
If I didn’t make work, I’d still be involved in the art world in some way. I actually love gallery work, especially art handling, photography, and inventory/registrar work. I also love to curate shows and hope to curate shows in the future. And if none of this worked out, I’d be a writer (I majored in writing in college).
Jessica Adams (b. 1989) was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. She received her BA in English writing and studio art from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. This May, she received her MFA in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.