Amanda Thackray: Surface Tension at NJCU

Featured Artist

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Amanda Thackray with A Tangle; A Swarm; A Precondition of the Plastisphere, 2021

In her solo exhibition at the Lemmerman Gallery in NJCU curated by Doris Cacoilo, Amanda Thackray presents her handmade paper installations, prints and sculpture which altogether comment on plastic pollution and the fragility of marine environment. The artist creates an allegorical environment which both reflects and distorts an aquatic world.

Tell me a bit about the genesis of this exhibition.

I have been making work about oceanic pollution since 2017, but it was a shift in my material practice that developed much of the work for this show. Before the pandemic, I had just finished a six-month residency at The Museum of Art and Design, NYC and was feeling grateful and inspired and had a lot of material to work with. I created Bottom Trawl in Repose, a sculpture made from dyed and twisted Japanese kozo paper, while in residence at MAD. At the end of my residency, I ran a public paper pulp painting workshop which inspired me to reconsider and investigate my relationship to handmade paper.

Concentrated studio time during the early pandemic provided me with the opportunity to intensely investigate wet paper pulp and develop a new way of working. I started drawing with wet pulp and, over the course of 2020, created multiple large scale installation works. My work is centered around narratives of pollution in the ocean and I have a particular interest in creating imagery of rope and netting. Installations such as A Swarm; A Precondition of the Plastisphere, Red Harbinger, and Surface Tension all utilize a technique are drawing netting-like shapes with wet paper pulp.

Creating these forms as a wet drawing process, rather than cutting them out of sheets is very important to me, not only process-wise but also conceptually. Hand papermaking processes are inextricably linked to water. I want to be touching and thinking about water when I am making my work, and I want remnants of that water to be infused in my work. In a way, the work becomes an artifact of a very particular relationship to water.

While creating this work, I was listening to the podcast, How to Save a Planet co-hosted by the brilliant marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and reading the book Pollution Is Colonialism by the equally brilliant Max Liboiron, who founded the interdisciplinary plastic pollution laboratory CLEAR in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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View of the exhibition from the gallery door.

Please guide us through the show.

When you walk into the gallery, there are installations lining the walls directly to your left and right. On the left, the installation A Tangle; A Swarm; A Precondition of the Plastisphere covers a length of sixteen feet, composed of layered handmade paper pulp drawings that oscillate between animal, plant, and plastic, referencing new ecosystems – recently coined as the plasticsphere – built on plastic marine waste. To the right, Red Harbinger, also created from handmade paper pulp, spans the same framework of references, however this time the paper is shredded by hand after creation, distressed as if tumbled through waves, brushing up against rocks and bleached corals.

Directly in front of you, a sculpture, Bottom Trawl in Repose, is slumped atop a pedestal. The only true sculptural object in the show, it is a slumped net handcrafted out of dyed and twisted Japanese paper. Behind it, a small segment of the 1,000 Square Foot Project is hung on a seven-by-three-by-three foot armature, referencing a cross section of contaminated ocean water. This installation is an early touchstone for the exhibition. It is flanked on three sides by tall stained-glass windows. As light streams through the colored glass, it seems to illuminate the handmade paper sheet from inside the cube.

While guiding the biologist Allison Fitzgerald, who studies aquatic microplastic pollution, on a private tour of the show, she told me that the panels explicitly reminded her of looking through her microscope at a microplastic filled slide. Two series of supplemental work are also included: four gouache paintings from the Lexicon series, and six inkjet prints on duralar. Both series focus on selections of debris collected for the 1,000 Square Foot Project.

The back right corner displays the installation Surface Tension, from which the exhibition takes its title. A field of blue and green droplets, created from drawn wet paper pulp, are hung in a static moment. These droplets simultaneously represent rain and tears, and express an overwhelming sense of melancholy over our collective ecological crises.

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Clockwise from bottom left: Bottom Trawl in Repose, 2021, Twisted hand-dyed Japanese paper, 43 x 20 x 16 inches; six prints from the Pile series, 2017, Inkjet prints on dura-lar film, 9 x 12 inches each; Red Harbinger, 2021, Hand pigmented cotton paper pulp, 81 x 31 x 4.5 inches
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A Tangle; A Swarm; A Precondition of the Plastisphere, 2021, Hand pigmented cotton paper pulp, 192 x 80 x 3 inches

Amanda Thackray is a multidisciplinary artist and educator, based in Newark, NJ, whose practice sits at the intersection of craft, sculpture, and environmentally-based social practice. Thackray’s projects have been exhibited at The Newark Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Montclair Art Museum, The NARS Foundation, and The Knockdown Center. She is the recipient of Newark Creative Catalyst Fund Artist Fellowship in 2020 and 2021, and a Puffin Foundation Grant in 2021. She has been awarded numerous residencies including The Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Norway, and artist-in-residence at the Museum of Art and Design in NYC. Her work is in over a dozen public collections including The Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, Mediatheque Andre Malraux, France, Yale University, and The Library of Congress. She teaches printmaking at SUNY Purchase and Rutgers University. Thackray earned her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her BFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

SURFACE TENSION, solo exhibition by Amanda Thackray, curated by Doris Cacoilo The Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery, New Jersey City University 2039 John F. Kennedy Blvd, Jersey City, NJ 07305 September 3 – extended through December 10, 2021 Gallery Hours: Monday through Friday, 11am – 5pm, and by appointment