Thursday, June 19, 2008

Studio Visit 2008: Jennifer Bowes, Grande Prairie and Banff

Image credit (Left): "Cradled Silence," Jennifer Bowes

Bits of knotted yarn, bags, some pressed in ink, cut into bits and fringes, along with a traditional spinning loom, lie scattered in one room. Down the hall there is the indefinable smell of clay, as a life size head sits wrapped in wet burlap and a row of a dozen and more smaller porcelain heads, each with two distinct faces, line the length of the windowsill. The adjacent room holds old paintings and drawings from yesteryears, and downstairs, the kitchen table/work table is covered with small figurines in midst of formation, a project and correspondence with Eric Cameron unfolds, and meticulous sketches look on from every available table surface possible. Freshly made venison stock is simmering on the stove and an apple pie made from scratch is prepared in no time. A rope of knotted plastic bags stretches five feet from the kitchen counter to the table, and Jennifer Bowes has been up for hours working away on seemingly everything.

Image credit (Right): Detail of Woven knots

Staying with Bowes during my community visit in Grande Prairie, I was exposed first hand to the obsessive compulsive nature of the active artist. Keeping her hands perpetually busy should come as no surprise, especially after being in awe of Bowe’s “Suspended” during the 2007 Alberta Biennial. In appearance from a distance, “Suspended” at first appears to be an enormous knitted garment, whole in form, but pale and abstract; but getting up close, you stare in wonder at the thousands of strips of shredded text, mostly still in full sentences, making up this billowing colossal malleable mass. Meticulously cutting and reconfiguring the paper body of a book, ten books to be exact, into something resembling more of an oriole’s nest than an object of literature, Bowes’ work remains in contention between the arbitrary contexts of texture and craft art.

Image credit (Left): "Suspended," Jennifer Bowes, 2007

Starting out in drawing, then printmaking, Bowes was first renowned as a figurative painter. It was in Italy where the texture of wall reliefs and the wear of age in buildings struck her, urging the contemplation of endured space and the inbetween distance and time passed between the act of making and that of reacting. This contemplation would inform her work for her MFA exhibit, “The Dream of Scipio,” a book of over 100 pages where each line of text was double stitched in white thread rendering it illegible. Taking over 600 hours to complete, the book becomes heavily texturized, proposing an aerial view point if not a tactile one, re-inscribing the act of reading and interpretating with our hands more than our minds. The sense of touch triggers points of memory, prompting another entry point into the text beyond the hermeneutical. Bowes sees her work as a colloboration with the writer, imposing a silence to the words that can now be accessed haptically.

Image credit (Right): Detail from "Suspended"

Her imposition on mundane objects often results in textured works of tantamount time. From knotted rubber gloves colle printed and embossed to her latest series of individually carved double sided heads, there is a circular passage of time revealed and collapsed. Visiting Bowes again during her residency in Banff a few months later, everything seen scattered in her Grande Prairie home has been packed up and relocated to her studio in the ceramics department. The focus has considerably shifted into the completion of 200 carved porcelain heads and 400 individual faces. A return to figurative, the idea of the double sided heads came from an Italian window shutter that had handles with one female head diagonally flipping into one male head. Functional, yet ornamental, the heads are taking on a new direction after being glazed and fired in the Raku kiln where veins now appear. With slight variation, each seemingly repetitive motion--whether in knotting, knitting, or carving--is in fact a new point of connection. Bowes references her method of working as influenced from the motions in walking and hiking, a perpetual repetition and rhythm of breathing. Citing walking as the best training possible, especially to the top of a mountain, the metaphor is apt in capturing the relation to her own art objects; where from a distance the mountain as object is desired, and with each step taken and each moment passed, the process leading you to the mountain creates a very different connection and understanding of the mountain and the experience of that object. Driven by the pure pursuit of reaching her own individual limit, Bowes’ art work offers dual points of contemplation and understanding in past as also in present.

Studio visited March 23 (Grande Prairie) and June 13 (Banff), 2008

All images courtesy of the Artist.

No comments: