Jessica Segall visited by Ryan Turley

Jessica Segall has been on my mind since 2012 when we were both on the roster to be residents at Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota.  Unfortunately we never overlapped at the residency but I have been checking in on her and her work ever since. When I was asked by Nick from The Coastal Post to interview an artist to introduce to their readers she was at the top of the list.

I met with Jessica recently at her current residency at The Abrons Art Center in New York City to discuss her work.

 While I was doing my homework on Jessica I was immediately impressed by the ambitious projects performed and created all over the world, as well as what I could only assume was an extremely well researched body of work.  I have met many artists throughout my education and career, some with backgrounds in research and some not.  What I have found with a lot of artists that tend to be on a research “heavy” side of things, tend to be more internal with the final product of which they produce – “more thinking and less doing”.  Jessica breaks this stereotype entirely.

 We began with the usual chat about where did you grow up? (New Haven, CT) Where did you go to school? (Bard College Undergraduate and Columbia University Graduate) and what she is currently working on at Abrons Art Center? (A solar powered Ouija Board!) Then we dove in and she started to open up about where these projects come from.

I mentioned to her that the common threads I saw in her work seemed to have a lot to do with survival, water, boats and nature.  She agreed but then went further to speak about her interest in remote places, adaptation, survival out of necessity and the object of her research resulting in something she would call the “performative functional.”  This is well documented in many of her pieces and performances whether she is travelling to the Global Seed Bank in the Arctic to perform atop icebergs in the work titled, A Thirsty Person, Having Found a Spring, Stops to Drink, Does Not Contemplate Its Beauty, 2011 or her work Tourist Crisis Center, 2009 when she built a floating office that navigated the waters around Key West offering any interested person, alternative maps to the city as well as a service to write a letter home for a lonely, homesick tourist. 

 Jessica and I went back and forth speaking about the actual work but quickly would sideline into her interest in birds and how she has started to rescue birds.  Specifically she educated me on Starlings and other songbirds.  I had no idea that Starlings were one of the most common, non-native bird species and they are not currently protected in our country.  Jessica spoke to me about her first Starling rescue named Mortimer who she taught to say, “How was your day?”  She even played me a clip of this sweet bird perfectly reciting this phrase.  I was completely blown away!  Jessica told me about the “Shakespearian enthusiast” (Eugene Schieffelin) who released 60 Starlings into Central Park in 1890, as he wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays resulting in an estimated 200 million Starlings now residing in the United States.  Whether you are on the side of rescuing these birds or you find them a nuisance/invasive situation…the story is still fascinating.

 I asked Jessica about adaptation and how she used that as I only need to quickly glance at her resume to see she has an extensive and I will add impressive list of residencies under her belt, including Abrons Art Center (where she is currently) The Sharpe Walentas Space Program, Bemis Contemporary Art Center, The Airspace Residency, Triangle Arts Center, Art Omi, The Macdowell Colony, Sculpture Space, Land Art Residency Mongolia, Franconia Sculpture Park, The Arctic Circle and Socrates Sculpture Park, to name a few! 

 She blushed slightly and is humbled from all of these opportunities and relishes in going to new places, the more remote the better.  She finds inspiration in adapting, researching and creating work in environments that could be considered free of cultural history when possible.  It is clear to see why she is successful and prolific in a residency environment and why this has been such a fruitful system for her in generating such a distinctive, captivating and original body of work. 

 Whether Jessica is in her studio working on her drawings based off of Alchemic Manuals for Women which instructed women on everything from how to make soap to the transmutation of objects, or building a boat to circumnavigate Key West to assist tourists you can be sure she is always thinking, always researching and always creating incredible work that we would all be lucky to experience if at all possible.  I am completely taken with her as an artist and all around intelligent, thoughtful human being and I am sure you will be too.

You can see Jessica’s work in person along with her fellow residents at Abrons Art Center in New York City; this exhibition opens on June 19th from 6-9PM.  More information here:http://www.abronsartscenter.org/galleries/airspace-show-2015.html

 As well as at 125 Maiden Lane, New York City, as part of the Art In Buildings Project which is on view until August 28th 2015.  More information here: http://teiartinbuildings.com/exhibitions/group/37

And I strongly urge you to visit her website as I have not even begun to touch upon all of her great work.  You will be happy you did! http://www.jessicasegall.com/