Marguerite Innes is an exceptional photographer. Her sensitive choices in capturing these images, these moments, are demonstrative of the intimacy she has with the work (I hired her to help with fabrication).
The last edit is done. 104 pgs. Content preview(s) to follow.
A large-scale public installation of four, 76″H (1.94m) four-ton (4000kg) stelae in Nay Aug Park, outside the Everhart Museum, Scranton, PA. Given their porosity, estimated at 6-8%, they will slowly erode “and follow the watershed as far as the Chesapeake Bay, back to the lie of the land”.
I’ve been wanting to use my blog this way since I started it: for some serious dialog involving fresh ideas. A busy studio and publication schedule has kept this on the back burner until now.
I rediscovered Hackett’s work about a year ago, about the time I was trying to reconcile the relationship between my work and memory. His statement rung enough of a chord that I contacted him and said as much. Frequently when I make a cold contact there is no further exchange. Perhaps because we had met, or because there was enough in common in our work, the following conversation unfolded with the awareness that I might post it here. Images below are some of Hackett’s most recent. To see more, or to see slightly older work, visit Hackett’s tastefully designed website.
Jason Hackett: My studio practice is concerned with permanence and I wonder how history survives when in human hands, as editing and exaggeration are great story telling tools. I contend that individual perspectives and interpretations help to spawn iconography and folklore as well as accurate history. I relish in this, creating works that interpret personal, social and cultural histories as blurred, malleable and questionable myth. At the root of my inspiration are intangibles innate to memorials. The histories they represent provide each commemorative item with the unusual power of recalling the past. However, the further we are removed from the present, the more distilled or distorted the actual history becomes, like a partial or blurred memory.
By working through various ceramic techniques I am also engaged with each piece on a personal, physical level. Statuary, awards, taxidermy, monuments, memorabilia or collectibles are common types of memorials I examine which help inform my process, aesthetic and material choices choices on a concrete level.
In the end, each piece is a surreal construction bringing itself nearer to both understanding and wonderment.
JT: Perhaps its too early for you to know but does your statement [above] still hold true for the new work- or is the new technical and conceptual territory that altering found pieces covers indicate new intentions on your part?
JH: The processes are very different, obviously (between the found objects and fabricated pieces). There are a couple of facets to working with the found pieces that keep them ringing similarly for me. Typically the found pieces are memorabilia or they commemorate a place. These pieces are plates and cups that I have no personal history with. They contain some sort of historical content like an image of a church or the New York skyline as it existed pre 911. I have been removing buildings from them, sometimes because the buildings no longer exist and other times to make some type of statement regarding altered history, impermanence/permanence, and (spiritual?) wonder. Occasionally, I hit upon a piece that hits all the marks. I suppose that goes for the older work too.
JT: The majority of your work deals very explicitly with religious imagery, icons, or religious language in the title (Dogma, 2009 eg). At the same time you never seem to give these symbols the opportunity of a straight shot; there’s another symbol laminated into the piece, or some alteration to an otherwise very recognizable icon (a Madonna), image (the taxidermists plaque), or concept (an endangered species). Are you expressing your own ambivalence about the multiple meanings iconography can have depending on context? Or do you question the overall value of iconography given that any religion can become overly dogmatic (too much meaning given to symbolic acts such that dogma staunches growth of understanding).
JH: I certainly question the overall value of iconography, particularly some religious iconography. I view religious icons as similar to awards, as something to strive for or emulate, because behind these images lies a quest for virtue, truth, and understanding of the spiritual or mystical, which may be desirable but difficult to fathom. So when I modify or place an icon in another context it is done so with an intent to demystify them or remove their power. Different people have told me my work comes across as humorous, serious, and confrontational. I like to think that it can be all of the above.
JT: Are you rewriting history? Or are you commenting on the malleability of history and memory without attempting to propose your own version of history? Put another way, is your work documentary: ie living-changing-ongoing history? Or meta-history: ie the history of history, commentary on historical method. Insert the word “religion” for “history” and ask the question again…
JH: History is a multl-layered beast. As an artist think I dabble in history relying on statistics, formal representation, memory, and stories as inspiration. Casting various forms and constructing near to real body parts provides me with a basis in reality to work from, but I understand history’s malleability in relation to memory and use this as latitude to work metaphorically, modify icons, and enlarge or displace forms in order to alter context. Making objects this way seems to be more like folklore or mythology, I think because it relies both on recognition and invention.
Most recently, I also have been working from statistics and actual events (factual documentation based on endangered animals, 9/11, and the resurgence of buffalo in the US) to strengthen a factual aspect in the work. Some of these works begin with found ceramic pieces which help dictate content. I have attached a couple of images that show works in process. I’m not sure where these are going yet.
