Fragility, Strength, and the Infinite with Artist Jacqueline Gleisner
This is The First Stop. A podcast with the aim of exploring the minds of artists in and around New Haven. Today
I'll be exploring the mind of New Haven-based artist Jacqueline Gleisner. Jacqueline is fascinated by textile patterns the expansive and cyclical nature of time and space, and the relationship between fragility, vulnerability, and strength—especially in the context of feminism.
She works primarily with gouache, creating colorful repeating designs on 30-foot long rolls of paper, which she calls scrolls. More recently she's been painting depictions of detailed multicolored knots on small sheets of paper. Her large-scale painted scrolls reference weaving patterns that in the mind's eye could continue into space forever. All of her Scrolls have been
removed from the gallery setting and placed into outdoor environments—some of them hung like banners or flags from the sides of buildings, others left on the ground. Many of the scrolls have been cannibalized and metamorphosed into new works of art. Jacqueline's detailed knot drawings with no beginning or end are also tied to her interest in the infinite, while also exploring the long-standing importance of the knot both as a universal symbol and a word containing multiple meanings.
The works discussed in this podcast can be found on our blog at FirstStopArt.com
David: Welcome to The First Stop, Jackie!
Jackie: Thanks for having me, David.
David: It's my pleasure. I wanted to just kind of dive into the overarching ideas behind a lot of the work that you do. I read your artist statement, and you have, it seems, a fascination with the concept of infinity, and I just wanted to ask you: where does that come from? What's your fascination with infinity?
Jackie: Well I think probably most artists have some sort of fascination with infinity, or this idea of immortality at the very least. I'm reading this book right now. It's called "The Italian Teacher," and the protagonists father is sort of this washed-up artist, and at one point the son is dating an aspiring art critic, and she kind of ribs him for being obsessed with this idea of making work that will outlast him after he dies, but I think secretly we all sort of feel like that.
Jackie: it's hard not to feel like we have this kind of compulsion to create, and it's meaningless if it dies when you
do, so I think that that's where that is all sort of--where that comes from.
David: That's a very interesting answer, and I hadn't—I mean that makes a lot of sense. Like it is—It's totally true, you know. Artists, writers, musicians kind of think about themselves posthumously, and think about—I mean a lot of people think about their sort of legacy after they're dead.
Jackie: I don't think it's as much about my personal legacy because that makes it seem more of like a vanity project. It's more about this idea that we endeavor so tirelessly to create these bodies of work that hopefully their meaning isn't bounded by particularities of time and space—That a hundred years from now maybe somebody would see something and still find it interesting or worthwhile.
David: Are you talking about something that you've created?
Jackie: That any artist creates. Not just necessarily myself.
David: Right. Okay cool. That leads [me] to this body of work that you've been pursuing, or you were pursuing, um, the scrolls work. And there's an interesting—I mean scrolls technically have an end to them, but there isn't a kind of a point in which, I don't know—I’m thinking about them in terms of how people read scrolls—there isn't a direct point where like something ends and begins. Is that part of your fascination with infinity?
Jackie: I think so, and if you look at some of the ways that the scrolls have been documented, they're sort of positioned on the horizon where it appears as though the scroll could continue on forever. And to get—to kind of circle back to this more direct idea of infinity, the way that all of those scrolls were constructed, I was working with patterns that could repeat without any particular end, so they were like the end of the scroll was determined by the size of the paper, which for most of them was 30-feet long. But the patterns can continue on.
David: Right, so there's a sense of, yeah, a pattern. You start a pattern. It doesn't ever end. It
is in the mind of the viewer. It can continue and continue because it's a
David: —of a pattern. That's interesting. So, we should just—I should just describe the scrolls, or you can correct me if you want to, but yeah, as you were saying, they're 30 feet long. Some of them are almost 4 feet wide, and you are using gouache and ink, and you are designing these kind of geometric patterns, or painting them on to the paper. And, as you were saying, they mimic or refer to—well I don't know if you said this, but they refer to textile patterns.
David: Do you look at textile patterns for inspiration, or is it something—You're looking at textile patterns, but do you actually directly use pre-existing patterns?
Jackie: No. For the most part that's never really been the way that I work. I don't typically copy patterns directly that I see, but I will use things that I've seen as kind of the jumping-off point for the patterns that I will create. I'm not—I haven't really been interested in referencing specific patterns, because it's more about the idea of the repetition of a pattern—not necessarily a very specific pattern, but certain patterns have symbolic meanings that I have used like the Greek key, which also implies the infinite.
