Ceramic artist Jenni Ward talks about the inspiration for her sculpture, and putting together large-scale installations.
ABI: Tell us about your current direction.
JW: Currently, I have been working with clay to create modern abstract installations which are inspired by nature. Typically the installations are made up of many small forms that are arranged in engaging compositions and installed in either interior or exterior locations. I work in series that follow certain themes and concepts, each series explores all of the variables of those concepts from color and form to space and composition.
Artists are sometimes limited by their resources and those limitations change the way we create. In my case, I am limited on my kiln size based on the amount of power I have at my studio, so I can only build what will fit in the kiln which limits me to work small or build in parts. Building in parts allows for each piece to be unique and thoughtful while also contributing to the larger scale of the whole installation. This process also allows for me to use the same parts in a variety of formations which in turn gives the opportunity for the exploration of multiple perspectives.
My exterior installations, named ‘In the Field’ have explored this concept extensively. I started this style of working because I am inspired by forms in nature and I am working with a natural material so it only made sense to complete the circle by returning my finished work to the places where they were inspired from. I take the pieces into natural spaces, arrange them, photograph them and remove them. Sometimes the finished pieces are exhibited in a gallery setting alongside the photos. The results are engaging in a way that illuminates the pieces as well as the space they encompass.
ABI: Where do you find your inspiration?
JW: I am inspired by biological forms with a particular focus on structures and the inner workings of nature. I use that inspiration not to recreate an object but to create abstract interpretations of those structures and forms. My installations play with the connectivity of the form to its environment. As an artist, I think that it is important to saturate yourself in what inspires equal to the time spent creating in a studio space. I consider my time spent traveling the world, connecting to my environment and exploring way above and way below sea level an integral part of my work.
ABI: How are complex indoor installations accomplished?
JW: There is a lot of planning that goes into a multi-part installation and even with all of the planning you never really know what it will look like until it’s up. This can be very stressful! I usually start with basic sketches to play with the forms and the composition. This is also when I’m thinking about the concepts of the piece, what imagery it will conjure, what those images mean to me and might mean to the viewer.
At this point, I’m not thinking about the element of location, I’m making a piece that as a fine artist I think will be visually dynamic, conceptually intriguing and physically possible to do. Once all of these ideas have been sorted, I then know how the piece needs to be mounted, suspended or supported, what kind of mechanics or hardware I need for positioning and what type of space it will need to thrive.
I confess that I will continue to make the piece whether or not I have an actual space for it to go, I just hope that eventually I will find the perfect spot to install it. Next I start making a few test pieces. I play with textures, glazes and also play with hardware for the way the pieces will attach to whatever structure or space they are going into so they will be secure. When all the tests are done and final decisions have been made, I go into production mode making as many pieces as the installation requires. All the pieces are fired, glazed and then fired again. If I have a specific location for the piece to be installed, I visit the space, explore it from all angles, measure, measure again and measure again.
For my Hive Series installation at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, the piece was suspended in the center of an open stairwell. The piece was able to be viewed from below it, at each floor level as you walked the stairs, from above it and also from across the main floor atrium, so all of the measurements and placement had to be spot-on from each vantage point.
For this installation, I suspended 150 ceramic pieces on steel cables which were cut to the appropriate lengths for the space and attached to the structure the museum provided. It took two full days to install (and one hour to take down!) but all of the planning was worth it. I love making work like this because even with all the planning time there is still the element of surprise and wonder at seeing it all finally come together.
Photo credit: Paul Titangos and Jenni Ward