Piano Print, 2010. Photo courtesy of the artist and Laurel Gitlen, New York.
In Hutchins’ home, the family piano provides both a literal and figurative rhythm to daily life. Transformed from a worn instrument into a body of artwork, the piano inspires a series of woodcut and collaged prints, forms the basis of a sculptural work, and serves as the set for a family and friends music video jam to the song Children of the Sunshine. In Hutchins’ hands, domestic routines and objects blend with empathic and amorphous ceramic forms to stage abstract, yet resolutely human scenes.
Kristan Kennedy: When we last met you talked to me about your frustration with people who dismiss religious zealots, cult leaders, and other visionaries. You likened them to artists in their steadfast beliefs, especially as their ideas relate to the immaterial having value. In relation to this discussion, what makes your art important? Why is it worth defending, pursuing, and believing in?
Jessica Jackson Hutchins: My work is of the utmost importance to me and, by extension, to those right around me whom I directly affect. But I think it is better left to others to evaluate the kind of importance I think you are referring to; that [importance] would be contingent and whimsical and according to politics and the times. It also is not at all how I am inspired or driven to make [my work]. I wouldn’t even know how to evaluate what I think is important art for right now. That kind of ideological insistence doesn’t actually interest me very much in art (unless it is really well done, of which I can’t think of an example right now; maybe Guernica?).
I don’t think I meant zealots or cult leaders for whom it is crucial to control the beliefs of others, whose power derives from their belief that they are right and others are wrong. I think that is really unethical in life and boring in art, mostly.
I think I was trying to speak to or about the more private aspects of faith and commitment to something outside oneself that doesn’t engage a straightforward exchange in our society. A commitment that requires some hermeticism and study for its own sake, to nurture a kind of calling.
KK: You have been sourcing furniture and other domestic items from your own home, from the street, and from other locations. What is it about the stuff we live with that you are attracted to? When do you decide something should leave your home and exist in the studio?
JJH: I have always made my art from the stuff in the room—unremarkable, familiar stuff—so that the process of making meaning is emphasized, rather than just the finished product. I can create meaning just by rearranging things that were already around. This process is not extraordinary or exceptional, but quite essential to daily life, much like a chair is. [This method] can also communicate a “by-anymeans-necessary” urgency or a kind of punk ethic.
KK: Are your vessels replacements for humans? They have anthropomorphic qualities and slump and rest and recline like we do, yet they also feel like architecture—a structure to things, or like landscape, lumps of earth interacting with rigid forms.
JJH: Yes, they are all of those things simultaneously.
KK: One of my favorite pieces of yours is a video called simply, Plant Tour, a first person wandering from the inside of your home to the garden. There is something so immediate about it, so familiar and strange; you reveal so much about your personal life in your work: we see your children, your husband, your home, we hear your wit and learn of your triumphs and trials. What is the role of the personal in your work? How much is too much to share?
JJH: I think, these days, the personal is coming front-and-center quite intentionally [in my work]. It seems like there has been some sort of crisis of content in art. No one could handle just having straightforward subject matter, as though somehow that is too vulnerable, or not ‘important’ or cool enough (thus the ubiquity of critical distance and ideologies and little tricks of abstraction to hide subject matter). So I am just going for it: no postures or pretensions. Pictures of my kids and real unremarkable moments are forefront.
I have also been working in and around allegory for the last decade and have always wanted to ground the more hermetic transcendental moments with real acute specificity, as if to say each is a vehicle for the other. I just made a big sculpture which is just ‘SM,’ my husband’s initials. Maybe this and the pictures of the kids are perhaps so over-the-top that I hope the idea of subject matter is also made subject.
Hutchins is represented by Laurel Gitlen/Small A Projects in New York.
This conversation was excerpted from a collection of interviews published on the occasion of Human Being, a series of exhibitions, installations, and happenings curated by Kristan Kennedy, for PICA’s 2010 Time-Based Art Festival. You can download a PDF of the full ON SIGHT catalogue here, or pick up a hard copy at the Washington High School galleries (through October 17), or at the PICA Resource Room.