David: One of the works that I have posted on the blog just as an example is—Scroll Nine I believe is the scroll.
David: And that one was particularly interesting to me because it starts to function almost as a sculpture in the way that you've positioned it, in the way that it's kind of rippling and rolling off the ground. And then it's also really, like, echoing the architecture, the industrial piping. What were you thinking about when you were positioning that.
Jackie: Well all of the scrolls, just to back up for a second, began many years ago. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the difference between paintings and fiction.
Jackie: And how this friend of mine said, you know, "When I go to bed at night I think about fiction. Like, I think about stories I've read, and they really stick with me, but I don't spend the same amount of time thinking about paintings that are right in front of me. And because I only experience them inside of galleries or museums that's a fairly limited amount of time."
David: Totally, yeah.
Jackie: And so it started this like train of thought in my brain about what if paintings just were alive and moving outside of the museums and inhabiting spaces that weren't clean or proper, but not in a like sanitized public art sort of way. Like their location wouldn't be fixed; and they would have like a much more transient existence outside. And, so then I started taking these giant paintings outside and looking for particular environments that would interact with the work in a way that I would find interesting for one way or another. So, sometimes that's a bed of snow. Sometimes that's the interior of a totally banal parking garage in New Hampshire, or this was actually the roof outside of my studio in Manchester. And you could climb out onto the roof, and I remember the first time I went out there, whatever these crazy pipe things are in the background, immediately to me the first thing I thought of was like, "it's like two robots in love," because it looks like they're almost kind of like hovering near each other.
Jackie: And it's a really unromantic landscape. But when you really start to look at it, there's something that's like really charming and cute about it. And, so this painting from the moment that I started making it, I knew that it wanted to be outside in this particular space.
David: What about the painting indicated that to you?
Jackie: I think that there's like a wonkiness with the color choices and the shapes that are repeated. Everything is a triangular form with stripes inside of it so, there appears to be some sort of rigidity, but at the same time it's very handmade and imperfect, and that's what this particular landscape looks like to me. It's industrial, so it seems like it should be kind of rigid in some way, but the more you look at it, the more you see these weird pipes and weird kind of seagulls hanging out and pooping all over the place up there. And not in this shot in particular, but around the corner, there's a place where some people have done some graffiti on the brick wall.
David: What about the patterning to you—you kind of mentioned it as like imperfect and wonky. What to you—can you describe what that is in this particular piece Scroll Nine—what the wonkiness is?
Jackie: Well, if you look closely, you can see that there are places where the paint is sort of splattered or the tape marks have bled through, and despite the fact that it's all geometric shapes, it feels sort of unstable in a way. It looks like it could collapse in on itself in certain places, like there's compositional tension in areas of this massive painting. Some of the triangular forms are quite large. And then in other places, they start to really become minuscule and crowd each other in spaces.
David: I wanted to talk a little bit about the scroll that you hung off of the Institute Library for the Nasty Woman exhibition that was, I believe a year and a half ago, right after the election of Trump, or after he got into power and—
Jackie: Got into power sounds so ominous.
David: It is—well that's what's happening—and one of the things that really was interesting to me about this one is that I think, in certain respects it's the same as the other Scrolls, in that it is in dialogue with architecture and just outdoor texture, but it starts to read as—because of the way it's hung—as a banner or a flag, and there's a lot of thought about nationalism and the idea of a flag, and I feel like those of us who are not happy about what's happened have a very different relationship to the American flag and what that means. Like when I see a pickup truck flying the American flag, I'm not like, "oh they're so, you know, they love their country."
David: I actually think of it more as though they're making a statement of like, "screw all you people that don't"—
Jackie: Yeah, almost aggression.
David: There's a yeah. There's a kind of a militarized aggressive association that I now have with the flag. And I grew up, you know, loving—not loving the flag. I wasn't ever some huge patriot, but I had—you know, you watch, whatever like any of
those Tom Clancy movies with Harrison Ford, and you're like "America!" You know? And it just has this different meaning to me, and so I looked at that, and I was thinking, "Is this sort of an alternative kind of flag, or an alternative message that you're sending with the art? Does it—Is the meaning changed? Because it feels like it's changed for me as a viewer. Was that something that happened accidentally, or do you disagree? Is it the same as your other works?
