Jessica Jane Julius
“Beauty draws people in and allows them to enter the work. Beauty is a tool. I want people to allow beauty to take them to other places.” Jessica Jane Julius, a Summer, 2011 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, thinks of beauty as intrinsic to her work but it isn’t necessarily “your normal social idea of beauty,” the kind one might find in wildflowers or the physiognomies of Greek deities. In particular, it’s not beauty in the pure formal terms of glass vessels by, say, Toots Zynsky or Nancy Callan. “It’s about moments. That’s how I come to find certain things within my work. I might find one small thing really beautiful and absolutely amazing — maybe mark-making. Then, it’s my job to elevate that and to present that to people,” she explains.
Even before her first CGCA residency Julius explored the beauty potential of the bubbly mixture of air and water in human saliva applied to hot glass. In this, her second CGCA experience, she focused primarily on lampworking. Some structures she made were composed of orange cube modules joined into flowing mesh-like grids that she compares to “scaffolding in space.” She says, “Some of the inspiration was the idea of safety-orange as a universal warning, to draw attention to something: ‘Don’t walk this way. Be careful of this.’”
For over three weeks at CGCA she gathered black glass, quickly carried it outside behind the hot shop where she could find the maximum amount of clear space. There, using the still fluid glass she pulled long rods of black cane “as far as I could run.” A very large installation constructed from that cane was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the Summer of 2012. From a distance the installation looks like a huge blurry drawing on a white surface. As the viewer approaches, the free-standing work resolves into specific lines. “It reflects and absorbs light and it changes as you move around it. It’s almost vibrating. I’ve had so many reactions of people asking ‘That’s glass?!’ Making the cane was a really crucial thing that I got done at Wheaton.”
The mark. The module. The individual within the collective. You can’t have just one; it takes several to mean something, to become a whole. A mark—even if it’s nothing more than a smudge – relies other marks or spaces without marks to become a drawing or written element. The module by definition is one of a number of similar parts. The individual person almost does not exist without others to confirm or contrast. A thing can be identified – recognized as “something”—only in the context of differences and similarities. Julius seemed to be musing along these lines.
Julius, Erica Rosenfeld, whose two CGCA residencies coincided with Julius’residencies, and Emma Salamon are the founding members of Burnt Asphalt Family, a performance glass collaborative inspired in part by post-World War II American culture. They and the other Summer, 2011 residents plus several CGCA interns and associated artists presented an entertaining and dramatic performance involving hot glass at WheatonArts. It was something of a dry run for a performance held a few weeks later at Pittsburgh Glass Center. They cooked chickens by pouring molten glass inside the carcass cavity and seared steak to a nice medium rare on slabs of just poured glass. These and other dishes were served to an audience that seemed simultaneously eager and a little spooked by the Burnt Asphalt Benihana-style preparation. “By feeding them we bring the [audience] into the experience instead of relegating them to the role of spectators,” says Julius.
The Summer residents Julius, Rosenfeld, Sara Pitt and Brett Swenson also shared an unusual pet given to them by CGCA Creative Director Hank Adams. One day he showed them a black widow spider in a Mason jar and, then, left it in a studio. He’d found the spider on his shoulder while walking in the nearby woods. The residents blew a sort of domed terrarium for it (a form reminiscent of Rosenfeld’s work). The vessel and resident spider were placed on the panel between the entrance to Julius’ and Rosenfeld’s studios. They decorated the wall with an eclectic collection of artifacts including dried and fabric flowers, a blue paper drink parasol, a colored Christmas tree bulb, toy dolls and animals, photographs and random shiny things. Everyone intended to catch live insects for the spider, initially known as Betty, but Swenson was the most consistent. Betty grew fat. And fatter. Soon, to everyone’s surprise, she gave birth to hundreds of tiny smudge-like baby spiders. These babies following the instincts of black widows cannibalized one another, growing larger in size and fewer in number.
“I was thinking about the spider every time I walked into my studio. I thought, ‘What is so scary about the spider to me?” Julius recalls. Ultimately she made a sort of relief sculpture based on the spider: a flock of three-legged modules in black glass. Mounted on a buff surface they can be placed to cast long, striking shadows nearly indistinguishable from the glass. The mirror-like shadows somehow amplify the sense that spider legs are on the move. Even though each is a tripod and we visually identify spiders as symmetrical and eight legged, Julius’ structure is instantly recognizable as spider-like. Her decision to go with the more angular form and odd-numbered form shifts the image from a cliché of representation into a more surreal and sinister realm. She thinks, “It’s the legs: that simple form that can reach out to you is so creepy.”
Although it was exhibited at CGCA, the spider work has not yet found its final form. Julius wants to play around with the effects of light and shadow a little more. “You can imagine an object; You can imagine an experience, but until it comes into reality you can’t take control of it.”
Written by Robin Rice