Subterranean

It’s been about two weeks since moving into the studios here at Mana and I am loving it.  I’ve been enjoying getting to know Carole and seeing her practice.  I’m curious to see how our work develops during our time here as I’m already picking up on similarities in our ideas and use of materials.  It’s quite nice to be in a space where other artists are working alongside you.  Years have gone by since I’ve had that type of community and I’m feeling energized by it already.  The studios are located in the subterranean layer of Mana, aka the basement.  It is buzzing with young and emerging artists and is quite large, with high ceilings and an open layout.  It is motivating to glance up from my work bench across the basement and see half a dozen other studios with artists currently at work.  Being a part of this space challenges me to work well and push myself. 

This residency seemed to come at the perfect time for me as I’ve been transitioning in my work, in both content and in media. I have an increasing interest in the nature and direction of living organisms, from growth and new life to decay and disintegration.  I am fascinated by the natural world and find that the beauty of it informs and inspires much of my practice.  The materials I’ve been focusing on are organic specimens like bark, moss, eggshells, soil, and roots.  I am weaving these together with figurative forms as an exploration of the nature of all living things.  My work reflects a love for plants and a belief that they have something to teach us about ourselves.

Right now, I am experimenting with living plants and root systems.  It is my goal to better understand how plants develop and consequently apply those findings to how we view our own human growth and behavior patterns.  I have felt the freedom to explore and play with new ideas during my time at Mana and that is especially liberating.  Along with the organic materials, I’ve also been working with yarn, reclaimed wood, and spray foam.  I’m currently trying to create dripping root-like structures out of spray foam so that they’ll hang from a tiered planter.  I’m intrigued by the idea of exposing the subterranean aspect of the plant.   Typically we never see the roots of a plant, only the foliage on top.  I think there is metaphorical and physical beauty in bringing to light the invisible.

With the yarn and wood, I’ve fashioned a large loom for weaving.  A few weeks ago I discovered my old lap loom from when I was a little girl.  I brought it to Mana and began playing with it out of curiosity one day.  It was so fun and the rhythm came right back to me!  I made a small tapestry with the lap loom, incorporating live moss and bark into the composition.  But I also began immediately plotting a way to enlarge this new found media.  Provision came in the form of salvaged wood from the scrap table at Mana, thanks whoever put that there! The large weaving is starting to take shape, and will be a 3 dimensional drawing (of sorts) depicting the root systems of different plant species.

If you can’t tell, many of my key materials come from items I’ve found along the side of the road, foraged from the woods, or collected from random experiences.  The other day, my husband actually helped me drag a 20 foot dead branch from a parking lot by our house because I fell in love with it.  The branch was just too remarkable to pass by.  I have a few ideas for this decaying piece of timber, but mostly I am just happy to have acquired it.

Rather unexpectedly, the commute to Mana has been very enjoyable for me.  For the last two years, I’ve had a studio space 90 secs from where I lived.  Now, I have almost a 90 min commute everyday.  It has been an adjustment, but I will say that I’ve never felt smarter.  I’ve been listening to all sorts of inspiring and enlightening podcasts on the drive, like You Bet Your Garden, Radiolab, 99% Invisible, and Tedtalks.  I actually find that I’ve come to value that time in the car with just a few familiar voices belonging to total strangers.  Interestingly enough, I can see that some of the ideas they share have begun to influence my work even.  In a Tedtalk, Katrina Spade shares her idea for death care facilities, or “recomposition.” My interest in decay and new life was immediately piqued as she shared the beautiful way that recomposition “transforms bodies into soil so that we can grow new life after we die.”[1] Check back with me in a few weeks to see where I develop this idea.

Jessica Taylor Hale


[1] Katrina Spade, http://www.urbandeathproject.org, August 2017

3 responses

  1. Jess, Loved reading your blog and getting the ideas of what your residency is about for you!! It sounds fascinating and I love that you are continuing your work with plants, fibers and the idea of growth. podcasts are the best, I agree!! Your right brain and left brain are growing!! 🙂 Blessings friend!

    • Nancy,
      Thanks for reading and following my work at Mana! I’m realizing more and more how feeding my left brain fuels fresh ideas and thoughts.

  2. Sounds fascinating. Looking forward to seeing your exploration and progress during your residency at Mana. As we discover our world and nature we also discover something about ourselves.
    If you haven’t read Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, it might be a good one to listen to on your commute to Mana.
    Good luck and “discovery”.
    Bill Graziano

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