Jackie: I think there are a few things that are a little bit different about this one. Firstly, this scroll is actually the very first scroll that I made in the series, and so I'd had it for, what, like three or four years before we mounted it on the side of this building for this particular show. And Sarah Fritchey, the curator of ArtSpace actually approached me, and asked me if I would be willing to put it on the side of the building, and I said, "sure yeah like they live outside," but none of them have lived outside for a dedicated period of time. So I was really interested in exploring that relationship a little bit deeper about what will happen with these things, and how does the meaning change if they deteriorate and are exposed to the elements. I think all of the scrolls in some way are some kind of alternate form of a banner or a flag, but the meaning becomes more overt when it's positioned on the side of the building like this. But all of them really, I think, are playing around with this idea of—I mean it's sort of preposterous when you really think about it. It's giant. It's 30 feet long. The most commonly asked question I get is, "how long does it take you to make these things?"
Jackie: And so, like there's this idea of time that people are fascinated with, and then it's just unhinged by this idea of how, I do not treat these objects as precious at all.
Jackie: There's a preciousness about the time that's involved, and then I'm just kind of putting them in the dirt or on the snow or letting them get ripped to shreds by wind storms and rain and snow like this particular scroll did.
David: Which—it was up for like how many weeks?
Jackie: It was about four weeks.
David: And it was in—during the winter months.
Jackie: So it did snow. It did rain. And there was a pretty bad windstorm one day, and that was actually what caused the demise of this particular scroll. It didn't rip it, but it—we put grommets along the left and the right side and backed it with Tyvek. Without the Tyvek, it would have just disintegrated immediately because of the force of the wind on the side of the building.
David: On the paper.
Jackie: Yeah on the paper. So, it's a heavyweight watercolor paper, but it's not the heaviest watercolor paper you can buy. It's like 140 pounds, so.
David: That's not that heavy. Yeah there's 300-pound, right?
Jackie: Yeah. 300-pound is like really choice stuff, but 140 is still pretty easy to rip and damage.
Jackie: So, I like that idea of the vulnerability of these objects. Like they're not quite precious, but they are, because if they're—the time that's involved in making them. But, you know, nothing lasts forever.
David: It's fascinating to see how it was weathered, but I also have this sense of pain because I actually identify with you as an artist, because I would sew these things, and it would take me weeks and months and I'd like drag them around outside, and I have to say, as an artist, I felt a deep sense of pain and frustration every little scuff that hit the fabric. I was like, "God! This is just being destroyed." Do you have a sense of like loss at all as an artist? Because you do you spend so much time. Like these aren't just, you know, splatter paintings. These are paintings that you're in your studio clearly meticulously crafting.
Jackie: Yeah. I think there's some level of loss, and certainly with this one on the side of this building—Scroll I, I felt the battered by snow or rain. David: Yes.
Jackie: But it was also remarkable, because it was so resilient. Like it didn't really buckle or tear or completely disintegrate in the way that you think that something of this size and made with these materials might. So, that was kind of inspiring at the same time.
David: Yeah, so I mean, we're talking about an exhibition that is about female resilience under difficult circumstances, and so is that sort of? —part of the message for you is this vulnerability and delicacy, but also resilience and strength and ability to kind of weather the storm—Is that?
Jackie: I think that's definitely part of it. I think that, like, this idea of femininity, or sort of more gendered areas of culture, runs through most of the work that I make. And my interest in textiles is linked with this, obviously, because it is an area that has been typically dominated by women. And in prehistory, certain cultures actually use textiles as a form of currency, and it's—I mean it's—I read a book actually about women and textiles, and it was saying that one of the reasons that women actually got so involved with textiles was because, if a woman is pregnant or taking care of children, needlework or weaving or anything like this is something that you can jump right into very easily, if you have ten free minutes, or an hour, if a baby is sleeping or something like that. So, they were like—this book was trying to make a case of why women had chosen these art forms or these crafts instead of others, and I thought that was kind of interesting. But I like the idea for the scrolls especially—I think of them as kind of merging these references from textiles also with tropes from abstract painting, so you can see kind of hints of geometric abstraction, but it becomes really feminized. But then the scale itself feels very masculine, because it's so gigantic.
David: Right. Right, right, it's like a big AbEx sized thing.
David: But it's also—working in paper intentionally. You're not putting it on canvas with stretcher bars, so there's a sort of lack of structure or backing to it in a way.
Jackie: Yeah. exactly.
David: Interesting. I also just wanted to ask you—because I noticed that in all of your work, including—because you do paint on canvas, right? Or on wood backing? I'm not sure which it is.
Jackie: Sometimes on canvas, although, yeah lately I've really been kind of moving away from canvas, just because it feels so heavy to me as a material, and I like the immediacy of working on paper. It feels really fresh, really direct, and more vulnerable like we've been discussing.
David: I noticed that you also, even in those past paintings that you're moving away from, that you always include gouache and ink. It's surprising to me that you would use gouache on canvas. Like it seems like something that—Do people even do that very much?
Jackie: People do it.
David: Yeah, why do you choose to do it?
Jackie: Well I think I chose to do it because it is probably less permanent than acrylic. For me, when I make an acrylic painting on canvas, the surface of it just feels like very flat and very dead to me. It's plastic. It just—there's nothing really seductive about that surface, but I've always loved gouache because—and this is something we haven't talked about yet—but so much of
my work has to do with color too. And it's much easier for me to mix the specific colors that I want to make with gouache versus acrylic, which I find more challenging to mix very nuanced colors.
David: Interesting. That's very interesting.
Jackie: But, if you take a gouache painting out in the rain of course you know what happens. It's destroyed.
David: Yeah totally. Since we've been talking about the scrolls a lot, I also just wanted to remark upon how you've been kind of cannibalizing your scrolls for other exhibitions, and you have this kind of--another reference to infinity: the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail symbol, is important to you as an artist. Why do you cut up these scrolls? What does it do for you as an artist?
Jackie: well I think part of my desire to work with the scrolls in another format was, after a few years, I would look around my studio and I would have these tubes of paintings on paper, and they weren't doing anything or going anywhere, so this was an opportunity to kind of give them a second life and to like return to this idea of regeneration or the infinite. If I keep working with the same materials that I've already kind of made, then it allows me to like keep moving forward without really doing anything incredibly drastic.
David: As an artist, there is in a way a sort of death when something is completed. It sort of like becomes deactivated, at least for me. I sort of feel like I have a relationship with the work that I'm currently doing, and then when it's done, it's sort of--it's almost depressing because it kind of just stops being something that I'm actively working with.
Jackie: It's almost like if a person dies, right, regardless of what you believe--or maybe I guess people have totally different beliefs there, right?
Jackie: You could die. You could go to heaven. You could also just rot in the ground, but if you're rotting in the ground, then your body still becomes energy in another form.
Jackie: And [it] lives on in this different way, so I think if--if you think about like the work having a certain kind of death and having a finality to it, that is really depressing, but if you can find a way to kind of think about how to recreate it; that feels more hopeful for me as an artist.
Jackie: It's also interesting to see how the same things kind of play out across different forms. So, you have like this flat painting
in an environment, and then these scrolls were cut up and reformed into these pyramid structures of different shapes and sizes, which have been installed on walls or placed on the floor, and so when I walk around them, it's like I can notice little snippets of one painting or another painting, and like this particular installation that Framingham State University Ouroboris was years of paintings on paper that I just totally destroyed for this show.
Jackie: It felt actually really liberating.
David: Yeah. Yeah, I have work lying in my studio and there's this part of me that just wants it gone.
Jackie: Yeah. Right.
David: Just gone, but there's another part of me that's like, "oh my god, I worked so hard on this," but, you know?
Jackie: I don't know. I don't know—I—my parents just bought a house, and they moved from our childhood home in Georgia to this house, and they brought with them all of these paintings that I had like hid in the basement, and in various places that I made when I was like 20 or even younger, and I'm like oh my—why do you still have terrible things?
David: Right. No, it is funny, yeah—
Jackie: Somebody needs to destroy them.
David: There are certain works that I really don't want to see. Yeah, my parents have stuff hidden away that I made in the past.
Jackie: And they love it. Well. Some of them I know they don't like, but they keep out of pity because they think I'm attached to them.
David: Right. So, you grew up as an artist—like you are an artist for a long time—I've spoken to a couple other artists on this show who, you know, they came to art late, but it sounds like you are not one of those artists.
Jackie: I am not one of those people. I knew from the time I could talk basically that I loved to paint and draw, and my grandmother on my mom's side was an artist. And when we lived in Buffalo, New York for the first five or so years of my life, we lived within walking distance of the Albright-Knox, and so some of my, like, very earliest memories are going to see the Jackson Pollock room in the Abright-Knox, which as a little kid--you know, or the Clyfford Still room—they have these giant AbEx paintings that consume entire rooms, and they also have Lucas Samaras' Mirrored Room, which is like this room that you step inside of, and all the surfaces of it are mirrors, and there's one of these like weird mirrored chairs inside of it. But when you're five and you see your reflection like in all of these different surfaces, it's totally bewildered and amazing!
