Jen Dwyer and Ceramics as Resistance


me sculpting

Jen Dwyer grew up in the Bay Area, California. Dwyer attended the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, and received dual degrees in Ceramics and Environmental Science. She is currently completing her master’s degree program at the University of Notre Dame, where she received a Full Fellowship and will graduate in Spring 2019. Inspired by the Bay Area clay scene at a young age, Dwyer has worked with ceramics for over a decade. She has been awarded numerous grants, scholarships and fellowships, including the Pottery Center in Jingdezhen, China, Salem Art Works, in upstate New York, and Trestle Gallery Residency program in Brooklyn. She has also received numerous interviews and publications features, including Create Magazine, Vogue, Hyperallergic, Vice, and I-D magazine. Dwyer is one of the featured artists in the book The New Age of Ceramics published by Hannah Stouffer. When she is not making art, she is dancing or running.

Percephone's pomegranate Seeds

Persephone’s Pomegranate Seeds

You reference how the male gaze has dominated art throughout history, although you seem to take back that notion in a fearless way. Can you explain this further?

In my current body of work, I examine contemporary socially constructed notions of identity by invoking the female gaze and drawing from the Rococo aesthetic. The term “The Female Gaze” was coined by Jill Soloway in response to Laura Mulvey’s theorization of “The Male Gaze” where cinematic depictions of women are seen as the objects of male pleasure. The female gaze is an alternative way of seeing— a way of looking /representing that seeks to give everyone agency and make everyone a subject. I’m really interested in reclaiming self-representation in a variety of ways—the mirror, selfie culture, and the display of Paleolithic figurines (thought to be self-portraits, arguably the original female gaze).

Jen Dwyer _War Paint copy

War Paint

Your work is influenced by Rococo styles like salons and toilettes and introduces a modern twist. Can you explain why you use this reference?

My inspiration behind my most recent installation, War Paint, was inspired by the morning ritual of dressing and applying makeup called The Toilette, an occasion of great social significance for both men and women in 18th Century France. Visitors and close friends were invited to discuss matters of business, politics, or simply gossip—all while watching their host being prepared for public viewing. This performance could be seen as either an act of submission or an act of rebellion. While society wanted to mold the person into one ideal with each layer [through] powdered wigs, corsets, beauty patches–individuals asserted their own sense of agency by redesigning themselves into who they wanted to be. For this body of work, I aimed to explore the armor we wear and the ways we dress and adorn ourselves every day. I examine contemporary, socially constructed notions of identity by invoking the female gaze and drawing from the Rococo aesthetic.

Rococo art was created in reaction to boredom with the austere baroque style, and instead opted to depict humor, wit, emotion, and whimsy. Characterized by its lightheartedness, the Rococo presents itself at a more intimate scale, often in private spaces. My goal for this work is to create a utopic space that blurs the barriers between the private and public, subject and object, and self and other.

In your work, you contrast soft and gentle and threatening. In your series “Objects of Mass Protection,” you form boxing gloves and brass knuckles and juxtapose them with pale pink and flowers. Can you expand on how you are interested in these juxtapositions? How do they relate to resistance?

I’m really interested in the notion of reclaiming—for example the color pink today is seen as a girly, playful, frivolous, color however in the 18th Century, (the time period that a lot of my research stems from) pink was seen as a lighter form of red, one of power [that was] worn by kings. I also like to create hidden elements in my work, such as subtle threats that can be seen in my flower knuckles. At first glance they seem like decorative objects, however upon further inspection, one sees they are actually porcelain knuckles and ironically could potentially be used as a weapon. But that is one thing I love about ceramics, and specifically porcelain—once vitrified it is a permanent and very strong material. Porcelain is unique because it’s simultaneously very fragile and strong. In all of my practice, I’m attracted to contradictions—the material of ceramics and/ or porcelain certainly exhibits contrasts.

Rose Candlestick

Rose Candlestick

It seems like your work uses apples and hands as motifs often. Do these symbolize anything specific to you?

Yes, I’m really interested in mythology and theology that reference allegories of blame and shame. Recently, I’ve been reading about the first women in both Ancient Greek Mythology and Christianity. I find it fascinating that the first woman in one story, Pandora, was created as punishment for men, and in another, it was a woman’s fault that the first humans had to leave Paradise.

 Who are some artists that inspire you?

There are so many! I definitely love some of the classics: Claes Oldenburg, Salvador Dali, Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keeffe and Adrian Piper. I also went through an obsession with photography in my early twenties and fell in love with Francesca Woodman and Nan Goldin but more recently, I’ve been really inspired by Kehinde Wiley and the Mission School artists. I recently started painting and growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve been thinking about my teenage year aesthetic. I love The Mission School artist’s lowbrow illustrative quality to their work. Also just 90’s nostalgia – I recently turned 30, [and] I’ve really been thinking about childhood, and adulthood and where that line is – feeling nostalgia for that playful although faux Utopia that the nostalgia of one’s childhood can create. Also, I should probably mention some ceramicists I love – shout out to Richard Shaw and Ruth Rippon.

Jen Dwyer _Let's Eat Cake copy

Let’s Eat Cake

 It seems like you’ve had projects such as Let’s Eat Cake that involved an interaction with the public involving food. Can you explain this project? Are you interested in exploring this social element more?

I’m currently in my third year of a three-year program of graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. I’ve definitely taken these past few years to explore video, photography, performance and a bit of social practice art alongside my dominate ceramic-based practice. I really love rituals and the act of gift giving, so the installation Let’s Eat Cake demonstrates the ritual of sharing food. Sharing a meal is a simple yet sacred occasion. It is a universal act that is important to build relationships with people. Intentionally eating together creates time and space to engage and share, [which includes] sharing empathy. My goal for this work was to employ the ritual of sharing food as a conscious effort to create empathy as a political tool and decenter the divide between self and other.

Also, who doesn’t love a sweet treat? It became a really fun, playful and engaging element of the opening. I was surprised at how excited people were at the offering of a small cupcake. Although I suppose when it’s embedded in a work of art it’s unassuming, so perhaps the surprise that people could take the small cupcake and eat it was exciting!

Catch Jen’s upcoming show Not For You, Bunny, Co-curated by Stacie Lucas and Nathalie Levey at Lucas Lucas Gallery, NYC, opening Oct 18th from 6-9pm on view through Nov 11th 2018. Follow her work on Instagram @Jen_Dwyer_

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