Jackie Mock’s recent body of sculptures and installations is currently featured in her solo show, “I Want to Believe,” at Proto Gomez. Mock is a visual story teller who frequently mines in her work offbeat narratives from American history to question notions of authenticity and belief. For Art Spiel the artist elaborates on her exhibition and shares some ideas on her art.
AS: Tell me about the body of work in your solo exhibition at Proto Gomez.
Jackie Mock: “I Want to Believe” at Proto Gomez is focused around a series of work I started about one year ago, related to and inspired by the beginning of the Spiritualist movement in America. I’ve found that in the past a lot of the discussion of my work has been surrounded by the idea of “belief” – whether people believe that a specific artifact or object I’m presenting is real or authentic. I see myself as a storyteller or conduit for untold stories, almost always the offbeat, sometimes humorous portions of American history. Seeing myself as a sort of conduit led me to think about my voice and why it might be valid or interesting to others.
My fascination with the spiritualist movement, specifically the way it gave women a voice in society, began with a reverence for the Fox sisters seances – how they came to fame and garnered credibility (a piece about them is in my near future). This led to research about other lesser-known women who really gained a voice and got noticed during this movement. This body of work is just the beginning. I see the cornerstones of the exhibition as the three free-standing sculptures in the gallery “Marie, We’re Listening,” “Ask Me Anything (William James Sidis),” and “Code Duello” as they’re all my own take on functioning/interactive Spiritualist talking devices.
AS: You seem to work a lot with found objects. Tell me a bit about how you start your installations. Let’s take for example “Groundhog Day,” from 2019.
Jackie Mock: I work almost solely with found objects. Most of the materials and artifacts I incorporate into my work are sought out for a historical significance or a story behind them. Some are transformed and part of a broader “story” or larger piece and some are best left presented simply and speak for themselves. The grass from Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney PA where the Groundhog Club has hosted the event every year since 1886 is the least “worked” piece I have ever shown and there is a reason for that.
As Nick De Pirro (owner of Proto Gallery) and I were discussing the possibility of having the opening of the show on Groundhog Day, I mentioned to him that that day was my favorite holiday and pulled that bag of Punxsutawney grass out of a box of random artifacts in my studio. He insisted on including it “as is” in the show even though I kind of fought him about it and it has become a sort of running joke ever since. When we were installing this week, he was referencing it as a type of “portrait.” This labeled bag of grass collected 10 years ago, opens a small glimpse into my process (and me apparently). The more I sit and think about it, I actually really love it and glad it’s included in the show.
I normally go a little over the top with presentation- building glass vitrines, shadowboxes, cabinets, etc. so I insisted on making a floating shelf for it, but other than that it’s just raw.
AS: And what about another sculpture in the Proto show that you regard as a cornerstone, “Code Duello” from 2018?
Jackie Mock: I would say that “Code Duello” along with “Marie We’re Listening” are not only two of the centerpieces of the show, but also my favorite work in this exhibition. “Code Duello” is one of those pieces where I’ve transformed artifacts to tell a broader story. Basically, it’s a handmade ouija board in which I’ve carved out each letter in wood and inlaid it with soil from the graves of Alexander Hamilton (buried in Manhattan at Trinity Church) and Aaron Burr (in Princeton, NJ). Each letter is outlined with a small piece of copper and the soil is inlaid and mixed with a cyanoacrylate glue- it’s similar to the process a jeweler would use to inlay stone. After sanding and polishing, the inlaid soil has the appearance of stone. The planchette (which is the object with the lens you place your hand on when using a ouija board) is created with an old tree branch I found at the site of the Weehawken dueling grounds where Aaron Burr fatally shot Hamilton on July 11,1804.
The reasoning behind the entire piece is that there are so many questions tied to this duel. After killing Hamilton, Aaron Burr (who was Vice President at the time) completely ended his political career. Even each man’s “second” refused to go on record and state for a fact who shot first (each person in a duel has a friend or “second” to look on during the duel and also their own doctor who has to look away so he has plausible deniability). Burr became the villain of American history in one moment while Hamilton became the martyr. What better way to get answers on that tragic event than through a ouija board? The title “Code Duello” is the list of rules or code for a duel that were followed during that time period.
In “Marie We’re Listening” I used the same soil inlay technique as the ouija board to replace the keys of an antique typewriter. This piece is another Spiritualist inspired “talking” device dedicated to the life and story of Marie Ogden, of Newark, NJ who founded the “Home of Truth” religious colony in southern Utah. Marie became involved in the Spiritualist movement after the death of her husband and founded an occult group called the “School of Truth.” Ogden and her followers believed Spiritualism allowed them to answer questions about their present lives and also communicate with loved ones who had passed away.
