Cedar Rapids artist and Mount Mercy professor Jane Gilmor's idiosyncratic sculpture investigates the power of memory, humor, and culture.
Gilmor: I don't really buy into the artist as individual genius working alone in the studio. Everybody comes out of a time and a place. And your gender, your background, Midwest roots, your family, your culture, all those things influence who you are as an artist. So it's just not pure creativity coming out of nowhere. It's shaped by all these other things. You construct your own kind of reality, and you construct your memory.
I keep saying I start with a concept and then use the material that's appropriate, but that's not really true. It's this conversation between ideas and materials, so the materials are -- I think we're kind of instinctual wrecks because of the computer and other things. We kind of lose touch with a lot of our senses like touch and smell and just things that might be considered intuitive, how we know the world through all of our senses, not just through sight and the intellect. So I think that's one thing about materials that interests me.
I think that materials and places are all -- are all locations from memory, in a way, and memory is constantly reconstructed or we invent new memory. What I'm trying to do with a lot of the objects and materials is juxtapose them in such a way that they create new meaning.
To me visual language is -- it's about everything. It's about drawing. It's about the visual culture. It's about painting but it's also just about the objects and materials that you find around you that really do define part of your identity.
People make little shrines on top of their chest of drawers. People take objects and arrange them. A lot of my art is about arranging. I'm just an interior designer.
There's not a formula for how to do it. So I'm constantly finding ways to make meaning of my own experience through this process, whether it be making something or juxtaposing things.
I started collecting notes about twenty-five years ago, and I would just collect any notes that I thought were interesting: Notes on cars; notes that I'd find in the streets; notes that kindergartners left in their books that they were going to give to someone else.
But a friend of mine knew that I did this, and her grandfather was being moved to a retirement home. And so he was leaving his home of fifty years, and in the drawers they found -- as they were cleaning it out, they found these notes. This note says: "I'm so sorry to leave so many weeds. I had a stroke right the wrong time. I wanted to leave it nice. Jack." So it's so poignant in a way.
I took this Xerox and I laid it on the metal and I pressed it into the metal so that I have an indent, so I just use a regular pencil. So this metal is kind of cold, but it embodies a kind of spiritual concept that interests me. So then I transferred it to the surface by pressing into the metal. After that it is inked up and you put a liquid ink on it and the ink dries. Then I take away what I don't want, and the lines remain.
So it's a real simple, simple process, a grade school kind of a process, but it has lots -- I mean, the process doesn't determine how sophisticated the artwork is or the meaning of it.
I worked with children with long-term illness in the University of Iowa Children's Hospital, but we started out by saying if you were looking out your window, what would you see, and if you were looking in your window, what would you see. And that was sort of an open-ended question so they could really draw or write anything they wanted to.
This says: "My name is Holly. I had brain surgery. I was very scared. I have been brave. I want to go home. I am a farm girl. I love animals."
One is by a boy who says what his name is, and then he has a picture of a bald eagle. He says, "I want to be a carpenter and an anthropologist and I love bald eagles."
So the kids' things were really powerful, and they went on to a building that is in the Des Moines Art Center.
There's a difference between not caring and being spontaneous. So you might just try it... I had to bring my teaching into my art because I have to work so much. We teach four courses a semester. So one thing I have learned myself through teaching is to really consider from many different points of view what I'm doing.
One way that I like doing it is to bring them into your practice a little bit and then collaborate and see -- so I've learned a lot from them.
I preferred to kind of use forms that are not arty or even to the point of being looked down upon by the art world or more classical art world or that are more disposable or that relate to the craft tradition, to the tradition of everybody making things.
Originally I built them not knowing exactly -- I mean they were static and I didn't know exactly what to do. And then a friend of mine mentioned the Roombas and I remembered I'd thought about those, so I got the Roombas and tried them and got them to work.
And once they were animated, they were like people. It just became comical and absurd. And then with the endless zipper, it was even more absurd.
So it's all about this sort of endless loop of absurdity, you know, of getting nothing done, which reminded me at the time of government and bureaucracy where you just see that it's an endless cycle and it's ridiculous to even hope for a solution.
And also I love it because it's about chance, you know. They're constantly bumping into each other.
By making them sort of gender specific, then it even got more comical. Just stop for a minute. Get a grip. And you know, I just got more and more carried away. Like I put a ruffle here and a veil there, and then these became the kids.
To me they're like this interaction, this constant attempt to interact and solve problems, and just the whole notion that -- it's not really a pessimistic attitude but that things sometimes are just pointless to the point of absurdity and hystericalness, so it's like a vaudeville routine.
But I think the artist's job is just to kind of direct you, to interrupt your walk through life and direct you to see something a little differently for a while and let you bring your own experiences to those.
Romare Bearden said "Life is not what you're looking for, it's what you find."