Jaclyn is a Chicago-based artist working primarily in printmaking, using contemporary formats. She earned an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and a B.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She has taught at SAIC and Harrington College of Design as well as, attended residencies in the U.S. at the Ragdale Foundation (Lake Forest, IL), Vermont Studios (Johnson, VT), Platform (Pilsen, Chicago) and completed a residency at Spudnik Press (Chicago, IL) for Spring 2013. She is currently the director of the Chicago Printer’s Guild. Jaclyn has also worked as an assistant to the master printers at Tandem Press in Madison, WI, with local artist/professors like Jeanne Coupe Ryding, Michael Miller, Joan Livingstone and curator Mary Jane Jacob. Her artwork explores protests and acts of resistance in local communities and how one discovers a more equitable, interesting life. She examines how these things manifest in signs, in the landscape, and media, while paying attention to how an individual’s voice is revealed out in the world in relation to powerful systems.
Interview by Kristina Daignault and Michael Soto
J: First, it’s so nice having you. Thank you for being so cool at the Chicago Artist Coalition fundraiser. I had a blast with you both.
M: I loved meeting you; it was great.
K: Yeah, I think you were the first people we met! We always start with asking every artist the same question, which is, “What kind of artist do you consider yourself?” You can’t really say, “I’m a print-maker,” anymore, because you’re so much more.
J: Well, it was interesting because I was reading Edra’s response, and I’ve heard her say that before, “I’m a conceptual artist.” She said the idea is most important, and I thought about that, and I was like, “It’s true.” I went to print-making because I loved the fussiness of getting into the craft, but then it wasn’t enough, and I wanted to go to SAIC because I knew they would help me build a meaningful practice, and I was interested in understanding the conceptual integration of an idea with materials. So I guess I’m a conceptual artist and a print-maker. I feel like print-making, because it was such a huge part of my practice for so long, and I have so much training in that, it really informs the path I take with materials.
Something they say with print-making is you always start with a matrix, the plate, like an etching plate or a block of linoleum, or the screen. That’s your matrix to form an image, and I feel like what I’ve been noticing is the fence, that kind of criss-cross structure, is like this matrix that helps me move the form and the idea to the next step… to the next step of thinking about my empty lot and thinking about the lots in the community. I was also an activist for a long time, and so the theories and ideas I learned through activism is something else that informs my work. So what kind of artist that makes me? I don’t know—I guess I would be a conceptual artist.
K: I saw the work you put on your website—there’s a few projects where it seems like you have an etching and a physical installation of the same piece. Did you begin with the printing portion or the installation portion?
J: Yeah, again, I was trained… I went to the University of Wisconsin, and I got a double major in fine arts and they make you pick between 2D and 3D, so once you do the general studies, you have to pick between one and another, and they had a very strong print-making program, so I did 2D, and I went from drawing to print-making, and I felt like they really guided me through that process. And then when I came to the Art Institute, I moved into sculpture. I had a training too at a fine arts shop called Tandem Press, so some of the prints in the house that you see were prints that I worked on with an artist, and we would do a fine arts print, and from there, they would make an edition. So there’s a Judy Pfaff print, the silver framed one in my bedroom, and in the living room, there’s a Suzanne Caporael print. So they take big name artists and bring them into the shop to work with a master printer.
That type of rigorous training as an assistant in that program, and I think the crafting and the materials are always important in my practice. I think that’s something between the theoretical women’s studies practice I had—I graduated from a women’s studies practice, and I worked in a women’s shelter on a crisis line—and I feel like both of those things inform the strategies of my work, the conceptual community element and theories.
K: Do you find yourself making prints from every project that you’re working on?
J: No, but using print concepts. The ideas of using a multiple or a matrix or give-aways or thinking about how a poster is used and using a similar format. One piece you may have seen on my website was a shell of a room made of paper. There, I was thinking again of the room as a matrix, and what’s left of this room and peeling away paper from the walls. So, I used the whole room to paper and scotch tape and took all the relief of the room.
Or… the recent pieces, I have some pieces in the Columbia College center for book and paper art. I would make trellises or webs, and I would install them in lots around the community in this area, and in them are embedded words and phrases, like protest signs. And then I would take those string structures, and I would create a screen print from them.
K: Do you take the physical thing that you made and just stick it down?
J: Right, so almost like a photogram. I was combining this idea of a protest sign and screen printing and using the structure, the sculpture, and the installation to make a multiple of a protest sign. And then I would screen print those and install those. And that’s something you can see. If you want to see one, it’s installed at the Center for Contemporary Arts right now.
M: What kind of activism were you involved in?
J: When I moved to Minneapolis, I was really involved in the environmental movement. In Wisconsin, on the river, there was a mining project coming in, and it was on a Native American reservation, and we worked for years as a coalition to stop this mining project that Exxon was doing in that area. It was one of the most pristine areas in Wisconsin. It’s one of the most pristine rivers. And it would affect a lot of Native communities, and so for years I worked on that. I worked at Green Peace as a paid job, and we would organize behind that. There was also various campaigns we would work on underneath that, but then I moved to Wisconsin, and I transferred to Madison to work on the project, because most of it was happening there, and I worked under some activists and we worked to get that done.
What actually ended up happening was some really interesting coalitions got built. Very rare do you see hunters and people from the community interacting with the native reservation, and people from the city, Madison. So it built a lot of great communities and coalitions that you just don’t normally see, and what ended up happening, how we ended up winning the fight was kind of a strange reason. It was that a casino got built in that area, and they made a lot of money, and they bought the land from Exxon, and they put a moratorium on that space and a land trust so the minerals can’t ever be harvested as long as the Native American community is there, the Menonimee Indian tribe, owns that space. So it wasn’t won through typical methods of organizing and community grassroots organization or laws or the legal system…
M: But you brought awareness to it.
J: Exactly, so it happened in an untraditional way. So while I was there, I was learning a lot about women and land movements, and globalization of the women’s movement was really important, and I learned under some amazing professors there.
When I got out of school… the art department and those other disciplines didn’t speak like they do at SAIC. They don’t come together as an interdisciplinary thing. They really want to teach you how to do something like be a great print maker. So I came out really like, “I don’t know what art can do.” I didn’t understand what difference my work could make, and I started to learn about what SAIC did and how they bring out interdisciplinary formats with their work, and I don’t even know if I thought at that point I wanted to do something with my art. I don’t think I had the answers anymore, like I did when I was younger. But I really wanted to use these bodies of knowledge that had been given to me to influence my work. Stay true to thinking about my place in community and who am I here in this place and how can I use my art skills and that training, that activist training, and it sounds hokey, but to honor all those things that had been given to me. I feel like I could develop my own body of knowledge building off all these things.
K: Was that around the time you found your abandoned lot oasis here?
J: The abandoned lots came after grad school. I was adjunct teaching at all these places and broke, so I moved to this neighborhood, to this apartment, and it was a big shift for me. My partner Angie was in law school in Urbana, so I moved in with a roommate, and I wasn’t making much art. I really struggled working and getting my art practice together. I just got to know the neighborhood and talking with people and seeing the things that were happening, and I hadn’t dealt with the urban complex that happened in Chicago before until this time. I think before I was in grad school, I was just not aware, but living here and being part of it started to get me thinking about those things. As the dust settled from that time, and I got my head above water, I got a studio and started working with the lots and the community and these ideas that I had.
K: Space big enough to fit your fences inside of?
J: Yes, exactly!
K: How did that story ever turn out? You were looking for a fence, and you went to see it, and it had a tree inside of it so you couldn’t take it. How did you resolve that?
J: I was thinking, “I don’t want to buy a fence. What do people do when they make big sculptures? Do they just go to a graveyard when they’re done? Do they recycle them? Do they throw them away? Do they become famous? What happens to these big sculptures, and what do I do with that? I don’t want a fence. I don’t want a fence of my own.” So then, at first, I went to Resource, which is on the South Side, and they collect objects and they collect stuff, and they sell them to people and a lot of artists, and I called and asked them if they had this fence, and they sent me a picture of it through text. So I went down there, and it ended up at closer look that a tree had gone through it, so then I started looking at renting a fence, which is super expensive.
K: So that’s all less expensive than going to Home Depot and buying a section of fence?
J: Yeah, it is. Totally. But then this lovely apartment building development came on, so two of the panels are from the original fence that whoever owned this place before the construction company had it, and they started taking them away, and I just asked them if I could have two panels, and another panel, I found in an alley.
K: Wow. That lot’s really served you.
J: Totally. I don’t know, when the piece is done, what do I do? I’m not sure yet. If you think of Vito Acconci or all of those sculptures, not all of them go in museums. Is there a sculpture graveyard? What do people do?
K: I don’t know how your piece would withstand weather. It could become part of your downstairs.
J: Maybe I could even attach them to the current lot.