Marie believed she received divine revelations through automatic writing on her typewriter and traveled America lecturing and delivering messages from beyond. One revelation she received through her typewriter instructed her to move west and establish a colony dedicated to the “truth.” In 1933 she moved to the desert of southern Utah with 21 followers and founded the “Home of Truth”. After growing to over 100 faithful members, the colony began to disband when Ogden lost credibility for her inability to raise the dead or accurately predict the second coming of Christ. The Home of Truth was constantly attacked in the press and seen by locals as a dangerous cult. By the early 1940s almost every member abandoned the Home of Truth. The piece I created dedicated to Marie Ogden is an antique typewriter from the same era as Marie’s with keys containing inlaid soil from the site of the Home of Truth in Utah which I collected this past summer.
AS: And what about art history? Where do you see your work in that context?
Jackie Mock: I tend to consider my work in a few different ways or groupings conceptually.
I have some pieces that are purely personal, self reflexive, and almost diaristic: Every Spoon I have used Since July 2009 (actually every legitimate metal spoon I’ve used- playing off of the epitome of a classic souvenir spoon collection but from real life), 366 Wishbones (where I broke a wishbone and made a wish with a someone I encountered during the course of the day every single day throughout the course of one year). For my next upcoming solo show for example I’m planing on including a collection of glass microscope slides stored in a handmade box containing splinters removed from my hands while building the work in that show. This segment of my practice is performative and it definitely takes some inspiration from performance artists such as Marina Abramovic (especially her early work with Ulay). There’s an “endurance” aspect to that portion of my work. Making your art practice part of your everyday personal life, requires dedication and perhaps a bit of torture, maybe also a little Tracey Emin diaristic flair? The other part of my work deals with artifacts and telling a story outside of my personal experience. I’m inspired by catholic reliquaries- preserving and presenting artifacts in ornate ways, lending significance to an object that might otherwise be lost, overlooked or unappreciated. Also, the concept of classification of relics. First class relics are literally anything associated with the life of Christ (objects he touched, used.) and any body part or hair of a saint. Second class relics are important personal objects of saints. Third class relics are actually anything that has physically touched a first or second-class relic.
I often think of most of my work as second-class relics.
AS: For the Pencil Museum in Staten Island you created a site-specific installation. According to my understanding from the Hyperallergic article by Allison Meier, it was once the site of the Faber Mansion. Tell me about that project and how you researched and responded to the site?
Jackie Mock: The Pencil Museum came about through a grant and a call for art at underserved New York City parks. I had never really considered making an outdoor public sculpture but when I heard Faber Park was on the list I immediately knew I wanted to try to submit an idea because of the significance of the Faber family and their business as a sort of lesser known and almost forgotten aspect of New York City history. I wanted to tie the work I made into the history and story behind the park. The park sits on land donated by the Faber family and still bears the Faber name, but most residents of that neighborhood have absolutely no idea about the history of that space and how significant the Eberhard Faber pencil factory was in the history of America and especially New York City. The Pencil Museum was created as a way to illuminate the collection of pencils manufactured by the Eberhard Faber company in New York in a slightly exaggerated way, elevating and monumentalizing these antique pencils by presenting them in fancy glass vitrines with museum-like text accompanying each one. In order to research this project I went to the Brooklyn Historical Society, contacted some very dedicated pencil collectors to acquire the pencils and also looked through various patents to help to date some of the lesser known pencils. It was such a fantastic experience doing all of that research, building the sculptures, writing the signage, and then setting it all free in the world and reaching an audience that probably would have never encountered my work. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to educate people about the significance and history of their neighborhood and I think it brought a lot of unexpected joy to people.
AS: You said in the Hyperallergic article: “I like to present objects and make something ordinary into something more monumental.” This is the sense I get looking at your work. Can you elaborate on that?
Jackie Mock: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the main aspects of my work, lending significance and reverence to objects that really are pretty meaningless on their own. Whether it’s a fiber from a significant carpet, or a paint chip, or soil from a specific location- alone they’re pretty insignificant, but when cared for and elevated in presentation, these objects become starting points to tell a story or a history of a person or place. Sometimes that’s more of a personal history and sometimes it’s an overlooked or forgotten part of American history.
There’s a lot of research that goes into everything I collect and put out into the world. I think that alone they’re pretty meaningful, but also in an exhibition where I can present a full body of work the combination of objects tell a broader collective story.
This kind of goes back to the reliquary influence of my work.
AS: I first saw your work at SpringBreak Art Fair and loved your paint samples from NYC subway stations. I found it whimsical and at the same time moving. Tell me about the subway paint project.
Jackie Mock: I think a lot of people have been introduced to my work through the subway paint samples series. That began in a very simple way. I was standing and waiting for the subway in midtown and happened to notice this large piece of peeling paint on one of the metal beams next to the track. I was fascinated by how many colors were underneath this one piece and how much history was imbued in this one paint chip. I got obsessed with it and started noticing how individual each station really is. They’re just beautiful little artifacts and I love giving them the care and consideration they deserve.
I couldn’t just sample a few, so I traveled to every single subway station in the borough of Manhattan, to collect paint samples from each one. It was such an insane experience. I had a deadline for the first iteration of the series and did it over the course of 4 days. It took a lot of planning to figure out the best way to travel the subway and maximize my time, trying not to have to retrace the same path. I also found that It was also much easier to do it during rush hour when trains were traveling closer together but also harder to step off of a train and stand on a busy train platform with a chisel without people taking notice. I’m still shocked that not a single person stopped and asked me what I was doing but I think most people just assumed I was crazy and left me alone. Since the edition with every paint sample in Manhattan I’ve done a few smaller iterations (every L train station) and I’ve collected throughout the Bronx. It’s definitely not done yet, since I haven’t collected from every station in each borough. I’m also working on photographing each piece and compiling them into an artist book- I will hopefully finish that within the next few months. Also, just a side note – what I’m doing sounds super destructive (taking a chisel to a subway station) but I take some time and always happen to find a spot that’s already chipped and peeling and it’s not noticeable where I’ve collected a sample from.
AS: For me there is a strong sense of language in your work – it is concise, and it is readily associated with metaphors or puzzles. Does that make sense to you?
Jackie Mock: Language, written descriptions, even something as simple as the materials list is all integral to understanding and appreciating my work. I think it all goes back to the fact that each thing I create is referencing or telling a larger story. I think there’s something to be said about simplicity, and I do like drawing connections and using some simple metaphors.
There is a bit of irony in my work- maybe it’s just the humor in the simplicity of it all. My work does often make people laugh and I enjoy that. I think it also makes people look a little closer and appreciate things they might otherwise overlook. I’m more of a conduit, presenting things truly as they are.
AS: And “Lincoln” in the Proto show is made of puzzle, isn’t it? What were you thinking there?
Jackie Mock: So the Lincoln piece started when I found this ancient Abraham Lincoln puzzle in an antique store in Ithaca, NY. I took it home and tried to complete it and realized that it was missing a few pieces. It had obviously been completed before and I became obsessed with thinking about who completed and then took apart this puzzle before me, where did they lose those pieces to? I wanted to both preserve and present the fact that they were definitely lost, but also somehow recreate them. It all came together when I traveled to Lincoln’s birthplace and pulled some loose bark off of the tree growing outside of the single room cabin where he was born. I recreated the puzzle pieces with an actual piece of Lincoln’s past, but they obviously still stand out – missing and sort of ghost-like. There is actually a mate to this piece with a collector of my work. I somehow stumbled upon yet another of the exact same puzzle and it was missing four pieces, so it’s become kind of a series. If I ever happen to find another one of these puzzles and it’s also missing pieces there might have to be a third, I can’t help it- I need to complete them all.
AS: After all this, let’s go back a bit – tell me about your background and how you got to art.
Jackie Mock: For as long as I can remember I’ve always been interested in collecting and categorizing things. I had a ton of humorous collections as a child (one of my favorites was the collection I had of gold stickers removed from products that read “made in china”). I always liked making things, and drawing, and painting, but I was never satisfied with that. I went to art school because I couldn’t really see a life for myself where I wasn’t making things but I think I really came into my own after I finally escaped from being educated. School helped me think critically about my work but I was never a really good student and have a hard time following rules. I realized the direction my work was going was more sculptural and I wanted to teach myself woodworking to be able to give these objects I was so obsessed with the attention they deserved. It all came full circle back to the obsessive collecting of meaningless objects and artifacts.
I bought a bunch of tools and started woodworking in the bedroom of my New York City apartment. It was absolutely ridiculous, (I actually had a table saw in my bedroom) but it was what I had to do at the time. I wanted to make shadowboxes, and glass enclosures, reliquary type sculptures, and I figured it all out. Since all the woodworking I do is self-taught my technique is a little “kooky” and any carpenter would probably say it’s wrong, but it works for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My work has definitely evolved and my craftsmanship has drastically improved over the past 10 years but conceptually has always and most likely will always be in this vein.
AS: What are you up to in your studio next?
Jackie Mock: Well, after “I Want to Believe” opens tomorrow I’m working on one more solo show at Proto Gallery’s larger space in Hoboken. It’s going to be called “Magic Show” and it’s a companion show to the one in Manhattan. We’re going to be showing some more new work and also my spoon collection since it’s my longest ongoing project and this year is the 10 year anniversary. It has grown over the years into this huge two-sided cabinet of drawers and I’m excited to show that alongside some other new pieces and larger sculpture in that space.
I’m also going to be researching more women involved in the spiritualist movement in the coming months as well as working on the subway paint samples book.
I I Want to Believe
Runs through March 3, 2019
Weekends 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM
13 Monroe Street
New York, NY 10002