A Studio Visit With Jillian Conrad


HOUSTON — Donald Judd, as a scholar of art heritage and philosophy at Columbia University, did not phone himself a sculptor. He preferred to say he was a maker of specific objects. An innovator and inadvertent trendsetter, he made use of prefabricated elements to create box-like varieties constructed by other people, giving rise to what has develop into commonplace: outsourcing. Richard Serra’s signature products are guide and Cor-10 steel he is identified for exploiting the latter’s behavioral houses to impose his architectural sculptures in a landscape. Carl Andre has mentioned he preferred his pared-down work “close to zero.” 

Judd admired Lee Bontecou, who labored without assistants. In 1965, he wrote that Bontecou’s artwork, neither painting nor sculpture, “asserts its own existence, variety and electricity. It turns into an item in its personal right.” Is that sculpture’s aim? And what may that imply? With what art historical reference factors may well a up to date sculptor engage? Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Julio González, Louise Bourgeois, or David Hammons the handmade, fabricated, or found? These divisions look way too neat, as well built for a textbook, primarily as all of these artists built signature is effective. Is a signature design and style a required hallmark of sculpture and the “specific object,” or has it come to be a limitation? What are the other conditions in addition to “specific objects” that must be deemed?

My current studio take a look at with Jillian Conrad prompted these questions. Sculptors from Jeff Koons to Nari Ward to Sarah Sze can be witnessed as entangled with a certain lineage, even a hybrid a single. This feeling of an artwork historical link is not so obvious with Conrad’s divergent bodies of perform and a person-off parts, her integration of items she’s built with detritus and factors located in mother nature. Opposite to numerous of her contemporaries, she has produced a amount of a single-off items, this sort of as “a adhere or a sleep” (2020) and “Rootball” (2022), whose electricity would come to be diluted if a lot more than just one perform in this vein existed.

Jillian Conrad, “Sites and Settlements: #T” (2014), graphite on paper with archival glue, 9 x 12 inches

Also contrary to a lot of present-day sculptors — who feel to be afflicted with what I contact the “Marfa Syndrome,” a motivation for permanence — is Conrad’s strategy to the stress concerning content sort and time passing. Philosophically speaking, she is additional aligned with Heraclitus, who thought that everything is continuously shifting, than with Plato, who considered in the existence of suitable types. What does it suggest to reject the celebrated designs of timelessness we come across in museums and controllers locations — these types of as the island of Videy in Iceland, the place Serra erected “Áfangar” (Standing Stones, 1990), a site-distinct set up of 9 pairs of basalt columns achieving up to 13 feet tall that will outlast us all? What does it necessarily mean to subvert this aesthetic representation of “empire thinking”?

In performs like Serra’s, mother nature is not element of the equation, apart from as a position to occupy and even subjugate. Quite a few acquainted aesthetic guideposts appeared mostly irrelevant when I commenced pondering about Conrad’s do the job, which was the two unsettling and reassuring — a serious and unusual satisfaction. It built me recognize that I was hunting at factors that were in contrast to other particular objects in the expanded subject of sculpture. 

What will come after distinct objects? 1 needs to consider about Judd’s authentic use of the time period “object” due to the fact it would seem to be about outsourcing and applying created products. Instead of objects, what about “things”? Jillian Conrad is a maker of particular items that underscore in expansive ways the particulars of their id. 

Jillian Conrad, “a stick or a snooze,” depth

Conrad’s certain matter “a adhere or a sleep” is ostensibly a 21-foot-lengthy sculpture composed of branches of pomegranate wooden, hackberry, crepe myrtle, and oak, joined to sort a single linear type, which is suspended from the ceiling by brass rings hooked up to nylon. She has utilized distinctive pigments, which includes blue and yellow, in a couple discrete parts. 

I first noticed an impression of “a adhere or a sleep” on the web shortly right after Conrad and I met, and we began corresponding about the Museum of Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico the Paracelsian occultist Robert Fludd the partnership between art and magic (Conrad has taught courses on it at the University of Houston) An Inventory of Losses and other writings by Judith Schalansky César Aira’s novels Robert Creeley’s poetry and Thomas Nozkowski’s artwork. Far more importantly, I was perplexed by what I observed, which produced me maintain wanting. 

