Artist of the Week

Jess Hirsch

February 21, 2011

Jess Hirsch currently lives in Minneapolis and is pursuing her MFA at the University of Minnesota.  She is co-founder of Homeschool, a nomadic art shop based in Portland, Oregon.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Here are some facts that are probably not helpful, but might be interesting to know. My zodiac sign is Aquarius. My two middle toes are slightly webbed. I had dreadlocks for 4 years. I am into New Age healing, but hate how it is designed and marketed. I have a Boston Terrier named Scout who is the light of my life. I like to bake bread and bicycle, but I am not hardcore about either.  Currently I am enrolled in the University of Minnesota MFA program. I just moved to Minnesota this summer. I was living in Portland Oregon for 7 years prior, which was beautiful, comfortable, and frustrating. Portland is where I grew up as an artist, which could not be better for someone who is starting off. It is what I imagine being home schooled would be like. Everyone supports what you are doing no matter what it is, just like a parent.  Minneapolis is great. A little bit more competitive. A little more in touch with reality. Portland really is a utopia (ref. Portlandia for a proper understanding).

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I tend to use found material, specifically furniture. Things I pick up while walking my dog, but occasionally I go hunting at thrift stores. I let the material speak to me. Normally an object will inspire something specific. With the two wool blankets, I bought them at the same time and knew they must be married in some way. It was natural to weave them together in a friendship bracelet.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work? When the viewer walks away, I want him/her to be changed. I know it is completely idealistic, but I want the world to look a little bit different. I want the viewer to see the invisible and to at least ponder the possibility of the mundane. In a perfect world, I would want the viewer to go home, grab the cushions of his sofa, close his eyes, and squeeze the life into that object rather than sit predictably on top while watching TV.  In Allan Kaprow’s essay “The Real Experiment” he closes with some suggestions, one being, “Suppose you offer to sweep a friend’s house, and then spread the gathered dust through your own place – you might learn something about friendship.” Immediately after reading this I swept my home looking for clues about my own existence. If I could initiate that type of action then my work is worthwhile.

How has living in Minneapolis affected your art practice? Moving to Minneapolis has greatly affected my work in a number of ways. First, having a studio where I can work more large scale and hoard material has helped to expand my work. Second, having access to more equipment like video editing programs, laser cutters, and a table saw has made life easier. If anything I have been more stimulated here with possibility. Lastly, I have more time to focus on the work since I am not trying to balance a day job. Of course that is primarily due to the MFA program.   In terms of Minneapolis as a city changing my work, I would say the climate has had the biggest effect.  I started working with wool for warmth, playing with static electricity and acrylic sweaters because of the dryness of the air, and photographing snow. Some of it feels like midwestern art, but it is helping me to adjust to the winter at least.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I have an ongoing project called Folk Feng Shui. Essentially I go inside someone’s house and reorganize their furniture into multiple sculpture interventions until the objects appear as formal structures…transcending into the value of the art object. This plays off the general idea behind traditional Feng Shui and Duchamp’s readymade. I am investigating whether these sculpture interventions successfully demonstrate art’s value or show it’s falsehood. Still no answers yet.  Another project I have been developing is Hair Sculpture. In this project I make temporary sculptures with the viewer’s hair. I like providing a unique experience for a single individual and also blur the lines between the art object and viewer. I have been cutting/styling hair since I was 14 and always loved the intimate relationship established through providing this specific service. Barbers provide an outlet for confession, therapy, and advice despite the fact that no prior relationship has been established. Just by touching someone’s hair you instantly establish trust. It’s amazing.

What artists are you interested in right now? Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, Janine Antoni, Rachel Harrison, Marina Abramovic, Erwin Wurm, Teresa Margolles, Christian Jankowski, Robbinschild, Gabriel Orozco, Mika Rottenberg.

Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why?—friend in Portland that takes the most beautiful photos on the planet. Keeps me connected to the northwest.—design/art/culture goodness. Top of the line posting. for Louis CK.

If you hadn’t become an artist, what do you think you’d be doing? Beautician during the winter, farmer during the summer.

What are you really excited about right now? Weaving, vermiculture, plant filtration, levitation, static electricity, Buckminster Fuller, Podcasts (dinner party download, the moth, stuff you should know, and radio lab) and meteors.

What are your plans for the next year? Next year feels far away so I will let you know what is happening this summer. I am spending 3 weeks in NYC in conjunction with the U of M’s May survey class. In July I am headed to Portland for a lecture/demonstration on Hair Sculpture at Nationale (a great gallery run by May Juliette Barruel) + a collaboration with Glitterheart Productions headed by Emma Lipp. The show is based on the Badlands and will also be exhibited at Nationale. In August, I am heading to North Carolina for a residency at Elsewhere Collaborative. Elsewhere describes itself as a living museum. It is a converted thrift store that hosts 35 residents every year to make installations and organize projects within their space. I am very happy to attend since thrifting is my favorite pastime.