BROOKLYN, New York — Our favorite line about Elizabeth Jaeger (b. 1988) is that she creates spaces that “exude a sense of unease, where something unidentifiable has gone wrong and an unspecified narrative remains elusive.” That description, from her biography with the Jack Hanley Gallery, evokes so much. It’s a cleverly sinister place to work from, confusion and stress rising in the viewer as they try to determine what, if any, threat remains.
Above image: Elizabeth Jaeger, Zucchini, 2014, ceramic, 14 x 14 x 3 inches. Photographs courtesy of the Jack Hanley Gallery.
We like that one can turn a corner in an exhibition like Six-Thirty (New York City, October 10 – November 9, 2014) and be confronted by a group of dogs. Not vicious dogs!— but scared ones, ones that stare at the viewer with wide, alert eyes. Something happened to spook the dogs. You as the viewer are the likely cause of that, but you have no idea what you did.
The effect of these leaves one craving more information, so it’s fortunate that Jaeger is so open to discussing these uncomfortable moments she sculpts. Shortly before her exhibition of Six-Thirty, her first solo show at the Hanley gallery, Jaeger spoke to Jarrett Earnest of The Brooklyn Rail. Prior to this exhibition Jaeger was known for her sculptures of the human figure that were sometimes erotically charged. She was transitioning to somewhere new at the time of this interview. She was moving toward sculptures that, while aware of the physicality of the human body, weren’t explicitly representative of that. Jaeger discussed that, along with the ways she explored this idea, a task that sometimes led her to places as uncomfortable as anything she sculpts. We’ve copied portions of the interview below. Click here to read the full one. Some of the images are from Six-Thirty while others are of different works displayed through Jack Hanley.
Jaeger: I let this artist photograph me as a favor and the image ended up completely different than how he presented his idea to me. After seeing the image, I told him that I was uncomfortable with it and would prefer he didn’t use it. He basically told me to fuck off, posted it online, and then tried to pull this bullshit that I implicitly agreed to his rights to the image in that I posed for the photograph. Douche-alert!—and false. So the sculpture (Serving Vessels, 2013) came out of a of no, actually fuck you feeling. I’m going to take your misogynist photograph of me, reclaim it, and make it a layered piece, which is exactly what I did. It’s a self-portrait but via the lens of an asshole.
Jaeger: … I got into modeling as an experiment as I was making the first set of figures. The figures were about the performance of the photograph—how women contort their bodies into arbitrary directions for what looks “good” in an image. I then found an agency and went for it. The agency told me to lose 10 pounds and I just said, “Yes, I’m going to lose 10 pounds in one month and see what that is like.” I’ve never dieted before or since, but I did it. I only ate raw veggies, freaked out my friends, flew to New York, met with all the agencies, was rained on, got the flu, thought I was dying, quit, ate some bagels, and kept making work. It hit a nerve because it robbed me of my agency, where I’ve been consciously choosing topics I’m working through and seek out experiences that could potentially inform my work.
Rail: How did you start making the dog (sculptures)?
Jaeger: I was really thinking about what it feels like to read the news; I felt so helpless and guilty and these horrible things are happening and I’m not doing anything. I’m not sure I actually want to, and I don’t know how. Once as a teen I blew up at my mother and our family dog puked: reading the news felt like being that domesticated dog—“whoa, horrible conflict; damn, so nauseous now.” Where you’re helpless and waiting for someone to tell you what’s right, but you don’t know who it is and you’re just stuck in the reality that you’re in.
Rail: The breed of dog is specific: there is something about greyhounds that looks like drawings. What did you find changed in trying to create “psychology” in a sculpture of a dog versus a sculpture of a human being?
Jaeger: I picked greyhounds because they are anxious. They are thought to be the first dogs—they appear throughout art history, beginning with Salukis from Ancient Egyptian tombs. Today, American greyhounds are raised to race, a consequence of which is that they fear anything and everything aside from other greyhounds, their kennels, and racetracks. American greyhounds can never be left off leash because literally anything aside from those three familiar things can send them darting off at 40 miles per hour. Their skin rips all the time and they break their bones just running around and they are spooked by strangers. I liked that as an illustration of our contemporary condition: being alive and terrified of terrorists, cancer, thieves, rapists, the economy, the opposite sex, etc. The psychology I was attracted to is built into the breed—so I picked it.
Jaeger: I’m paranoid that we are back in the 1950s. What were the main staples of a ’50s reality? A nuclear family, optimism, and everything had to be pleasant and entertaining. And think about the art world: it’s very entertaining and nobody is talking about anything at all. It’s all very glamorous: things that can be put over your sofa as decoration. Do you feel this way?
Rail: Yes; what is weird is the impulse many young/current art-world people seem to have, in wanting to be “professional” and a drive to be “normal.” I’m not an artist living in New York because I want to live in the suburbs! So why is it that everyone is making art celebrating the aesthetics of the suburbs?
Jaeger: I recently worked for a furniture fair. Part of my job was gleaning contact information from different interior designers’ websites. It was so crazy because I kept finding art made by people I knew in the back of these interior decorating photos. I look at this art all the time through an “art lens,” alone and glorified in a white room, and I was shocked to see it in a way I never had, like “oh wow here’s a beautiful room, wait a minute, isn’t that my friend’s painting on the wall, behind the lamp?”
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.