What role does history play in your work?
History is very important to me and to my work. For the last couple years I have been working with imagery specific to Sarasota, which carries a lot of history in it from the last hundred years or so. Many of the houses I draw were built during the 1920s and some have been moved to their current locations. Others are newer, and in the lower income neighborhoods it’s actually the newer buildings that tend to be in worse condition. The historic homes have been renovated and are being taken care of. The neighborhoods themselves contain a lot of historical information as well. The neighborhood that I live in now was originally an African American community but through planned gentrification, implemented in the early 20th century, most residents were encouraged (or forced) to move to a neighborhood just to the north so that early developers of downtown Sarasota could own the property. Even though that happened almost a hundred years ago, the effects of actions like these are still very visible throughout the urban landscape.
Another project I’m working on now involves the Sarasota Herald Tribune, dating back to its inception in 1925. I’m working with only the front page of the paper so its terribly interesting to see what issues were addressed outright during which decades, while others kept to the inside pages. This of course changes throughout the life of this newspaper, which not only reflects historical events, but also a collective attitude and understanding about what events are considered to be noteworthy.
Are there any features of your work that are discomforting, for yourself or your viewer?
I don’t know that my work has any real physical attributes that make it discomforting. Florida colors, architecture and art are a large influence on my color choices in drawings and paintings. Viewers tend to respond positively to them probably because they’re so bright and cheery looking. I am however very interested in local economic inequality, racial divides, and social injustice, so I think this type of conversation can sometimes cause discomfort, especially within a circle which can not recognize their own involvement with these issues.
What aspects of contemporary art would you change, if you could?
I would like more experimentation. Specifically, I’d like to see more experimentation in curatorial endeavors. I think many artists have so much more to say than maybe a painting on a wall, and even if they don’t consider themselves performance artists, the way we show our work could be more inclusive, more interactive, and with more public discourse. I think that conversation is vital to growth, and to make it public only encourages more exchanges. Although this can be followed through online forums easily, I think it is more difficult to instigate this on a smaller scale. I would like to go to a show where groups of people argue about the work for a while, and the guests are encouraged to participate, or guests are invited to a sleep over in the gallery, or there are movie screenings chosen by the artists to compliment the work. I am aware that these types of things are easier to come by in larger cities, so I suppose that the fact that I’ve been working in Sarasota exclusively for the last couple of years influences this answer. Also, more fun!
How did you arrive at the structure of your work?
Collage is a large part of my practice. I like to cut and paste information. I usually take a certain visual element that I’m working with and turn it into multiple different forms before settling on it being a drawing, photograph, or a video, etc. Mostly my final product isn’t a collage at all, but the technique helps me a lot. But this is a difficult question for me because I’m constantly changing my outcomes. Self-investigation and research always allow me to arrive somewhere, usually to more questions, and I think this goes for many artists, but mediums and structures change and evolve depending on where I am.
What does it mean to you to be an artist living and working in Sarasota, FL?
Well, I think I have touched on this in some previous answers. I also think it is a challenge to work as an artist in Sarasota, especially an emerging artist. As Sarasota lacks any real infrastructure for contemporary artists, you find yourself needing to create your own opportunities, which can be taxing, and take you away from your studio practice. On the other hand though, I know that a lot of my friends have benefited by this (myself included) in that they were able to organize really new and nontraditional events themselves because no one else was really doing it. This provides such an incredible learning experience where you are really able to see firsthand what works, what doesn’t work, and get new ideas in the process.
How do you see the societal role of the artist evolving?
I would like to see it evolve into a position that is more highly respected. I hope that it does. Artists have a unique role in that they are able to function inside of various cultural systems but also place themselves on the outside. I mean, artists have a very powerful opportunity to allow people to see, and the lens through which they create work doesn’t have to be their own. Artists can change how we look at each other; they can address or transcend stereotypes. In fact I would like to see more artists providing a utopian view of what we as a community, nation, or global society could have.
One of the most complicated aspects of being an art maker is the “Life Work” balance: making important decisions on when to start and when to stop and where to separate things. Do you have any advice for other artists, based on your own methodology, on how to balance a life’s work?
I know that this is different for everyone, but I find that when I have an idea, I need to begin immediately. I can sometimes finish a piece internally, critique it, and move on before it actually comes to life. When this happens I know I’m really missing out on an important experience in my process.
I know artists that can work on something for weeks or months on paper before building it or actually making anything, and I am just not this way. I have a cheap studio away from my home that is sometimes easy to avoid, but when I’m there, I’m only working on what I want. No distractions. I heard an artist talk once about putting a punch time-card in his studio so that he could track his hours, or moving his coffee maker into the studio to force himself to go into it. I don’t do this, but it could be helpful to someone.
This is something that I really struggle with though, I usually end up feeling very stressed, very inadequate, and then just get knots in my stomach until I finish something. So I guess my advice is … try to avoid stress?
How important do you think authority is in contemporary art now?
Fabricated or undeserved authority is dangerous and can prevent innovation. Sharing, taking, and giving are really important exchanges in contemporary art.
For more information on the artist, please visit jennugent.com.
You can also read submissions that Jen has contributed to Sarasota Visual Art;
Interview with Ann Albritton by Jen Nugent – http://bit.ly/tG90Op
I didn’t die today- in fact, most days I’m not in any immediate danger. 300 Words By Jen Nugent – http://bit.ly/rEwGzC