Update from Mana: Jessica Taylor Hale

Carole Taylor Hale Sculpture

“Sedimental”

For this update I thought I’d give you an insight into my studio practice by breaking down the network of information that contributes to my process.  Below, I’ve put together a self-interview of sorts that discusses the things that educate, inform, and shape my work.

What I’m reading:  Rooted in Design by Tara Heibel and Tassy De Give[1].  – A design-focused and very informational guide to understanding and growing indoor plants.  I’m finding this book very helpful in that it provides a hearty overview of a variety of plant specimens, how to care for them, and ideas for designing with them. The photography in this book is absolutely stunning and has been the source of plant envy for me quite often as I’m always eager to add to my plant collection.  I have also loved reading through “Gathering Moss” by Robin Kimmerer [2], a book that “clearly and artfully explains the biology of mosses, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us.”[3] I have been challenged to rethink my own approach to the interconnection of all life forms as I read of the author’s evident respect and love for the earth.

Carole Taylor Hale

Building sediment layers

What I’m learning:  I’ve recently been pushing myself to sketch more often as I’ve been reminded of the importance of sketching in the design process. My tendency is to take an idea and jump right in, problem solving as I create.  But, sketching allows me to work through an idea from various facets and to see potential problems and solve them all while simply holding a pen.  I’m also learning that just the act of opening my sketchbook is like opening my mind to unhindered ideas.  Several times this past week, I’ve started drawing and doodling, without an idea on hand but simply with the intention of letting an idea develop as I sketch, and I’ve found that it often leads to something valuable developing out of that ambiguity.

Materials I am experimenting with:  I’ve been playing around with some large drawings of root systems by using a stylus to etch marks in the paper.  I then rub charcoal taken from my firepit into the etched grooves in the surface of the paper to reveal the network of roots that were heretofore invisible.  Another process I’m experimenting with is dyeing my own fibers for use in the weavings. I am particularly interested in sourcing these dyes from plants I have on hand or that I might be able to find in my garden.  To me, the origin of the dye, the personal connection to having grown the plant that creates the dye, is just as important as the end result.  Lastly, I’ve been playing around with wheat grass and how to grow it efficiently.  My hope is to grow the grass to cover a figurative sculpture that I’ve made. It has been valuable to play with the wheat grass before trying to implement on a sculpture because it has allowed me to learn and understand the growing conditions of the specimen.

Carole Taylor Hale

Tending the plants

Artists I’m studying:  Janet Laurence, Mark Dion, Diana Scherer – All exceptional artists and communicators whose scientifically informed work is incredibly inspiring to my practice.  I am fascinated with Dion’s bent toward collecting as I notice my own habit of collecting materials from my encounters with the natural world.  Laurence’s work is inspiring with her heavily researched installations and sculptures that demonstrate how art can provoke its audience into a renewed awareness about our environment.  I would jump at the chance to work with Scherer as her series Rootsystem Domestication[4] has changed how I see plants.  Scherer has been collaborating with biologists and ecologists of the Radboud University in Nijmegen to design subterranean templates that channel root growth into patterns and moulds.

Carole Taylor Hale Sculpture

Charcoal etching in progress

Concepts I’m obsessed with:  Burial. Nurture. Regrowth. Whether the manifestation of these concepts is physical (like in the weavings I’m working on) or purely metaphorical (like in concepts I’m sketching through), I find myself coming back to these themes constantly.   Burial, nurture, regrowth.  The cocoons I’ve been delicately assembling are a perfect illustration of this.  A mass of decaying and dried mosses poised to nurture the growth of a new baby plant living within its very walls; the mosses having once possessed life, the cocoon is now simultaneously living and dying.

Work I am excited about:   I am very pleased with the weavings I’ve been working on.  I did not enter the residency expecting to be working with fibers so much, but I’m enjoying the results of building these tapestries layer by layer as I see it mirroring the process of sediment being buried layer after layer.  Lastly, I am eager to begin collaborating on a piece with Carole, the other artist in residence with me.  We have been tossing around the idea of a collaboration around for some time, and recently may have found a lovely intersection in which our work can grow together.   We are focusing on the idea of force; specifically an external force applied to a subject.  Join us for the artist’s talk and show at the end of our residency to see the cumulation of this idea.


[1] “Rooted in Design” Berkeley, Ten Speed Press
[2] “Gathering Moss” Corvallis, Oregon State University Press
[3] “Gathering Moss”, Robin Kimmerer, back cover
[4] Scherer, http://dianascherer.nl

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