K: You said after school, you were living here, and you weren’t employed, or you weren’t employed fully. I saw a print where you wrote the words, “Annoyed, destroyed, unemployed.” Or was it hand-written? I couldn’t tell.
J: That was graph paper, and I hand-wrote a pattern, “Annoyed, destroyed, unemployed, God bless.” It’s from a punk rock record album that was in response to Margaret Thatcher and her stuff, and I found it, and it was during the economic downturn. What was really funny is that Margaret Thatcher recently passed away, and they were talking about her then, and Jessica Cochran who curated the show at the Center for Book and Paper Arts was thinking about putting a piece in because it was timely.
K: It really resonated with me because I don’t have a job, and I’m just doing this project to fill my time with something positive and not just negative thoughts about, “Why don’t you have a job?” And I saw that piece, and I thought, “Well, this is a pretty good story,” because now you have a job, and you’re a real person and everything. So that could be me, too.
J: It’s true! It’s totally what was happening. I was patching together all these teaching gigs that pay nothing. I was working all the time, but I could hardly make rent. I was working as an assistant for this punk rock label called Smog Veil Records there in Wicker Park, and they were doing a documentary called The Complaints Choir, and I was doing a lot of coordinating of that, and we listened to a lot of punk rock in their space, and I was like, “Oh, I love this album.” They had this TV screen and stereo system, and the album would come up on the screen, and it was this great song, and it said, “Annoyed, destroyed, unemployed, God bless.” And it was a British man holding a sign. Every few months, I felt like I was standing for work. Classes wouldn’t fill, and I would be stuck. I felt like those years were really a tough time, and there was a catharsis in this repetition, like, “Pay attention to these things. This is happening to me and a lot of other people.”
K: So you hand-wrote it, is that what you’re saying? I know another artist who does some hand-written pieces, and they seem to me a little bit more like off-the-cuff in a moment, like, “I have this thing I want to get down, but I don’t want to go through my whole process. I still want to capture it.” And I don’t want to say that it wasn’t as time-intensive, but it struck me as, “I have to get this out, like, a lot.”
J: It was just a notebook—a graph paper notebook, and it was like I did it in an afternoon. And I like the idea of the single voice of the protest sign, and then once putting those all together, it becomes the chant of many. That was the first one I did in a series of prints like that. And that really helped me solidify the prints that I was doing with the slogans. I really like this idea of “What was the voice? Who’s speaking and when? When a community speaks, what’s the difference? How do protest signs function?” I was really interested in a lot of those types of questions. I’m glad you liked it. I love that piece; I think it’s hilarious.
K: It made me pause for a moment.
K: And then there was this other quote that I read:
”For my own sake there was nothing for me to do but to love you. I knew, if I allowed myself to hate you, that in the dry desert of existence over which I had to travel and am traveling still, every rock would lose its shadow every palm tree be withered, every well of water prove poisoned at it source.”
J: Oh, towards the end of Urban Lot pieces.
K: You’re saying you hate and love Chicago? Tell me more.
J: It stems from the struggle I had of not working and living in this neighborhood, just seeing the struggles of the neighborhood. I grew up in kind of an idyllic space. I grew up in this country town where everyone knew me, on this beautiful dairy farm. My dad was the mayor of the [town], it was like 500 people. He was mayor for thirteen years. I knew everybody.
K: That sounds even more small-town than Vermont.
J: It was just a beautiful, slow-paced life, and I know that to a certain extent, you can’t go back, and I know it doesn’t really exist anymore, that it was a moment in time, and then I moved to the city really excited about the opportunities and prospects of being an artist. All the promises you get as a young person moving into the goals that you’re setting for yourself. “Just grab it. Just go for it!” There’s all of these things, and then there’s the economic downturn, and so many of us were like, “What do we do?” I’m here in the city, my partner’s in Urbana, I’m trying to make it as an artist, and I really struggled. I struggled with what I saw in the city.
The cities used to work against people or for people, and I think it’s my home, and how to you reconcile the bad things that you see living here along with the good things that happen, the opportunities that happen. I get to be in my relationship with Angie, and nobody cares. If I were in that small town in Wisconsin, it would be really hard. I get to see art and work at the Art Institute, and I get to go into the museum with my employee card any day I want, and that would never be an experience I could have. So the Oscar Wilde quote was, “How do you love something that’s hard?” or “How do you love something that you struggle through?” and I think that’s always in everything I do.
K: My last real question is what are you working on now that is different from what we’ve seen so far? Do you have anything new in the works?
J: I really worked on that last project up until install.
K: Until yesterday?
J: Yeah, ‘til last week. I think one thing that happened in the program was that people kept asking me… I’m dealing with these things that are political, but I don’t have a political answer. The things I’m doing are really social, and there’s this whole social practice movement. So, “Are the objects necessary?” And I’m thinking a lot about that. I’ve been tied to making and craft and print-making and structures. Maybe I do turn to this history of conceptual art and removing myself from the object more, too, like a social practice moment. It seems like I’m doing this interaction, but at the same time, I’m hiding behind my object. I’m still the artist going away in my studio and making these objects, so there’s something there I’m working with.
I’m really interested in some of the things that have been happening in Bangladesh. There was a fire in a factory, and Bangladesh fabric workers and textile workers—There’s something in the New York Times almost every day about it. And the corporations that market or bring these contracts to these countries, they built a huge skyscraper in Bangladesh, and they found out recently that the skyscraper was built illegally on land that they stole, on land that now they had to drain wetlands for. Permits were illegally bought. So I’m really interested. I don’t know if I’m going to make an art project out of it, but I really want to draw this building. I want to draw it to super detail, and find out the whole process of illegally taking this land. So I am becoming really wedded to the idea of taking over space and taking over land.
K: That’s pretty literally taking it.
J: Right. And I’m interested in a community in an anarchist way, taking it over and maybe farming that land, and then there’s this corrupt element of taking land, too. So that’s where I see the ideas going, but the structures, I’m not really sure. So moving away from protest and more towards this act.
K: I noticed you’re wearing a Chicago Printers Guild apron.
K: So, I read on the Internet, which may or may not be true that you’re the director. That must be exciting, right?
J: It is! It’s this great organization. I was nominated for the board last December, and I got voted in to be the director, and it’s about a group of forty print makers around the city devoted to promoting print-making and understanding print-making better. I keep up the blog, so if you saw the website, I put a lot of the posts up.
K: Yes, I saw. Most all the posts were by you.
J: Trying to make current and keep contemporary the print-making community, and each month, we have a member meeting where we go to different shops around the city, meet different print-makers, and they do a demo of their process or a process we don’t know about.
K: Are they part of your organization?
J: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Sometimes they’re a connection of an artist we know in the city. One time we went to Peter Power’s. He’s the chair of print-making at SAIC, and he was my advisor. He’s not in the group; he wouldn’t need to be in the group because he knows everything there is to know about print-making and taught pretty much everybody in the group. It’s very SAIC and Columbia College heavy. So we went to his home studio. He took over a factory in Little Village, and he with another artist created their apartment, and then the whole lower level of this factory is their art studios.
K: Sounds great. Like every artist’s dream.
J: Totally. So that was really inspiring. Next month, we’re going to be at Columbia College, and we’re going to do an offset demo, and we’re bringing in artist Alex Valentine who teaches offset, and he does a publishing project called No Coast Collective, and he’s going to show the publishing project. So we try to really introduce everybody to all of these different strategies of using print making. There’s gig poster people like Jay Ryan, and he did the Andrew Bird album, and he does a lot of posters around the city. There’s a lot of letter press people, and then there’s artists who use print, like me. Then there’s different shop owners, like Angee Lennard from Sputnik is part of it.
K: I love that place.
J: Yeah. Deborah Lader from the Chicago Printmakers collaborative. She did last month’s demo. And so it’s really just a social group, and me as the director is really just getting people together and telling people what’s going on. We change every year. And it’s been really good for me. I feel like I was so focused on work and getting my artwork done, it’s been a good opportunity for me to plug in some of the connections I have and show people I know. Yeah, it’s pretty fun.
K: You lit up just telling that story! So you guys change directorship every year?
J: Yes, exactly. And one of the artists who’s in the Hyde Park Art Center show is the prior director, Kate Howe. She had the black and white prints of the silhouettes. So she’s part of the group, so it was really great to have her part of my Hyde Park Art Center program.
K: Do they do that program all the time, or is this new for them?
J: It’s the second year it’s been run, and it looks like they’re really happy with the result. There was a pilot, and then the second year happened.
K: So they’re really focused on career development for artists.
K: I think that’s awesome. I read an article with “Four undervalued spaces that are excellent,” and the Hyde Park Art Center is on the list.
J: I love that space. I feel so honored. I think that’s such a beautiful gallery. So many great artists in Chicago started their careers—if you think of Theaster Gates, that’s where his solo show that got him to the MCA was. I feel really lucky to be in that space… to be part of the program.