All of our exchanges relevant to Conrad’s artwork, but I simply cannot say how accurately, specifically given that I really don’t want to be reductive or literal. I know that she studied philosophy, the historical past of math, and Historic Greek at St. John’s Faculty in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and she originally wanted to be an architect. Immediately after faculty, she researched the architecture of intentional communities close to the globe, traveling greatly. In her mid-20s, she edited Eco-Villages & Sustainable Communities: Models for 21st Century Dwelling (1996), posted by the Findhorn Foundation, which, according to its internet site, is a “Community […] guided by 3 simple practices: Internal Listening, Co-generation with the intelligence of nature, and Function as enjoy in motion.” When she was all over 30 she entered graduate school to pursue her MFA. 

Jillian Conrad, “Rootball” (2022), rootball, brass, putty, bread dough, string. 4 x 8 x 2 toes

A disturbance is embedded in the expertise of observing “a adhere or a snooze.” The tree branch that Conrad has suspended cannot probably be 21 feet very long. A department of that size and circumference could not assist its personal pounds. Only by walking all-around the function are its subtly unique and distinct sections obvious. From a length it appears to be like a one branch that someway grew to be additional than 20 ft. 

At some place, Conrad asked me: “Did you know that the expression ‘tree branch’ refers to the residing component of a tree, even though ‘stick’ refers to a branch that has dropped to the ground?” What does it imply to get fallen branches from different kinds of trees, sign up for them with each other, and suspend the final result in the air? By making use of joinery to hook up the sections, she attracts a line in house. Suspended in the air, its shadow turns into a further line.

Paul Klee famously mentioned, “A drawing is only a line going for a walk.” One particular may possibly also believe of a drawing as the history of a fluid line shifting across a flat surface. From a length, a team of Conrad’s is effective on paper search like drawings produced with amazingly straight strains, but that is not the circumstance. Begun in 2014, and now consisting of four collection (3 of which are ongoing), she uses pencil lead, glue, and paper to construct what seems to be a drawing, but is technically a incredibly shallow sculptural reduction. 

Richard Serra mentioned, “Drawing is a verb.” In his “Verb List” (1967), he commenced with these directives: “to roll, to crease, to fold, to shop […].” I was reminded of Serra’s record when Conrad wrote to me about the pencil direct drawings:

Developing, erecting, setting up. These are verbs I’m considering as a result of all the time in my sculptures and performs on paper. […] I assume of these pencil direct parts as extremely skinny sculptures, hardly still resolutely dimensional.

Jillian Conrad, “Flings and Filings: some falling,”detail (2021), graphite on paper with archival glue, 14 x 17 inches

Serra folded, creased, crumpled, and twisted sheets of guide. It is a pliable product. Conrad does a little something different: she accepts the rigidity of the pencil direct and employs it to make “very slender sculptures.” The inspirations come from a vast variety of sources, starting with her interest in architecture. In the series Web sites and Settlements (2014-16), are we hunting at an aerial check out of an archaeological web page or a portion of an architectural facade? Isn’t Conrad’s perform ecologically minded in the sense that she is doing work with the offered, rather than making an attempt to manipulate it into a thing monumental and long lasting? What does she attain in the dance she initiates involving the rigorous linearity of the pencil prospects and the varieties and textures of the drawing? 

As Conrad wrote to me, the operates in her collection Diamonds (2019-ongoing) “were impressed by mountains and roadways on the Navajo reservation close to Farmington, New Mexico, exactly where I was born. They also remind me of Navajo sand paintings I grew up with.” Once more, Conrad is disengaging from permanence and the imposition of one’s will, as taken up by sculptors from Michelangelo to Serra, and all that this history indicates. 

Created of a rootball, brass rods, string, putty, and bread, “Rootball” (2022) looks to straight announce that disengagement. Conrad did not purchase or fabricate the rootball she found it and extra the brass rods, putty, and bread, which transformed the context, but not the issue alone. 

In her perform, prospect and decision coexist. Is the rootball a pedestal and the rods that branch out of it the sculpture? If so, why is the piece lying on its aspect? The configuration of rods reminds me of an previous television antenna. The putty noticeable at the joints underscores the existence of the artist’s hand. Is “Rootball” a receiver translating what it picks up from the cosmos? Is its resistance to acquainted classes part of its this means? With this this a person-off piece, it appears to me that Conrad is attempting to expand our comprehension of sculpture. 


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