Jackie: So, very early on I had like very immersive experiences with art, and it's—I always knew. I just always knew for whatever reason. There have been lots of moments of doubt, I will say.
Jackie: But I always come back to it.
David: Yeah, it's one of those things that's just part of who you are. You can't kind of ever leave it behind—like no matter what job, or what you have to do—you have to do art, right?
Jackie: Yeah, yeah, and keeping a sketchbook and drawing regularly are really important to me like just for my mental health.
David: You've recently been making smaller scale work, right, that's—much smaller scale work, like you know, one of them is 8 x 12 [inches] It's sort of in that range, right?
David: And there are these depictions of knots with these very colorful fibers drawn in gouache, and they either have kind of a flat color background or an ink-stained background that's almost suggests depth. What interests you about the knot?
Jackie: Again, that came from a book that I read that was talking about spirituality and knotting and weaving practices across different civilizations since prehistory, and how knots have been used to kind of commemorate very important events like a death. They've also been used in certain cultures to keep track of time or other records, but all around the world you find people using knots and also believing in knots in these really peculiar ways. And I just thought that was so interesting that regardless of place—like in Lapland you have the like the sailing knots, so when they wanted a big gust of wind to come, they would clip a knot or kind of untie it, and then that was supposed to like release the winds, which like maybe had been knotted somewhere else in the universe.
Jackie: So, before really the rise of rationalism and western cultures, there was this like deep and sort of beautiful belief in these knots. And they're all in our language too, right, like you can “tie the knot,” there's the Gordian knot, your stomach can be in knots, and I thought it was a really interesting metaphor for complexity and unity at the same time. And it also references textiles, which I've been interested in for a very long period of time, so it was kind of like hitting all of these marks that I was investigating like, what is the power within abstract art to kind of convey these weird abstract ideas? And what symbols can like most appropriately get to those meanings in the quickest? And, so the knot was like a direct path for me.
David: You talk about it in the context of abstraction?
Jackie: I mean, I think they're kind of like abstract, and not in the same way that Miriam Shapiro and some of the other pattern and decoration artists of the 1970s talked about their work being in this liminal space between abstraction and representation, because it is a representation of a thing, but it is abstracted--like it's not completely non-objective, but it's definitely—it's more of like a symbol, or a sign—
Jackie: —than it is anything else.
David: Do you ever read Carl Jung?
Jackie: I have read Carl Jung.
David: You just seem interested in the sort of archetype idea of like these universal symbols—like the knot in a funny way—also kind of, you know, your knots have no beginning or end.
David: Like they don't—you don't show the end of the rope at least in the one that I'm looking at. I don't see the end of the rope.
Jackie: None of them have endings really.
David: So that relates—[cross talk] —or even the Ouroboros symbol in and of itself. You know?
Jackie: Yeah totally. Right. It's this thing that goes on and on and on, and it is like visually appetizing or like appealing to try to follow the course of this knot, but you'll never get anywhere by doing so.
David: Right, so it's a futile, kind of...
Jackie: Futile is too negative. It's kind of more like—It's sort of more like a meditation, right? There's no real concrete gain to this thing, and maybe there's no real concrete gain to anything for that matter but—
David: It makes me think of like one hand clapping or something—like, what's the sound of one hand clapping. There is no—I mean, I guess I could technically clap with one hand but.
Jackie: No one heard that.
David: No one heard that. Yeah, but anyway that kind of an idea of a thing to meditate on that is like an impossibility, but is it impossible? You know?
David: And there is a pleasure in contemplating something beyond the rational.
Jackie: Yes. Definitely.
David: It's sort of uh—actually, the reason I asked you about Jung was I was reading about the Ouroboros, because I'm not—I mean I've seen it before, but it's not something I think about that much, and I was on Wikipedia and there was like a reference to Jung talking about the Ouroboros as this archetype that helps people—like the idea of the Ouroboros like sort of gets you closer to yourself. Like contemplating it and thinking through sort of a self-consuming symbol in a way...
Jackie: Yeah, totally. And I think our lives are very cyclical right?
David: Yeah. Jackie: We go through phases, and sometimes I feel like, oh I'm kind of in that particular phase of this cycle again, or whatever. Like I think that that's just how we sort of operate as humans.
David: The knots have evolved over the past year and—
Jackie: Well, I just wanted to say one thing about working small.
David: Yes. Yeah, actually please.
