Jenn Angell is a featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, Disquiet, on view at the Southern Theater through November 5, 2017. I This group exhibition addresses feelings of unease, anxiety, paranoia, phobias, or what lurks beneath the surface as we move through daily life. Twelve artists explore these themes through sculpture, painting, photography, collage, and video.
Jenn Angell is a visual artist currently based in River Falls, WI. She received a BFA in ceramics from University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May 2017. She has attended workshops at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado.
Jenn, thanks for exhibiting with Ae! Can you tell us about your background as an artist and how you came to work with ceramics? Why does clay appeal to you as a medium?
I started working with clay when I was in high school and came back to it a few years later when I was in college. At first, I was just taking ceramics because I liked it and was sort of familiar with it. I kept taking it and finding it more and more fascinating and eventually decided to get my degree in ceramics.
I really enjoy the process of working with clay, and how it has so many parallels to the human experience. A professor of mine would often talk about how clay has a memory, and that always stuck with me. Every little touch or push or pull is recorded in the clay whether you can see it or not. It begins as a soft, malleable material and grows and transforms into something mature and strong and along the way it responds to the environment. The process also forces you to stay present, and work with the material through the different stages, it’s not like a painting where you can leave it alone for a month and come back to it- clay will be dry and unworkable. It forces you to move on even if you’re not ready and keeps you engaged and in the moment. There’s also a spirituality about working with clay that’s special to me. Clay has such a long and rich history, people have been making things with it for literally tens of thousands of years, and it is so rooted in tradition. I feel connected to something bigger than myself because of ceramics, and that’s pretty cool to me.
I’m curious to hear about other artistic mediums you may use. Do you work in any materials aside from clay? Do you make traditional, functional ceramics? How do other processes inform each other in your practice.
In college I also studied painting and photography, and I do make functional pots. When I was first introduced to ceramics, it was through functional pottery and I think that has informed how I make sculpture.
I think different ideas sometimes need different mediums, and in my experience, I’ve had to work through certain ideas and concepts in other mediums before I could successfully bring them into clay.
Your works in Disquiet are physical representations of negative emotions. Why do you work with this subject matter? How do you translate the intangible into your sculpture?
Making art is very therapeutic and cathartic for me. I had been experiencing a lot of negative things and I’m the type of person to bottle them up and try to ignore them. This is my way of addressing those emotions and working through them.
These pieces started out with me thinking about what different emotions might look like if they were physical things, like what would your anxiety look like if it formed growths or cysts in your chest? What does defeat look like? Anger? Shame? I think a lot about these things and then give them a form. The glaze surfaces and textures of the objects are also important to me. If something is smooth and shiny, it’s going to elicit a different response than if it’s bubbly or dry or crusty. Even though the viewer isn’t physically touching these pieces, you can imagine what they feel like, and how that might be connected to the emotion.
Your ceramics are housed within glass jars and containers. Can you talk more about this display method and how it relates to the content of your work?
I wanted the pieces to be reminiscent of scientific specimens, hence the jars. With this work, I was thinking a lot about how we tend to contain our emotions and experiences, particularly the ones we don’t want to feel. I was in a psychology class at the time I started making this work, and we were discussing Freud’s theory of the unconscious, specifically the concept of repression. I was thinking of that part of the mind that is out of our conscious awareness, and it being a sort of cabinet of curiosities that houses all of the experiences that we’ve repressed or chose to not fully feel. I view the contents of the jars as the physical manifestations of these emotions and experiences that have been extracted or dissected from the body, and then stored away for later examination.
You included a wonderful Louise Bourgeois quote in your submission to Disquiet:
“My sculpture allows me to re-experience the fear, to give it a physicality so I am able to hack away at it. Fear becomes a manageable reality. Sculpture allows me to re-experience the past in its objective, realistic proportion.”
How does looking to other artists shape your own work? What other artists are you influenced by?
I get stuck on ideas and concepts a lot and looking at how other artists have solved similar problems or presented similar ideas helps me figure out what I’m doing. I don’t want to say I copy other artists, but often times I’ll see a form and think, “wow I want to make forms like that,” and try to make a form reminiscent of that, which often sparks new ideas for me during the making process.
Louise Bourgeois has been a huge inspiration for me. Lauren Gallaspy and Jason Briggs are both ceramic artists that I look to a lot. I also look at a lot of medical illustration, something about it is really fascinating to me.
How do you hope viewers interact with your work? What do you want them to take away from it?
I hope people approach the work initially with a sense of curiosity. I want people to examine the contents of the jars and maybe even reflect on their own experiences with the emotions. These pieces did come from very personal exploration, but the topics/emotions are universal enough that I hope people can relate in some way.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?
I have a show at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, WI that will be opening in January 2018.
Where can we find and follow you online?
Facebook: Jenn Angell Art
I also have an etsy shop for my pots: etsy.com/shop/JennAngellStudio
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass.