New Exhibit | Pushing Forward the Department of Visual Arts by Jacob Foran

On October 13th, our team of colleagues in the Visual Arts Department at Lakeside Upper School celebrated the first faculty exhibition in recent history.  After last year's visit from an outside consultant named Kim Sheridan (who strongly values visibility within the context of arts education), we decided to push forward by kicking the academic year off with a display of our own accomplishments as practicing artists.  Along with the polish, we also opened up with a bit of vulnerability, revealing to our students that we too face the gritty hurdles, challenges, and struggles that emerge throughout making an exhibition.  From collaborating with each other on staging the exhibit, to decision making of aesthetics, to drafting, editing, and rewriting artist statements, we showed it —after all, process is at the forefront of our everything in this profession. 

At Lakeside, we have a dynamic Visual Arts program that offers 9th-12th grade students the opportunity to explore up to 4-year tracks in Sculpture, Ceramics, Drawing & Painting, and Photography.  Students who fall in love with a specific medium and choose to take our advanced courses must produce a culminating exhibition prior to graduating.  While I’m clearly energetic about what our students accomplish, I’ve heard many guest artists compare our high school juniors and seniors to BFA college students.  It is no surprise coming from an esteemed private school that our kids are bright, motivated, and have multiple talents.  But what I love most about our arts program is that: 1) students develop a distinctive visual vocabulary and they build the chops to articulate their ideas. 2) Our students learn to ask really good questions, and in the best scenarios they learn to think like artists. The mindset.

The word creativity is at the forefront of almost all dialogue in higher education.  How does it happen?  Can you teach it?  Where does it come from?  While I have spent much of my early teaching career researching, exploring, and probing at these questions—and essentially being energized by them—it is quite difficult to articulate definitive answers. Yes you can teach how to access creativity.  It happens best in a studio environment where making is at the forefront.  What I also know is that building a faculty of educators who truly and deeply know creative process yields unbelievable student growth.  I love teaching, but I especially love working with my inspiring colleagues.   Putting together the first version of the Lakeside Faculty Exhibition has been nothing short of positive. It is just one new exhibit, but a big step in pushing forward the Department of Visual Arts. 

Jacob Foran "Fragments" at ArtScape 2015 by Jacob Foran

A few months back during an opening reception at my former gallery space at Seattle Design Center, I met an interesting man named David Francis who threw an idea by me that has since held my curiosity.  I learned that David is an archeologist by training with an MFA and a PHD in Poetics and Critical Theory.  He is also a glass artist and enthusiast, and the former curator for the Tacoma Glass Museum.  Now, his mission is based in activating spaces in interurban and park settings in the north Seattle Area.  With much less than a hefty budget to work with, he seemed a little hesitant to ask but passionate about the idea of working with me on a small public art project.  “Which family of work?” I asked him.  “The biggest one, the submarine.”  While open minded and instantly respectful of his boldness, I still have hopes of landing my 20ft ceramic submarine in a museum someday, I still like it a lot. So while my answer to that was, hell no, not yet, I shot back with a project that’s been in my mind for about two years since beginning a body of work at California State Long Beach University while a guest artist in residence in summer 2013.

A part of my studio mind is preoccupied with the concept of fragmentation.  Another part of my brain is fascinated with how we construct and perceive time.  Yet another part of my head contains a bank full of imagery of human statuary, art history, architecture and modern art, which I have acquired and embedded in my space of memory through an ongoing pursuit of learning about the past.  Clearly it is a part of my vocabulary.  From the onset, I’ve contextualized my own work within the framework of figurative sculpture, but never public art (not that the two are mutually exclusive).  Until I saw images of the work of Jason Decaires Taylor, who has cast concrete figures and placed them at the bottom of the ocean floor to live and evolve below the surface.

Work by Jason Decaires Taylor

Work by Jason Decaires Taylor

Peter Olsen, gallery director of Yama Project, writes: “When one visits a museum to look at ancient statuary, we are often searching for what a culture meant or wanted to be remembered for.  The way that sculptors treated the figure was meant to give a key to the religious, political or aesthetic ideals of whoever could afford to pay the artist.  Jacob Foran’s recent body of work alludes to those past cultures and monuments.  The faded and stoic figures suggest something that has been lost; a vague remembrance of something with no particular dogma attached.  ‘Remnant’ is a word that he uses.  Torn from their context, these remnants become a sort of blank screen to impose ideas of meaning and purpose onto.  They raise more questions than they answer.  Their power lies in that function.” 

 A dozen of these works were exhibited with Yama Project during a solo show in Seattle last fall and one piece from the series is currently being exhibited at the Fuller Craft Museum's "Continuum of Innovation." While up to this point i have been quite fortunate to find early career opportunities and avoid the pigeonholes that surround 'ceramics' in 'artworld.'  Although my shifting of aesthetic sensibilities and broad range of conceptual territory from one body of work to the next has left most commercial galleries that I have worked with questioning my next move.  It is becoming easier now to realize that the nature of my studio practice and my gigantic impulse for making work will yield some ideas that are best suited for alternative venues outside of the traditional gallery platform.   

So this is where David comes into play.  Our interests have come together and we have launched a small scale public artwork in conjunction with the City of Shorline's ArtScape 2015.  A series of 4  "Fragments" will be up for the duration of 1 year in various locations in North Seattle. Beginning on August 6th, we will have installed the works somewhere in the 17500 Block Midvale Avenue North, between Aurora Avenue and Midvale.  If you know Aurora Ave, you understand that this project is prone to the unexpected.

In many ways, my project is a social experiment as much any public art as we know it— if it is a display of figuration, they are just as much modern artifacts with nowhere else to go.  Right now I am simply curious to see what happens over an extended period of time if we place these monument-like sculptures into a volatile, interurban space.   While the forms are durable enough to endure the wear and tear of the elements, they are fragile enough to record a history of marks such as graffiti, vandalism, or physical change made by people. It is easy for my imagination to paint the raw and clean surfaces with mold, color, and vine growth, and perhaps they will to encounter tagging and more violent moments-- breakages of appendages or disappearance.   

In the end, I plan to re-exhibit whatever is left of these objects in a museum-like context where we are able to examine the parallels between ancient and modern.  For now, they are half buried two miles from my studio in the north Seattle area waiting for time to play its part. 

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