Jessica Mathews is a profoundly interesting artist. A young talent making heady theoretical work full of bubbling energy, which resonates within the Austin scene and beyond. The depth of her interest in digital processes is limitless, whether she’s engaged in the painstaking translation of paint to pixel, image to hexcode (color code), hexcode to handwritten or hexcode reinterpreted back into paint. It’s as if she’s weaving the interplay of digital and real experiences into visual works. Her recent Internet based project #ThisIslandShared, furthered this web of interaction and the sense that all of her work is somehow informed by a yearning to bridge the overwhelming presence of technology with the personal.
To paint pixels and write hexcodes is to re-humanize the computer and control the robotic beast we are so strangely entangled within. This kind of work couldn’t be more relevant to the everyday. She’s a modern Gustav Courbet in a way, a true painter representing the ordinary, which today consists of technology;the invasive and omnipresent presence of screens that serve in a way as advanced computers held in our temporary flesh, informing our thoughts, words and social structures.
At Austin’s Pump Project Matthews, along with artist Kyle Evans, is showing 000000, a wildly complex interpretation of the color black, on view through April 4. Just before the Pump Project show opened, Matthews returned from a three-month stint at Nes Artist Residency, in Skagaströnd, Iceland, where she worked in an icy fortress for three months. A+C contributor Caitlin McCollom caught up with her to discuss the residency, her exhibition at Pump Project, other projects and future plans.
What were the main projects you worked on in Iceland?
Matthews: During my time at Nes I worked on two projects, #ThisIslandShared and 000000. However, I did allow myself a few weeks to really soak in my surroundings. Iceland is such a beautiful country and although Skagaströnd is the perfect place to focus on a studio practice, I managed to fit in a few road trips and other shenanigans as well.
What is #ThisIslandShared?
#ThisIslandShared was the original project I proposed for the residency. My work previously had been motivated by an interest in the structural make-up of digital imagery and the effects of digital culture on physical experience. This project is very much a continuation of that idea; I wanted to investigate how social media effects/enhances the experience of a location. What does it mean to physically share something in comparison to digitally sharing it? The first phase of #ThisIslandShared consisted of me collecting pixels from numerous digital photos I took of the Icelandic landscape and painting them on small cubes. I called these cubes voxels because a voxel is a voluminous pixel that exists within our three-dimensional space. Once these voxels were finished I mailed them out to participants around the world, although some of the voxels remained in the Skagaströnd community. The final phase is still in action; once participants received the cubes they were to photograph them within their own environment and post them on any social media platform under the hashtag #ThisIslandShared. Having been separated through the mailing process the pixels were to re-assemble through being ‘shared’ online. It has been so great to see how people have related to these pixels that were taken from a place that most of them will probably never visit. As keepers of these painted cubes they all now have a connection to Skagaströnd, a small town of only 500 hundred people. I check the hashtag often as people are continuously posting images of their voxel.
What is 00000?
000000 is the hexadecimal code for black as well as the starting point for a responsive collaboration between myself and artist Kyle Evans. We were brought together by Pump Project’s Rebecca Marino due to our shared interest in the relationship between digital and analog processes/technologies. The idea was to base our explorations on 000000 and progress from one another’s work. Kyle created a really great video that overlapped two videos of black, causing a vibrant distortion. I responded to that video by dissecting one pixel and cataloging its progression through each frame via oil on paper. The painted pixel was placed back into video format and sent back to Kyle. We responded back and forth in this manner through email for the duration of my residency. The work is focused on collaborative methodology as well as the intensive process of filtering data between digital and analog formats. The product of this conversation is tangible through paint, code, and video installation. It is currently on view at Pump Project though April 4th and there will be an artist talk on March 25th at 7pm.
What projects are you working on right now?
Since my return I have really been playing catch up. I am so fortunate to have been able to have three months of solitude in Iceland to focus on my work. However, everything that I temporarily put on pause (such as updating my website) is now demanding my attention. As far as my creative practice I really want to make a flipbook. Through exploring video and animation in my recent work I have developed an interest in more manual forms of animation. Translating pixels from video to paint is a way of making a monument out of the transient nature of digital imagery. A flipbook would re-animate the paintings in an accessible format.
What do you plan to do this year?
In the past the primary outlet of my ideas has been through more traditional artist materials. I enjoy using painting to explore digital imagery because of the balance it creates between the human hand and technology. My process has very much been ‘artist makes art, artist shows art to people’ and that is the extent of the viewer’s participation. However, because of recent projects such as #ThisIslandShared and 000000 I hope to introduce more relational practices into my work. Watching others interact with a project and actually shape the direction has been a real pleasure and I hope to continue in that direction.
How has Austin shaped your artistic practice?
I came to Austin right out of undergrad. What I found was a community that, for me, has been very receptive. For most of my time here I have worked within a studio complex surrounded by other artists. That introduced a community that I think both encourages and challenges my work. There is a real freedom of exploration here and it is an exciting city to be a part of.
Do you feel that The Austin community is supportive of your work? What have been the most significant challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered?
Certainly, I have had many opportunities here to show my work and talk with people about what I am doing. It is a pretty casual and involved community that allows for an open dialogue from conception in a studio to an exhibition. What I have found is it is really vital to have access to that feedback at every stage of the creative process. I think one of the biggest challenges that the Austin community faces is supporting a lot of these spaces for art long term. This city is constantly growing; there are so many great studios and galleries popping up all over. The challenge is to give them the support so they can last and continue to enrich Austin. These spaces are the opportunities for artist.