Jackie: Because that was like a fairly big shift in my practice and part of that was because I moved. I had like a different studio situation, and I got a different job, and it was actually more challenging for me to find time to be in the studio to make these giant things. I had a lot of free time on my hands when I was living in New Hampshire, especially. But I moved down here to Connecticut and, you know, like with moving comes a period of adjustment, and it suddenly felt really comforting to be working on something that was a much more intimate scale. And I was like really pleased with that, because I thought for a while like, "maybe I will only make giant things."
David: Right, yeah.
Jackie: But the knots were kind of the answer to what the scrolls were, but on a very small scale.
Jackie: I think a lot of the same ideas play out within the knots. It's just they are like eight by ten inches, nine by twelve inches probably at the largest.
David: And there's a very clear relationship to textile, right: like thread and rope—and as somebody who's also made really big things that people would rarely want in their house, on a very simple practical level, there is something that feels good about
making something that someone else could appreciate in their house, and to me that kind of gives it a life in a funny way—like just like a little thing that spreads that you communicate to somebody else or to a friend.
Jackie: Yeah, I also felt like working on that smaller scale, it felt most appropriate for the times that we are in right now, which feel like a little bit more contentious, or like there are certain people who are making like very loud broad statements and trying to occupy as much space as possible. And, so I was interested in this idea of like, you know, how much power can you really have, if you make yourself small. Like, can you still be powerful if you are like much smaller in scale.
David: Mm-hmm. That's really interesting. Yeah.
Jackie: It's like a different—It's a different form of vulnerability, right? Like the scrolls were very vulnerable because they were massive and on paper, but these other works, the knots, also feel very vulnerable to me because they're just so teeny compared to the other works that I was making.
David: That's really interesting.
Jackie: I like the idea also of, you know, like the knots also bring things together. They bring a lot of disparate elements together, and there's this feeling of unification with the knots that more strongly comes through then with the scrolls. And I think that—
David: What do you mean by that? I mean you've talked a little bit about that, but what do you mean by “they unify things”? Like, what things to do they unify?
Jackie: Well, like, within the compositions themselves, sometimes the knot is kind of blending in more with its background. Sometimes it's more a matter of really wild colors all operating on this kind of seamless rope form together. So, like if you look at—If you look at the knots—like if you look at this example that you have here, there are lots of really bizarre colors, like really brilliant colors, but also more muted colors, and somehow, they all seem to be integrated in this space together. Like no one piece of the knot really falls away from other pieces of the knot even though there's not a strong color harmony system that would like make all of these things work together. But somehow, they are.
David: Right. Right.
Jackie: And, so I think that that's like, speaking very broadly, it's something that I would hope for our current times. Like I think that there's a lot of divisiveness, and instead of working together, you know, people are intentionally isolating themselves.
David: Yeah. Yeah. That's interesting. Yeah, I felt as an artist a weird sense of like retreat in my work. Like not retreat as in backing down, but I've kind of been like, I—there's so much noise out there, and it's hard to almost develop or figure out how to think, because there [are] so many people telling you this is this, this is this, on-- you know what I'm saying? There are so many both valuable things and that are being said on social media—and I do a lot of social media—but somehow for my art, I've wanted to like step back and not make art that's like big and broad like that in this in a similar way.
Jackie: Yeah, I think there's something maybe like, at its worst, it would be accused of being escapist in a way.
David: Right, that's the other side of the coin.
Jackie: But I'm not against that.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Jackie: I'm not against that. I feel like I was reading something—I don't remember who it was that wrote this particular essay, and—you know a series that have like big themes like failure or whatever? What are some of the others? it's like this...
David: I'm not sure what you're talking about actually.
Jackie: Okay, so it was a book, and the name of the book is Beauty, and it was a collection of essays by artists, and art critics, and theorists about this idea—like this big idea of like what beauty is. And one of the essays was about like the difference between conceptual work and work that aims to be more beautiful. And this particular author was making the point that if you make any work of art that has like a very specific message to it, it more often than not, does not actually sway a person. Firstly because of the audience, like the people who are willingly exposing themselves to this work are probably on your side in the first place. And secondly, it doesn't really challenge people's thinking in any sort of real way. Like it tells them what to think, but it doesn't really like motivate any deep thinking. But like work that is beautiful that maybe has less of a direct meaning to it that a viewer is supposed to like think like, "Oh I got it. Like this work is about whatever, sexism or something."
David: Yeah, they just kind of walk away.
Jackie: Yeah, right. Like the person walks away and feels like "ding-ding-ding! I'm smart."
David: I have the kind of sense of like for certain works of art, like I could just read an editorial, and get it. And then, this is a question for you, and you're sort of answering it already, but in a nutshell, what is art's role right now? Like what is—
Jackie: Well I—
David: Is there a purpose? I mean that's a really hard question.
