Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Talk with Jason Hughes at The Library

Jason Hughes has been an artist and curator in Baltimore for over 13 years. He is the head exhibitions coordinator at School 33 and co-founder of The Library. He is represented by Curator's Office in Washington, DC.
interviewed by Rachel Sitkin

RS: Do you want to start by telling me a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, go to school, that stuff?

JH: I grew up in Jacksonville, FL and went to a magnet school down there. When I was 18 years old, just a couple of months after graduating I ran into a friend of mine, and he and some other members of my graduating class were moving to Baltimore to go to MICA. He told me he was moving up the next week and asked me if I wanted to go with him. So with three hundred bucks in my pocket I was like, “yes, yes! Yeah, sure let’s go!” I had been accepted but didn’t have enough scholarship money to afford to go so I ended up deferring my acceptance. I got a job the day I got here.

RS: Where were you working?

JH: Stocking shoes in a shoe store in the inner harbor (laughing) About two weeks after moving to Baltimore a space in the H&H warehouse opened up. I had a few friends that were living there and they asked me to fill in that vacancy- I moved into that space in September of 1996 and I was there until February 2008.

For the first five years we were converting the warehouse space into a gallery (Gallery Four) and some nice live/work spaces. One of our friends was working for the Smithsonian and they were closing one of their galleries for renovations. They were tossing all of their track lighting, so we were able to get that as a donation. And that really helped to elevate the quality and presentation of our exhibits.

As well those first five years I was working in museums or for a few different fabricators- Fandango and Center Stage. I was learning how to build, all the crafts and skills that I could apply to my artwork, all before I went to MICA. Then a friend of mine put me in touch with an art installer and I started doing work for the Contemporary Museum and the Historical Society, then got a job at the Walters as a cabinet-maker for their renovations.

And through all this we started realizing what a great potential we had with the warehouse space. We started applying everything we had learned to our approach for organizing exhibitions. We had a lot of respect for the artists that were in Baltimore, but we thought there wasn’t a lot of support for artists beyond MICA. There were a lot of artist run spaces but we wanted to take the professionalism up a notch- create a situation where people would seek us out. We had a 4500 sq. ft gallery to begin with, and we would concentrate our shows to only having 4-7 people and show enormous bodies of work instead of only a few pieces. We would completely alter the space for each show so it gave us a lot of versatility. So yeah, that was my first five years here and then in 2001 I finally started at MICA. I was a sculpture major and did an unofficial concentration in drawing and curatorial studies. In the fall of 2003 I did a semester at the New York studio center.

For my thesis show, in addition to showing my own work, I also curated a huge exhibit at the H & H, 2 floors, 9000 sq ft. of gallery space. Immediately following that show, January 2005, I had a studio visit with Andrea Polan at from Curator’s Office and she liked my work and put me in a show. A curator from the Yucatan saw the drawings I had in that show, kind of dreamscape architectural drawings that were drawn from memory. He asked me to go down there, so like 6 months out of undergrad I had an exhibition in the Yucatan. It was really amazing.

Then last year, after having been in Baltimore for 13 years, I was really trying to figure out what to do next. I was planning on moving to New York and then the opportunity to take over The Library came up. Fran (Franciska Farkas) and I learned about this space, and I was wanting to set up an artists’ residency for a while- so we saw the building and as soon as we saw it we really felt it had a lot of potential, but we couldn’t really afford it. We sent out an e-mail to about 40 people to see if they could help us get the money together to do the renovations and within 30 hours we had all the money raised.

RS: Wow! That’s fantastic!

JH: Yeah it was totally unexpected but that really got the ball rolling for us and within a couple of months we had our first exhibition.

Fran brought her yoga teaching practice here and she and her partner have a video production studio here and it gave me a space to put together some dynamic exhibitions. But just as we were getting it started I got the job as exhibitions coordinator at School 33. So it’s been a real balancing act this past year. We haven’t yet been able to do the residency thing yet.

And that brings us to today…

RS: Ok. Now that you’ve answered my first "five" questions… It seems that both your studio and curatorial practices tend to be socially critical. Can you speak about the specific issues that interest you and about what your goals are?

JH: Well, I think it’s always going to be evolving no matter what. I grew up questioning authority and wanting to do things my own way. My parents taught me that your thoughts shape your reality and that’s had a major impact on me. My practice is always rooted in perception, that’s always the underlying thing- your perception shapes how you experience things. And it results in a very formal sensibility.

You say it’s socially critical, I guess so. I began allowing my work to become more political after organizing Material Matters for Maryland Art Place’s 25th anniversary. I realized I was addressing all the things in that show that I try to address in my work but it had a much louder voice. The other artists were able to articulate similar ideas in ways that I never would have thought of or been brave enough to tackle. I realized that curating could be an extension of my own practice. I never want to force my opinions on others but I do want to open people’s eyes to other ways of seeing things.
Similarly, in recent years, I’ve really been inspired by the music of Fela Kuti, his ability to motivate and inspire people around him through his music, create change that way.

RS: So, are you’re talking about bringing to people’s awareness how we affect the world and how the world affects us in return, from a very personal intimate level to a more outward level? Maybe the mandalas are more on that personal introspective level and the currency specifically is more socially critical?

JH: Well the mandalas, the army men mandala and the camouflage mandalas were more about the idea of demons. The way that war manifests because we are at war with ourselves. The way we deal with our internal struggle on a personal level ripples out to the bigger picture. It is about a meditative transformative process, but how that affects everything around us.

With the currency work though it’s a little bit more conceptual and immediate. With money some people believe it’s the root of all evil, and some have said that it’s just a form of energy, an exchange you have with someone else. It something that moves through you- I’m leaning toward that idea a bit more. With the Police and Thieves piece, I shredded American currency and axis-of-evil currency and wove it together to create Chinese finger traps; they’re all intertwined. That’s the direction I’m moving in right now, the more political side of things. I’ve been really into the idea of disaster capitalism lately- it’s twisted.

RS: What are you working on right now?

JH: I bought all this really finely shredded currency from the Treasury; it’s like a novelty gift. I used to get in elementary school and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, but I didn’t really realize what I was looking at. It’s a really loaded medium though. I bought $10,000 in shredded money and I’m working on weaving 10,000 $1 bills back together.

RS: You’re making 10,000 individual bills?

JH: Well ultimately however many bills I can make out of it. So it’s a really heavy process oriented piece.

RS: It’s seems that over the range of work that you do, whether its drawing or sculpture or collage that craft is always meticulous. How do you personally feel about craft in your own work and how do look at it when you are curating other people’s work?

JH: For my own process it’s always about becoming a better craftsman. I think the craft always needs to match up with concept. Perception always comes before conception, and the look of it is the gateway to the audience. Curatorially, I have a lot of museum experience and I really appreciate that professional look. But some of my favorite artists are very crude in their art making- John Bock and Adrian Lohmuller. I really liked the immediacy of the Dadaists. There just has to be a balance between what you are trying to say and they way people perceive it.

RS: If you could visit the studio of any living artist who would it be?

JH: Oooh, that’s a tough one, maybe Bruce Nauman. He really had an impact on me.

RS: If you were me, which local artist would you interview next for this blog?

JH: Oh, Laure Drogul. I just saw her show at MICA and it was great.

RS: You’re the second person to say that so I guess I better look her up.

To see more:

No comments:

Post a Comment