Jessica Brandl, one NCECA’s 2017 Emerging Artists has had a busy time since delivering an outstanding presentation on the final day of the conference in Portland, Oregon. Over the summer, she relocated from Philadelphia, where she had been teaching at the Tyler School or Art at Temple University, to Canada, where she is presently teaching at the Alberta College of Art and Design. In October, her work, Humunculus, was honored as the 1st place vessel award in the Zanesville Prize Exhibition. About the impact of NCECA’s Emerging Artist recognition on her life and work, Jessica shared the following:
Jessica Brandl at work
Since emerging at this year’s NCECA Conference, I feel a great relief, a quiet internalization of having addressed my peer group and presented my story. As a direct result of this public presentation I have been invited to demonstrate and speak at numerous schools and community art centers, and the added visibility has encouraged greater support and connoisseurship of both my work and research. The formal recognition by the NCECA board and committee provides value to my academic and studio endeavors, and the opportunity to present supported my assertion that I am a devoted member of the NCECA community willing to work and contribute to the creative grow of ceramic art and research to come. However, the most important impact of this award came to me as an unexpected private transformation. In preparation for the presentation and show, I found myself looking deep within, searching for the most accurate way to describe what I do. I found the clarity and focus I needed through my feelings for ceramics and personal history rather than objects and practice alone. By retracing my own journey in clay, I was confronted with my strengths and weaknesses and realized that I had to speak candidly about this history in order to be most accurate about where my work comes from. Accepting vulnerability and having the fortitude to express this has been the most profound impact of having been an NCECA emerging artist. Thank you for allowing this public platform, and thank you for listening.
Jessica Brandl, Vessel B
Limited to 12-minutes at the conference, Brandl was kind enough to respond to some questions I recently posed to her via email correspondence. Her generosity of time and thoughtful response offer an opportunity to dig deeper into some of the decisions and motivations Brandl is exploring through her creative practice.
JG: Why do you find the vessel such a compelling framework for sharing your stories?
JB: I admire the vessel as a visual framework in all of its historical iterations, but the most potent attraction to this context has to do with my personal history and how it satisfies my sense of balance. The vessel is a fascinating object, the void interior defines the exterior, it can physically contain something but it can also hold images and subsequently display ideas and narrative as symbolic language. A vessel is a container, but its interpretation permits a multifaceted understanding of utility as literal, metaphor or both.
Jessica Brandl, Vessel C
My attraction is grounded in the overt utility that a vessel suggests; it permits a connection to my Midwestern upbringing that established the premise that an object should be useful. It was the identification with labor and its value, which gave craft and craftsmanship high praise in my childhood home. What I now identify as high art, was viewed with suspicion in its seemly functionlessness and reference to decadence and collected wealth. The logic of childhood was flawed; however, my desire to mediate past and present perceptions through an object locates me at the contextual humility of vessels and pots.
Jessica Brandl, Ruin A
The narrative vessels I construct are beyond practical utility in most ways but my adherence to the void interior and vestigial function permits me to use the language. The linguistic ties are as important as the literal context and form. While many viewers understand what a vessel is, the appearance of novel content situated within the context of a familiar utilitarian form can be a disruptive experience. By calling what I make a vessel, I have framed the comparative conversation. Vessels and pottery preserve a formal levity, which permits me to address culturally averse subject matter.
Jessica Brandl, plate with birds
JG: Could you share a little about how you see your work connected to that of other artists working with narrative content within and beyond those working in clay? Who and what are you looking at and gaining inspiration through?
JB: I see my work as another iteration of a long and continuous human tradition of narration and communication. The telling of an epic or in my case an un-epic, with a cast of characters conveying something other and universal seems to be a part of human nature. Artists that work with clay and clay-like materials speak the most directly to me. I examine how they have managed to communicate and what those technical strategies are; lastly, I like to ask why they are clay and not something else.
Jessica Brandl, Ruin B
I have always been fascinated by the raw clay bison formed on the floor of a cave in France some 14,000 years ago, those figures exist right alongside representative drawings of animals, abstracted dots, and incised geometric patterns. An important part of my personal narrative investigates why I insist on clay. Looking at other humans that use clay I am able to gain a better perspective through comparison.
Jessica Brandl, Vessel A
Therefore, I am inspired by human experience, specifically as it is represented in mythology, literature, science, history, ecology, phycology and culture. I compress the visual richness of the centuries into my own ceramic vessels, forming a distillation of historic and personal symbolic language. Any visual or narrative similarities that my work possesses are the result of communal proximity informing my conscious and unconscious decisions. I do not worry as much as I once did about copying or nuance, I have a better understanding of myself as a unique person from a specific time and culture. Themes, material, and methodology are the stuff of generating narrative and symbolic language. Each individual is different, but as members of the same species quite similar; circumstances and luck take care of the rest.
Jessica Brandl, Fintch
The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art is immensely grateful to the Windgate Charitable Foundation for their support of NCECA’s Emerging Artists program from 2013-2017. Additional blog entries will appear on other 2017 recipients of the award before our 2018 cohort will be announced in the month leading up to the conference in Pittsburgh.
Below, watch the video of Brandl’s 2017 conference presentation at the Emerging Artists Session on Saturday morning in Portland:
Curiosity is what gets us out of bed in the morning and carries us through the day. Like a good story, we don’t know what’s going to happen, and we want to know what happens next.
Curiosity is the fuel of our art practice. Without curiosity there is no art practice. It is a primal, seductive drive that sucks us in. It does itself, like a good book you can’t put down. It says, “I don’t know, I want to know, I want to know more, I want to get into the studio and explore and experiment!” We are all very familiar with this force.
Unfortunately, curiosity seems to come and go. I think more to the point, we put our nose to the ground and stop following it. We end up doing things we’ve done before, falling into familiarity, some kind of shtick. If you follow curiosity sincerely, you don’t know where you’ll end up, because where you’ll end up is a discovery.
Fortunately there are many tricks for triggering curiosity, I imagine you may have a couple up your sleeve. The one that works best for me is looking closer, which is convenient, as a lot art training is about exactly that – slowing down and looking closer, slowing down and learning how to see.
Instead of a monologue on how the mechanism of looking closer triggers curiosity, I thought it would be best to do a sort of mini workshop in seeing, with the hope that it triggers curiosity (or interest or seduction, other names for curiosity) in you.
There isn’t any clay in the room, and I’m not going to stuff your brains with a lot of images. However, if you put your attention into your eyeballs, you can feel that they are 100% full of sight, 100% full of vision, with no gaps. This fullness feels like something. You close your eyes, and then open them, they don’t take any time to warm up at all. Just bang! 100% seeing. So we have plenty to look at, and plenty to work with.
Inez, 2010, fired and painted clay, 6.5” x 7.5” x 7.5”. Ken Price.
When we look more specifically at things (see examples given during presentation at the 2017 NCECA Conference, two modes of knowing and perceiving become apparent: Objective functional fantasy, where things stay put, and objects have constancy. It is a realm of discreet unchanging objects that have consistent identities, a realm of nouns and concepts. The second mode is subjective actual experience, where things do not have constancy. Because it is what we actually experience, the objective mode is by default, a fantasy.
In the realm of subjective actual experience, everything morphs. Nothing stays put. Identities try to form but they never quite make it (ever feel like your identity is always under construction?). Everything is a verb. Everything about you is a verb – you’re breathing, your heart is beating, your skin is doing it’s air exchange business, you’re digesting and metabolizing, your mind is streaming, you’re rearranging your position regularly. The only thing constant about you is your name!
The objective mode is what education and conditioning and language acquisition are all about. And again, it is very functional. The subjective mode we are trained to ignore. But this is where curiosity resides, where curiosity is triggered, and where all of us, bar none, lived as children up to ages 7 to 10, according to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget.
