Filed under: In the Studio, Los Angeles | Tags: 73, Ellen C. Caldwell, Ellen Caldwell, jen pack, Los Angeles, NAP, NAP 73, pack, Q&A, studio
Jen Pack (NAP #73) deconstructs, reconstructs, sews, and stretches fabric onto frames and into large masses in a way that creates something at once familiar and yet also new. Her works resonate with viewers and remind them of a variety of other arts and images, creating a kind of cyclical “trialogue” – a dialogue between artist, art, viewer, and back.
From her nuanced and detailed stretched chiffon pieces to her large installation work with kite-like nylon, Pack’s work is both moving and provoking, aesthetically and mentally. – Ellen Caldwell, LA Contributor
EC: It is incredible how you are able to work textiles onto wood frames, yielding an end result that looks like a tactile, woven fabric. In pieces like “Scrap 1” and “Scrap 2,” your work really reminds me of woven kente cloth from Ghana. Have you heard that before?
JP: I have heard that before and I actually was commissioned to complete a piece for the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, partly because of the visual relationship of my work to kente cloth. I do enjoy the link of my work to cultural textile arts – I have also been told that certain pieces ‘look Mexican’, and others seem to reference Korean hanbok dresses. What I find interesting about this is that the viewer is operating out of their own worldview and perceptions of textiles and color associations while looking at the work. This is pretty fascinating to me even though it isn’t the origin or basis for me creating the work.
Colors are interactive with each other as much as people are with each other and with whatever work they are viewing; it’s like the process isn’t complete until someone is viewing and impacted by the work, and each person brings their own worldview, biases, and perceptions to the piece they are looking at.
EC: I really like thinking about that interplay you mentioned – it is especially interesting to me because of the history of kente cloth itself…Asante weavers in Ghana started deconstructing Chinese silk, re-dying it with much brighter, vibrant colors, and then weaving it into these 3-inch wide strips which were then sewn together to make clothing. It is a very distinct example of cultural hybridity—and it really seems fitting the way in which you say that viewers see your work and imbue or re-imbue it with different meanings and interpretations.
JP: I love learning this about kente cloth! I think all cultures are continually appropriating and fusing aspects from different cultures, it is inevitable and hybridization occurs everywhere we turn at this point. It is something that interests me to no end because of my own heritage (Korean Caucasian) and what I think of as my own subtle version of ‘in-betweenness’ when it comes to expressing gender norms. I think of the work as collages rather than creations, because the fabric is already speaking while I’m using it, it already has a voice I’m just letting it sing.
I like thinking about this stuff in terms of fabric because it is woven, and the thought of interweaving contrasting aspects of cultures, or normative views, or whatever into art is intrinsic when you are dealing with fabric. It’s already part of the make-up of the material, so it seems to happen naturally. It’s like the best metaphor ever, for taking small distinct pieces, reordering or fusing them, and they become this whole new thing based on their new orientation to each other, even though each small bit still has its own integrity.
EC: And then in “Transformer 1” and “Transformer 2,” you work with much more delicate fibers on frames, that really recount the passage of time transformative time to me. Does this ring true to you? How did you choose these moments?
JP: The interesting thing about these works is that it is the same materials as any of the other works, just presented differently. I like the idea of the viewer being involved in the work, and actually being able to transform them. This definitely references time as the pieces could look different at any given time depending on the way they are set up. I also like the idea of accumulation as a driving force, meaning that the pieces sort of ‘grow’ into being as I am working on them since they are often made of small parts stitched together, or many stitches layered across a surface. Growth takes time as well. And to be honest I am never sure if a piece will be successful until it has been stretched on the frame. It’s not really what it’s about, although it’s great when it works out! I like the repetition and the routine of making the work. When it gets on the frame, it’s almost like they take on a life of their own, they sort of explode into being, and it has nothing to do with me as the maker.
The frames came about because I wanted the fabric to be stretched taut so that light could fall through the pieces with maximum effect. I wanted to control the light and shadow play, and stretching over frames allows for eliminating wrinkles and creating presence. I wanted the pieces to be present, take up space, stand up, rather than be willowy or drapey. I guess I wanted to use the aspects of the fabric that I liked (light, translucency, color), but not be limited by the physicality of fabric being limp, foldable, or drapey.
EC: That’s fascinating that these are all made from the same materials, yet share such a completely different look and feel. What about your installation “Babel Shield”? How did you make the move into such a large installation piece?
JP: I am really interested in moving into large works in public spaces; it’s the direction I want to go in. I want to create structures, and ‘Babel Shield’ was a first attempt I suppose. I would rather the work not be limited by walls or gallery spaces, and I want it to be more immediately interactive with the viewer and more accessible to an audience. I did piece together and stitch the entirety of ‘Babel Shield’. As I said, I really enjoy the repetitive process of making and seeing the piece build on itself and grow.
EC: Clearly the language aspect recalled in the title “Babel Shield” makes the noise the work produces that is captured in the video pivotal. I find it really fascinating… Did you foresee the actual installation as being the place to experience this art or did you picture the end product as the video itself?
JP: The installation was definitely the end result, and the video was really a very pleasant fluke. I like that the viewer could walk around, under, look up, sideways, and otherwise choose their viewing/interacting point of the installation. It was layered visually, there was nice sound, the colors were bleeding and bending and talking to each other. The video is a more controlled perspective…it’s a nice one and it’s the view you’d get if you stood under the piece and looked up the length of it. I recorded it because it was an interesting point of interaction, so I felt like it was important to document. I also like that it has become it’s own work in a way.
The title ‘Babel Shield’ is funny because it took on a life of it’s own, as the piece really had it’s own auditory contribution! I think of the structures (which I’m hoping to build and install more of) as enclosures, safety points, small shelters, and I like the contrast this perception has with the fact that in reality they really don’t offer all that much protection. This one was built as a visual sound deflector (which makes no sense but I like the idea of it), a way to shield off being bombarded by noise. It obviously offers no protection from noise, but it is a shelter all the same, maybe just a mental one, from being bombarded by noise and angst from daily life. That’s why I was really pleased when the work actually created it’s own sound – but it is a calming sound, one that is reactive to the elements and isn’t jarring or overpowering. I actually found it very soothing, and hoped that the audience did as well.
To see more of Pack’s work, you can visit JenPack.com.
Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.
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