I was never able to make work ambivalent to my personal experiences and history. I don’t believe any artist can completely escape this. I rely on recognizable form, iconography, and materials to help each piece resonate universally, while at the same time being relative to a personal history and(or) idea. I feel like the work is always changing in various amounts of degrees, as I am, though it always seems to call into question permanence and mortality.
Additionally, I would not say I’m commenting specifically on historical method, but I do think I question it. Without appropriate questioning of any accepted method you run the risk of having various problems pertaining to credibility, where ethics can be compromised by belief or desire and inaccuracies occur. I would say though, at times my work comments on myth masquerading as history. I enjoy the idea of folklore or myth though, because you have to decipher for yourself what is real and what is imagined.
What I believe of any religion is; that it is an organization of ideas in reference to some unknown higher power. I’m not certain how that scheme fits my life, but I do understand an internal desire for fulfillment and purpose and how that can be perceived differently. I feel fulfilled making works that notice mortality, question streamlined ways of looking and thinking, while using history, folklore and my own experiences as tools to work from and develop ideas which live somewhere between black and white.
But also, I relate the spiritual with religion, because it seems logical. I was sort of raised a Christian mutt. As a child I attended Protestant Church, then I went to Catholic HS, then I dabbled studying different Eastern religions in college. After all this I sense something greater but feel as if some religion is dogmatic and misguided even though its foundation might be built from good intentions. My own mortality forces me to continually spiritually inspect myself. My work is obviously layered with symbols. I suppose I combine these symbols to answer questions I have about my own spiritual nature. The paw forms are metaphors for my hands, but still very loaded with external information. I like to approach all images and forms I use this way (personal and universal).
JT: Have you come across the work being done in neurology, concluding that memory and imagining the future happen in the same neural network?
“Functional MRI studies investigating the neural basis of episodic memory recall, and the related task of thinking about plausible personal future events, have revealed a consistent network of associated brain regions.”
Hassabis, D; et al; The Journal of Neuroscience, December 26, 2007, 27(52):14365-14374
JH: I have not previously come across this, and in the past I haven’t applied a scientific study to my conceptual process. This is very interesting though, the past and future colliding in a network of the brain. What appears to be most interesting to me about this is, if recall is seemingly distorted or fragmented and the future is imagined, would then “the present” or a making process involve both distortion and imagination. That sheds an interesting light on learned intellectual and physical processes when developed to the point of being rote.
JT: All of this is pointing toward a book I read a few years back, The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong, that dealt in its introduction with a basic division in the human psyche. Armstrong arugues that we are moved by two sometimes overlapping categories of inspiration. She used Greek words mythos and logos to label these two categories. Logos deals with logic and day to day functions like using a recipe to make a meal. Mythos deals with the forces in our lives that determine how we want to live our life; ie the culture and history that determines why an ethnic cuisine is made the way it is rather than just a “how to make it”.
Your past work draws on explicit religious imagery and meanings, even if you edit those meanings through complex contexts. Your current work, deals more with statistics and primary documents (photographs). If we accept a division with some overlap between mythos and logos in your work, how much of the work deals with the overlap between the factual, scientific and inspiration. More than one individual has called on artists (writers musicians poets) to spark the social movement that environmental/climate change science dictates because the data alone is not what shapes peoples day to day choices (logos) but a sense of participating in a larger movement does.
JH: I’d like to think that most of what I make has to do with that small amount of overlap between factual information and inspiration (logos and mythos). Each piece begins at one of those two places. The common thread I see throughout the old and new work is how I deal with permanence and impermanence as it relates to physical objects, thoughts and ideas. Material has always informed my conceptual approach though. I think with using clay there is a significant amount of both logic and myth. For example, there are certain rules or steps (logic) you must follow in order to construct a horizontal form from clay coils, but additionally when you start from an unformed piece of clay there is nothing there but what you can imagine. Additionally the material lends itself to ideas such as permanence and impermanence, as clay it exists to be changed and in a ceramic state the material takes on permanent qualities.
Compounding that, I have always thought about religion, mortality, memory and spirit, because it’s natural. What person hasn’t had an unclear memory, thought about God, or wondered about death?
What has most changed with the newer work is that it deals with found ceramics. I have to take a different approach to working with this because objects already have a history, rooted in what they are (cups and plates) and the images they may contain (bison, NYC skyline, churches). I am working a bit from documentation or claims in which facts are the premise. I use facts just like I would folklore or iconography though, as a jumping off point, but instead of trying to use my process to demystify them, I use it to make them feel more mystical. My hope is that they end up in a similar mysterious place of overlap.