Jackie: Yeah. I can't answer that for everybody, but I think, speaking for myself, I've always been more interested in making work that can like create more of a space for people to think about things instead of giving people my thoughts or the answers themselves. I also think that that's kind of--that's not really what's popular now. Like I think that we live in a very content heavy period of art, but in some ways, it's almost because people are lazy. Like they want the answers to be there for them instead of having it be like a little bit more ambiguous.
Jackie: If that makes sense.
David: Yep. Yeah. You already answered it in a way, but like just the value of ambiguity is it—you want people—you want to stimulate thought in the viewer rather than telling them how to think.
Jackie: Yeah. I think that's important.
David: Questioning is more important than answering.
Jackie: Yeah. And it doesn't even have to be like direct questioning, but like it could be really like meandering thoughts about anything, right? But it's just like more--it's more about this idea of like creating space for people to have some kind of an awareness about different ideas.
David: Yeah, in a funny way, it's almost subversive to be subtle in this climate.
Jackie: Yeah, today I think it is subversive to be subtle. Like we think about—I mean I don't think we often think about it like that, but I think that it's definitely not what is popular.
David: There's a great value for directness and confrontation. It's important, you know? It's important to confront, but I think that there's also this need to sort of—and some people don't have the privilege to step back—step away from what's going on right now because it's so—I mean it's affecting them physically and mentally and directly, but I think it is important to kind of find a space for contemplation like not being a hair-trigger response to everything that's said.
Jackie: Yeah. And it's—I think all this is not to say that there aren't like deeper ideas or things that I think about a lot in my work, but realistically I've led a very privileged life, so you know—
Jackie: —There haven't been any real tragedies in my life to speak of so far, so yeah, I think that you have to do what is truest to yourself, and for me that's making the work that I make. I could never do anything else.
David: It's more about what is your role as an artist--not your role as a citizen.
Jackie: Yeah, and I think that some people kind of confuse those two things very easily. Like I do think that you have more sway in spheres outside of the visual arts to impact change. David: Right. Jackie: And I don't think that—like I don't personally feel like my work as a visual artist needs to embody all of that, and I think that's really what it all boils down to, right? It's not that you shouldn't call your senators or go to protests or whatever.
Jackie: Yeah, whatever you feel motivated to do, but I think there's this—I don't know, it just seems like there's a little bit of a tendency for people to want their work to be everything. Like every artwork has to communicate everything, and I don't know if it works quite like that.
Jackie: And you know like, whatever.
David: And it's also—you don't have full control over where your art goes. It's a very—it's a complex process: evolving into new ideas.
David: And I think that if you jump the gun on that, you start to miss a richness and interest, if you just sort of enforce, like "okay now I'm going to make art that's about this because this is going on." You miss a kind of depth to your art. And I think that it's impossible not to be responding to the current conditions. It's impossible. And it gets into the art in kind of interesting maybe indirect ways, but it does affect what we're doing. We don't necessarily have enough distance from the art that we're currently making to understand fully how it relates to our time.
Jackie: Yeah. I do think that you—everybody makes work that is in some way impacted by the times that we're living in, but I also, really think it's just like a matter of what is most genuine to you as an artist. If that is making more political work than go for it.
Jackie: but if you are—I don't know, if you're not motivated by that, then I don't think you should feel pressure.
David: but I wouldn't say that your work isn't political.
Jackie: I agree. I think it is very political, but I think that it is subversively political. I think that it is extremely feminist like when you really start to think about it, but I also think that people who don't know anything about art sometimes look at my work and just think like, "oh, that's cool!"
Jackie: And they don't necessarily get it, and I'm okay with that. I don't think that um—
David: And it can mean different things to different people. You're not trying to kind of pigeonhole the meaning of your art.
Jackie: But when you look at kind of the entirety of my work as an artist, I think that it's hard not to kind of get the point that there's like a strong assertion of feminist values happening in different ways. But I'm not using my body in the way that feminist artists in the 1960s and 70s were, which was much more overt, right, than what I'm doing. In many ways I do think of my work as kind of like this continuation of the pattern and decoration painters and artists, but in a different context and updated too.
David: Can you talk a little bit about color? It seems important to you.
