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Dwelling: Recent Works from Jessica Calderwood
My most recent work uses drapery and stylized forms to block out, cover, and hide parts of the human form. These compositions become a negation that censors or denies what lies beneath to suggest a personal and internal struggle. These incomplete figures appear at once powerful and powerless, beautiful and absurd, curious and sometimes defeated.
For this installation, I want to convey a feeling of alienation and isolation by installing each figure in their own ‘floating world.’ Patterns and colors in each arrangement reference domestic spaces, such as carpets or wall paper. The bright, candy colors are intended to be a visual foil or an interruption of expectation to bring focus to the moment in which we find ourselves. Our own dwellings, designed to create a sense of comfort, have become—sometimes—spaces of suffocation. In this work, I see us as strangers to ourselves, forced to contend with ourselves in a land or space that we all know.
Trained as a metalsmith, I am interested in using traditional craft media, both for their creative properties and their historical references to ‘marginal art forms’, including enamel, porcelain, fiber, and polymer clay. Throughout this series, I have been working on a smaller scale, initially as a way to create maquettes for larger works. Over time, these tiny works became the focus, creating an intimacy that is only discovered through the realm of the miniature.
Jessica Calderwood, 2021
Jessica Calderwood’s installation at the WFMA reminds me of what dreams look like in memory. How often do we get see art displayed on colorful floating disks?!
On these are small female figures, whose upper bodies and faces are obscured in various ways. The sculptures are made of numerous materials, including porcelain. Porcelain is made of silky, soft white earth resulting from the natural decomposition of other clays. Prized both for delicacy and strength, we may be most familiar with it in the form of fine china and toilets. Calderwood leaves the porcelain close to its natural state, perhaps to let the translucence and delicacy of this earthen substance to suggest a vulnerable state of being.
All we see of the figures are their legs, and it is their gesture that communicates emotion. I have never long considered the
expression of a leg, until seeing Calderwood’s art. I am accustomed to facial expressions, hand gestures, and arm movements – even shoulder movements – but not legs, though I can think of running, jumping, fidgeting, and dragging as common descriptions of the meaningful actions of legs.
In Calderwood’s works, on the other hand, the figures’ legs, feet and shoes are like a single facial expression, as if the legs take over the function of the eyes and mouth, shoulders and hands.
Contemporary figurative work often uses the figure to express something abstract or invisible, rather than the likeness of a person. One way we can understand the meaning, then, is to put ourselves in the place of the figure and mimic the gesture or posture.
The sculptures are titled Spill, Isolate, Fall, Hide. One figure looks as if she laid down on her bed, covered her head with a blanket, and began flailing about such to kick off the cover from her legs. Another looks like she slumped in a chair and pulled a curtain or table cloth over her head. If we imagine being in these postures, what does it feel like? Would you feel vulnerable with your legs exposed while your torso and head are covered?
To me, these small, pretty, delicate sculptures express what it feels like to scream on the inside.
Tracee Robertson, 2021
About the Artist
Jessica Calderwood is a sculptor who works in a variety of craft-based media. Trained as a metalsmith and enamelist, her objects and images make statements about contemporary life. Since receiving her BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and her MFA from Arizona State University, her work has been exhibited extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally. She has participated in artist residencies with the John Michael Kohler Arts/Industry Program, Ferro Corporation, and the Mesa Arts Center. Her work has also been published in Metalsmith Magazine, American Craft, NICHE, Ornament, the Lark 500 series, and the Art of Enameling. She is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Ball State University.
Listen to Jessica Calderwood talk about her art in a lecture titled Think Craft at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 2018.
Read a lively article titled What Lies Beneath in American Craft Magazine, of the American Craft Council, 2019.