Jess Kiel-Wornson / by Altered Esthetics

Birds of the Future  (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Birds of the Future (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?

I’m a multidisciplinary artist---for me art is about establishing connectivity, finding the slipperiness of being in the world, seeing ourselves in one another for better and worse. Using multiple modes of communication points to that—those spaces in between, the bridges from one idea to the next. Combining disciplines---sculpture, text, collage, drawing, performance, diminishes hierarchies and deals, in both form and content, with a multiplicity of perspective. I make work about the quieter ways that we learn, reinforce, and challenge our positions of power. Mostly I deal with learning these things through stories and physical surroundings. I deal with constructed space a lot, largely domestic, particularly with uncurated spaces: storage areas, hallways, staircases, basements, attics. Those places we collect incidentals, pass through regularly, but are never meant to spend time in. There’s an honesty in the way those spaces operate that I’m drawn to. 

My work is rooted in a lot of performance theory and feminist theory---how and why we perform our complicated lives, how fall into the roles we play, how we get out of them or complicate them. 

I’m moving more into performance work and am really excited about collaborations right now. The performance art that I’ve gotten to experience and be involved in making in the Twin Cities is really phenomenal, and I’ve found incredible community there making really conceptually rigorous work. I believe in performance as a way of forcing multiplicity: it rejects the (white-supremacist, patriarchal) capitalist ideal of a singular heroic mark. My installations for instance use embodied experience of the viewer, familiar surroundings or visual cues, and combined cultural artifact (text, movies, stories) to equalize body, object, space, and language thereby formally decentralizing values, dismantling hierarchies, and joining that which is disparate. In this way, the structure of art can be revolution. Collaborations are the next logical step, people coming together to make something greater than ourselves. Gestalt. 

Birds of the Future  (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Birds of the Future (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

How did you decide to become an artist?

I don’t know exactly how to answer that. I was never committed to it, but it was maybe always the thing. Maybe I started doing it because it allowed me to continue to play make-believe long after I aged out of it. It allowed me to access and indulge in loves that I didn’t understand. After that it gave me a way to break down the world. All our disciplines, whether our professions are not are lenses for us to better understand the world---some folks see the world in physics or linguistics or engineering or home-making, community building---art making is sort of a way to commit to learning and a little about whatever I want. I get to process all the time. 

What was the best advice given to you as an artist? 

I used to work for a really phenomenal artist, Pablo Helguera, and he consistently keyed into the quietest , most beautiful, honest things about humans—I could never understand how someone so busy could be so insightful, and I think I learned from him that it’s just practice---it’s momentum. He was always taking the world in and remaking it. I learned it’s about filling my life up and rearranging it from him maybe. Audre Lorde wrote to try a thing, and if it works keep doing it and if it doesn’t, try something else. Sarah Ahmed wrote that I don’t have to be happy above all else—and that gave me freedom. My sister told me to go to therapy. My partner reminds me to read stories and be brave. My folks remind me to prioritize love. I get a lot of good advice, I read a lot and watch a lot and I have a lot of really smart humans around and we talk to each other a lot. 

Birds of the Future  (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Birds of the Future (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet? 

Probably. I’ll learn it when I need it. Again, I keep a big crew of really smart people around who know a lot of things. I learn knew mediums and methods when the need arrises by asking tons of questions. People can be very generous. 

Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art.  How do you sell your work?  How do you market yourself?

I have not yet figured out how to do that really. I moved here because of the good arts funding and good health care. Through these recent collaborations, I’ve gotten paid to make art for the first time really and it still blows my mind. I would like to make money. I would be really good at being rich, but would settle for stable. I don’t believe in the way our economy works. Maybe that’s irrelevant. I want to make money making art, but folks don’t want to buy multimedia interactive installations, and I don’t want to make paintings right now. I’m working on it. 

Birds of the Future  (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Birds of the Future (in collaboration with Charles Campbell and the artists), Multimedia immersive performance installation, 2019. Photo by Tim Heitman.

Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

Charles Campbell 

Pramila Vasudevan

Val Olivero’s dance and choreography stops my heart.

Rosy Simas just did an incredible show at SooVac

I consistently love Anat Shinar’s dance and performance.

Hijack and Kristin Van Loon. 

Pedro Lander, Butch Charming, Sweet Pea Burlesque are amazing.

Samantha Johns and Zoe Cinel are both always making smart, biting, beautiful art. 

Jovan Speller’s work was some of the first I encountered when I moved here and she remains one of my favorite artists in town. 

Sarah Evenson’s prints are incredible. 

There’s so many.

Befriending Other Men, Falling in with a Goat, Finding Secrets to Keep  (As part of Sally Rousse’s Icon Sam: Temple Dances), Goat head puppet, shot gun, barbell, picture of John Wayne, church chairs, glasses of milk, virgin mary statue, chain saw, glitter, baby powder, in storage closet of Masonic Temple, 2018

Befriending Other Men, Falling in with a Goat, Finding Secrets to Keep (As part of Sally Rousse’s Icon Sam: Temple Dances), Goat head puppet, shot gun, barbell, picture of John Wayne, church chairs, glasses of milk, virgin mary statue, chain saw, glitter, baby powder, in storage closet of Masonic Temple, 2018

If I were to follow you around to see art in the Twin Cities, which places would we go? What would we see?

We would go see anything the Red Eye is producing. We would go to Hair and Nails and to MIA, Anything happening at Fresh Oysters, Open Eye Figure Theater maybe. We would start and end with a cocktail on a patio. 


What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I don’t have anything lined up immediately but am looking. I just finished two incredible projects: I collaborated with Charles Campbell, Heidi Eckwall, Meagan Mayer, Erika Hanson, Felipe Mastafoli, and Mike Hallenback to make Birds of the Future—it’s the best thing I’ve ever made---a post-apocolyptic, sci-fi anti-nostalgia whirlwind. It was so fucking stunning I’ll never stop thinking about it. And I had the joy and bizarre challenge of building a huge steel cross for Pedro Lander’s recent work Holy Doña. It was an incredible performance—funny and sexy and heartbreaking. I just completed both of those and now am focusing on my domestic life---sun and fixing up my house and getting ready to teach in the fall, love and leisure this summer. But hopefully more collaborations soon. 

From  Survival Spells , Xerox collage, 2019

From Survival Spells, Xerox collage, 2019

Jess Kiel-Wornson is a Minneapolis based multimedia artist. Using immersive sculptural installation (often depicting familiar environments: a suburban bedroom, an old porch, a beauty shop, etc), collaged cultural artifact, and embodied action of viewers, she addresses the insidiousness of the systems of power in our surroundings. Her work speaks to the material consequence of trauma in our bodies and buildings and asks us to reframe our conversations about goodness, success, and identity away from individuals and toward the systems that allow and promote violence toward some bodies distinctly from others. She received her MFA from University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. She is an activist, educator, and shop tech and sometimes wonders how her life would be different if she had found feminist theory before anti-depressants. She is tired of being told by the dominant paradigm that her heartbreak will make her stronger.

Find out more about the Jess and her work on her website at: http://jkwornson.com/.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview conducted by Donny Gettinger.


Altered Esthetics News:

Thank you to all who supported and attended the 2019 Altered Esthetics Film Festival. We couldn’t have done it without you!

We are proud to share that we had a great turnout for our two nights of screenings and, thanks to your help, we are able to pay all of the participating artists!

Shout-out to our amazing hosts at the Trylon Cinema. Thank you for providing a friendly and accessible environment to showcase and view experimental films.

We would also like to thank all the selected filmmakers for sharing your work with us. Congratulations to the 2019 Audience Award winners, Matt Semke for Nuages and Xiaolu Wang for Dumpling.

Special thanks to our 2019 Featured Artist, Maret Davies Polzine, for emceeing the event and inviting us to participate in their animation process.

Thank you again for supporting experimental film and the Ae Film Festival!

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