The following are tricks for jogging curiosity, which are all variations on slowing down and keeping looking (specific guidance with each is given in the talk):
- Actually physically slow down – moving slower makes you notice more. It breaks up the superficial co
Prepared Floor Crack, 1999, gold leaf, cleaned floor crack, dimensions variable. The author.
ntinuity speed creates. When you slow down, for instance, reaching for a jar of peanut butter, numerous other experiences open up besides just the overall “reaching for a jar of peanut butter”.
- Pretend you aren’t familiar with things you are familiar with. “Familiarity” turns out to be a fantasy, a process of ignoring or taking things for granted. How you’re sitting and holding your body is familiar, pretend it isn’t. How you’re feeling is probably very familiar, pretend it isn’t. Almost immediately you realize it is different than how you think it is. Boom! Curiosity hits. It’s like a fish becoming aware of water.
- Go to www.headless.org and click on the experiments (one is presented in the talk).
- There is foreground and background (figure ground) in representational two-dimensional art. In three-dimensional art, the sculpture is often all foreground, referring just to itself as an object (image 1, Ken Price sculpture). With the arising of site specific work in the 1960’s-70’s, artists started making objects that refer and belong to an actual background – where the object exposes something about the background, and the background exposes something about the object. This has been the strategy of much of my artwork (image 2, prepared floor crack, and 3, Migration Grid #26). In “Prepared Floor Crack, 1999”, the floor, which is normally background, becomes foreground. In “Migration Grid #26, 2006”, research found that Monarch butterflies migrate following invisible sky grids of UV light. This body of work imagines us being able to see these ephemeral forms, making something foreground that is so subtle of a background, we can’t even see it. This particular grid is site specific in that it is installed in the atrium of the School of Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine, where the research was conducted.
Migration Grid #26, 2006, 120” wide, porcelaneous stoneware, cables. The author.
We have foreground and background in our lives. My problems, where I am in the herd, cute girl/guy, are examples of usual foreground suspects. What happens when we pay attention to the “boring” background? Our breath, the quality of light in the room, the space behind you, the ringing in your ears? You can make the background foreground by asking, “What else is going on?” We realize two things by spending time with the background:
a. The background is not boring.
b. The importance of things (what’s considered foreground) recalibrates by itself. The itch in my foot and the sound in the hallway are both equally in the field of my experience, and instead of being a little separate discreet object in a big world, there is continuity. The background becomes a player, our world becomes larger.
- Notice you really have no idea what’s going to happen next. The uncertainty is astounding! Portland might have that overdue earthquake, you might get an idea that will set your artwork on fire for the next 10 years, you might get gas pains. We don’t even know what we’ll think next or where our attention will go! It all morphs, and it is all making itself up as it goes! Viscerally getting that you don’t know what will happen next is by definition endless curiosity, endless not knowing. And what does happen next is by definition ongoing discovering, ongoing revelation! Low grade most of the time albeit, but still discovery.
Another name for this lived sense of ongoing curiosity and discovery is a sense of wonder. Which is what this article is really about. I don’t start there, because we have nostalgic and perhaps clichéd ideas about what that is. It is more immediate and less tame than that.
*This article and talk is a brief composite of workshops, lectures, and book on art and perception that I put together during my sabbatical in 2015.
Stanton Hunter is a mid-career artist. Articles by and about him, and images of his work appear in numerous publications. He is an art professor (ceramics) at Chaffey College in California, and received his MFA from USC in 2000, where he was a T.A. for Ken Price. Find more information at http://artaxis.org/stanton-hunter/
- 1. Inez, 2010, fired and painted clay, 6.5” x 7.5” x 7.5”. Ken Price.
- 2. Prepared Floor Crack, 1999, gold leaf, cleaned floor crack, dimensions variable. The author.
- 3. Migration Grid #26, 2006, 120” wide, porcelaneous stoneware, cables. The author.
Shortly after the NCECA 2017 conference, “Future Flux” became “Past Flux”, I returned home and began editing conference sessions to post online. As I did this, I contemplated the 2017 “class” of emerging artists and all of their presentations. In the years past, NCECA has invited aspiring writers to select one of the emerging artists to write about. This serves as a great opportunity for young writers to practice their craft while also giving additional exposure to the young artists. (young used in both of these cases to mean within the study of the field, not in chronological age).
Although I don’t consider myself an author at all, young or otherwise, I was so moved by the events surrounding Judd Schiffman’s Emerging Artist presentation, that I really wanted to write this one myself. Knowing that I would be backed up by the excellent writing and editing skills of our Executive Director, Josh Green, (who did not edit me on THIS couple of paragraphs, by the way. I figured since it was just a couple of paragraphs I could swim solo. No commentary on the successfulness of that assessment, please) I was ready to sharpen my pencil and get cracking. But where to begin? I watched and edited his Saturday morning artist talk, but I felt like I really wanted to know more. So I sent him a list of questions to help guide my hand….
- How would you describe yourself?
- How would your wife describe you?
- When were you first introduced to ceramics and by whom?
Who are your ceramic influences?
Who are your personal mentors?
How does your background in the performing arts translate to your work as a visual artist?
What does “being creative” mean to you?
Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
What kind of creative patterns, routine or rituals do you have?
Which other creative medium would you like to pursue?
How do you know when you have found the appropriate way to express, investigate or explore a specific narrative?
What informs your work?
What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be creative?
What do you hope to impart to other emerging or “pre-emerging” artists?
Rather than write an article, Judd and I agreed that it would be more personal and interesting to simply share his response:
I was trying to answer some interview questions to put on the NCECA blog, and took a break to chat with my wife, Athena Witscher over Gmail. Here is the transcript of our conversation.
Athena Witscher What are you doing?
Judd Schiffman working on this interview for NCECA
AW what kinds of questions are they asking you?
JS how would you describe yourself? how would your wife describe you?
AW i would never describe you
JS hahahaha. that’s what I said.
AW but i know that you would love to describe yourself 🙂
JS hahahahaha. Only you know how vain I really am.
AW i don’t think i’m the only one
JS oh shit
AW why don’t you just describe yourself using only character references from brothers karamazov…wait she’s waking up
JS I don’t know any artist who isn’t vain…
I would like to think I am like Alyosha, but I am trying to accept the fact that I am more like Mitya.
AW don’t forget the little bit of Grigory’s servile demeanor mixed in
JS That’s you, not me
AW oh, right.
AW shit she’s up, maybe i can get her in the baby gym
JS my stomach doesn’t hurt so much, but still bothering me a little bit
AW that’s what you get for ordering take out. did you take a tums?
JS if you have to go let me know. no, I can’t take tums anymore, they are too played out
AW yeah i guess now it’s kind of a “thing”
AW rolaids maybe…next level
AW What’s the next question
JS It’s about my studio routines and practices
AW that’ll be about 10 pages long
AW move crystal here, move paintbrushes there, everyone quiet, get to work
JS Yes, everyone be quiet so I can think
AW exactly, and now you gotta add “change a diaper” in there
JS but seriously, what ARE my routines?
AW I guess, clean, organize, read, converse, make bad work, talk more, clean more, have a new idea, have new idea shot down by me, actually have a good idea, make it, done
JS yeah, that sounds about right
AW also eat salmon wraps for lunch everyday
JS Yes! and sometimes I lay on the floor and sometimes I throw erasers against the wall.
AW and other unmentionable things
JS many unmentionables
AW What is the interview for?
JS It is going to go on the blog with the video of my talk. I think they just want to know more about me
AW well if they watch the talk then they already know everything about your childhood i suppose
JS How I remember it, anyhow
AW I think it is kind of boring to hear all of the “facts” about people in interviews
JS I agree
AW I like that Robert Gober interview because, first of all he doesn’t even answer half of the questions and secondly he talks more about these weird intricacies of his work and spirituality in a totally interesting way
JS How do you write something that is interesting enough to catch people’s attention?
…I love that interview!
AW Right. It’s like when someone wants to tell you their dream and you are so uninterested because it really only applies to them and you didn’t get to experience it fully
I guess it would be better to tell a story that is more engaging
JS well, the weirdest thing about my work is that I actually go to the trouble of making it. Why the hell would anyone make a giant gefilte fish and then pair it with this really embarrassing story about their mother forcing them to eat the gefilte fish? Why would anyone make that, and then tell the story to over a thousand people?
AW because you like attention, aaaaand probably secretly love gefilte fish
JS So, like somebody else’s dream, why would that be interesting to anyone else? I know I like attention. I LOVE attention. I LOVE talking about all my psychological issues with anyone who will listen.
But I HONESTly think gefilte fish is disgusting and I can’t understand why anybody likes it
AW So, in a way, you think you are saving a lot of money by making art because then you don’t have to go to therapy…BUT, you are actually spending way more because making art is fucking expensive and I feel like you have been going on Home Depot shopping sprees every day lately
Maybe don’t do either then we will be rich
JS no, that’s not it at all. it’s not therapy
AW really? i find that a little hard to believe
JS it’s just taking something that I am familiar with and making art out of it
it’s an autobiography not a therapy session
AW it’s true and people are writing their autobiographies earlier and earlier in life these days
So in your interview, talk about something more interesting than yourself
do people find you interesting?
JS I think people are confused by me
AW me too
JS hahahaha, perfect match
AW hey, Your dad is calling
JS just checking in?
AW i don’t know what kinds of things people actually want to read
probably smut, celebrity memoirs, tinder conversations, and that’s about it
Every artist says they read theoretical shit but it’s only true 10% of the time. The other 90% they are watching netflix like everybody else. Speaking of which, I need to get back to watching OJ soon
if you would write your interview as a murder mystery, i would read it
JS no no no. it’s not a murder mystery. But there is a psychological darkness to it.
AW well it kind of is a mystery because of the letter you got
[After my talk in Portland, a neo-nazi sent an email to everyone on the board at NCECA chastising them for selecting me as an emerging artist, denying the Holocaust ever happened, and using anti-Semitic slogans like “Holohoax” and “power money jews”]
knock on wood. What does Belle say?
JS Kenahorah! Keep that evil eye away!
well i did think for a minute after I got that letter, that I was entering into some very intense territory, and that my work would end up with a large audience, but that it would all end tragically. hopefully nothing tragic happens.
I am not trying to convert neo Nazis. That’s not my goal.
AW it’s the beginning of a mystery, albeit not murder, but it’s a good start for a story
JS It’s very good source material for new work. And it confirms what I was saying in the talk about cruelty.
AW right, I think it’s a good thing that happened
JS Jerry Saltz said he does not think art can change the world
I agree. My work did not change the opinion of somebody who denies the Holocaust. Yet, I still think it is important for me to make it.
AW I can understand why he would say that but I think it’s really naive to assume that art hasn’t already changed the world significantly throughout history. It must be very incremental.
JS Hmmmm. Well, it changes me as i make it, and when I have a conversation with someone who is connecting to the things I make, I feel like a change is taking place.
AW You only think about yourself
JS lunch break is almost over,
i gotta stop thinking about myself and go mop the floor, I need to finish this interview
AW ok. make sure you talk about grandma belle a lot, it’ll be nice to look back on
you could submit the recorded interview you did with her when you were a little kid
JS that would be perfect. can you transcribe it?
AW remember she says those really beautiful lines about her village
JS sounds like she’s reading from a book but i think she wrote it, then read it aloud
maybe i could just send them the audio
AW they could overlay it on your talk
JS that would be ideal
AW but i actually don’t think she would like your work, she doesn’t really like jokes
JS it’s true. Jokes invite the evil eye. belle doesn’t like sarcasm or talking behind people’s backs
I guess this new sarcasm is actually just cynicism?
AW maybe you should be more light-hearted
in your work or softer…nah
JS no I think more seriously dark would be better
more like kiefer…more like Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker?
I think these new pieces….the big paws, are more like that
AW i liked seeing belle with frances the other day, she was so happy
JS me too, I have never seen her so alive, she loves babies
AW i love baby. our baby
JS me too…
but i think if we are going to look at the world in a rational, sober way, we have to be a bit cynical…….but everyone is also a bit insulated.
AW frances is sober. Maybe she’ll be stoic like everyone else in my family
JS she knows what love is
AW does she?
JS Yes, she gives it constantly
AW i guess now she does
she knows it in the pure way though, not too convoluted yet
i really want to know what she is dreaming about
when are they going to finally invent some kind of dream projector
JS maybe she is dreaming about what the world will look like in 40 years and how she will change it
AW Come on, no way i think its more just like psychedelic imagery
JS she could have a huge impact on the world
AW duh she is the next yoyoma
JS more mythological? like something out of depford trilogy? being in the cave
AW yes minus the saints
JS just being in the cave
AW in a cave, exactly
JS and being herself
AW what happens in that part of the book? he has to fight a bear or something?
JS There is some story about a bear in the cave
AW He’s freaking out
JS and he is crawling through and he hears the wind growling
and he thinks it is a bear and he shits himself
AW the manticore
JS there is some kind of ancient ceremonial site after he crawls through the narrow passage into an open room
AW That’s right. Thinks he is dying or dead but really just having the epiphany that allows him to live.
JS some kind of ancient bear rite of passage used to take place there
AW Such a good book
JS I listened to an alan watts talk this morning
JS because I wanted to remember what it feels like to have a clear mind…hahhahaha
AW i find it hard to relate to anyone who uses the dance metaphor
JS but he talks about the complete idiocy of the idea of an “I”
what dance metaphor?
AW like, life is a dance, join in. doesn’t he say something like that?
JS does he say that? Sounds good to me, what is the problem with that?
AW i’m just repelled by dance metaphors in general
JS but dancing is wonderful
AW it’s really not that simple
JS yes it is.
AW saying life is a dance implies that you have some kind of control and that it is rooted in joy
JS no no no that is not what he is saying at all
he says we don’t have any control
he says you can’t improve yourself, so why bother?
AW then it doesn’t really make sense, dance is voluntary and controlled
JS nothing new – agey makes sense. have you ever watched me dance to techno? i don’t have any control!
AW hhaha you dance the same way to every kind of music
JS not true
AW neck thrusts
JS i dance the craziest to techno
AW marching arms thing…knees up in rhythm
JS i was just going to say i always hurt my neck when i dance
AW i know. remember when you tweaked it doing karaoke to green day
JS well anyway, I like watts’ idea that there is no “I”
It’s just a societal construct and we all play along, get in the way or our selves
and think “I” is very important but it’s just some bullshit idea
because the universe is much more complex than that
AW try to explain that there is no I to everyone on instagram
AW but it’s a new era
JS no it’s not a new era. alan watts talks about identity, he talks about meditation and this idea that human beings are very caught up in their sense of self. Like, if you are a doctor, you identify with the idea of being a doctor and the same goes for being an artist.
AW but it is a new era in the sense that all those identifications are projected on social media for the world to see.
JS right and it’s just progressed to an insane degree of narcissism
AW and that has to be ok
JS why does it have to be ok?
AW It’s evolution
we are probably evolving into pod people because soon, that will be the only way we can exist
you evolve because you have to
JS Ok and we are leading the charge by having this conversation over gchat
Haha yeah and artists are the original pod people. Trying to be isolated, get away from everyone but communicating visually and in a way that requires no interaction on the human level
AW hey, yeah, everyone is an artist now
JS ok maybe not everyone on instagram is narcissistic, maybe the dalai lama is not
AW nope, you cant do that
JS do what?
AW if you say instagram makes everyone narcisistic
then it means everyone can’t make exceptions
do you think the dalai lama has never taken a selfie?
when he is alone in his room
he definitely has, then deleted it
JS hahahahahha, its so true. with his rolex
AW so you are gchatting with me aren’t you supposed to be working on your interview?
JS i think this gchat is going to make a better interview
AW you are going to have to edit the shit out of it
JS Scenes from a Marriage in the Age of Technology, Alright, I’ll be home in a few hours. seeya