Jackie: Color is definitely really important to me, and it, again relates to these ideas of feminism that kind of run through all of the work. During the Renaissance, there were these kind of categorical associations. Drawing was considered to be masculine and color and painting—like painting was considered feminine because of the use of color. And, so I do think that there's this longstanding idea of like the frivolity of color as being feminine somehow, which is very bizarre to me, but I also kind of love to revel in that, and so I think a lot about the meanings of colors together or the feelings that they might give to a viewer with everything—everything I make basically. Color is like one of the most important aspects of it.
David: Wrapping up, who are your favorite artists? Who are the artists that you're looking at who've inspired your work over the years?
Jackie: Yeah, there are tons of artists that I love, and I love them for different reasons. I really like Sheila Hicks, and I like Miriam Shapiro for obvious reasons, I think. In terms of more contemporary artists, there are tons. I'm trying to remember what the last thing I saw—like the last work I saw that I really loved. I went to see at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York a show that was about surface and design, and it had a lot of Miriam Shapiro paintings in it, so the name of the show I saw was Surface/Depth—and Stanford Biggers’ work inside the show, I really, really loved because they're textile-based. They're like super goofy in so many ways. Like he uses these really bizarre materials like glitter sequins or things that are really craft oriented. And I also really loved—Jody Mac had some really cool videos there, but Edie Fake was making these works on paper, and they were kind of like bizarre architectural spaces that were maybe imagined but also based on places where she had been that were—I mean they had this feeling of being like decorative, and I hate that word because I think people so often use it pejoratively, but I don't think it's connotation should be negative, but that's like a whole other hour-long conversation.
Jackie: But those were great, and they were on paper, and so I was like really excited to see those two. And Ruth Root. Actually, I loved Ruth Root's paintings in the show. Those were really great
Jackie: That was a great show in general.
Jackie: It was like the show for me personally. It's like some curator was like, "I'm gonna make a show for Jackie."
David: That's awesome. [laughter] Do you have any shows coming up?
Jackie: Yeah, so I am sending a work to a new space in New Hampshire. I think the name of the gallery is Kelly Sterling.
David: Kelly Sterling? cool.
Jackie: Yeah. Have you heard of it?
David: I haven't heard of it, but I'm not—I'm not up on everything with new galleries
Jackie: So, I lived in Manchester for several years and there were like no galleries there, so this one seems to have just opened, and they created a show that's called like Everything Happens All at Once or something like that.
David: That sounds familiar for some reason, but maybe it's just the phrase is familiar.
Jackie: The phrase sounds like the title of a book.
David: Yeah it does.
Jackie: But, so I'm sending a work there. it's something that I've been working on in my studio with corrugated papers that are holographic or reflective in some sort of way, but the crux of the show is how, you know, how do artists stay afloat in this world of like never-ending news cycles and social media? And the concept for this particular piece—the title of it is Filter Bubble, which is this phenomenon of like when you google things, then the searches that are returned back to you like reflect your interest. So, when you're on Amazon and you've been looking at socks, you know, like somewhere else, then you go on Facebook and you see those socks again, and you think, "Oh weird. Oh my gosh! I should buy those socks!"
David: I was wearing boat shoes, and I took a picture of my cat, and like a piece of the boat shoe was in the photograph on my iPhone, and I think because, you know, Instagram has access to my camera roll, they just took that photo that I didn't share on social media, and like immediately I saw an ad for those exact shoes. It was really creepy and weird.
Jackie: So scary.
Jackie: What happens as a result is like you—like we're all being exposed to fewer and fewer things that are new or outside of our own interests. It's like people wonder how we've gotten to this place in our politics where people only talk to other Republicans or other Democrats or something, but I think the phenomenon seems to be happening everywhere. Like we're all just kind of like selectively isolating ourselves with our shopping habits, with our political interests, with our friend groups. Everything.
David: I watched the Vietnam War documentary on PBS. There was that same divide, it seemed like, in the country during the Vietnam War, where—and that—this is, you know pre-internet.
Jackie: Yeah, and I mean that gets back to the cyclical nature of time. It's like everything is new but nothing is new at the same time.
Jackie: And I think that's always how it is. Like we think our particular time and place is very unique, but I'm not sure I really believe that.
Jackie: In some ways, it's true.
Jackie: In other ways, it's just the same as it's always been.
David: Thank you so much for stopping by The First Stop. It was great having you on the show.
Jackie: Thanks! Thanks for having me, David. It was really fun. Looking forward to hearing it.
You can follow Jackie on Instagram @jacqueline.Gleisner. Remember to subscribe to us on iTunes. If you like the show, give us a good rating, and if you have a moment, write a review. Thanks for listening.
Special thanks to Bruce Barber, Director of WNHU for providing the resources and guidance to make this podcast