Jennifer Macdonald: We Met in Kaarthijenkia at Sala Projects

In Dialogue with Jennifer Macdonald

Jennifer Macdonald, We Met in Kaarthijenkia installation at Sala Projects, 2021, photo courtesy of Tania Cross

Jennifer Macdonald’s solo inaugural exhibition at Sala Projects features a group of unique cast bronze sculptures, made by using prototypes that are built from textured wax and wax-coated materials such as card stock, pasta, balsa wood.

Your process is elaborate, using the lost-wax method. Tell me about your process and a bit about its genesis in your art making.

I love the timelessness of this process. These recent works result from hands-on experimentation and opportunities of chance. Creative activity is often my studio goal rather than specific production, especially because it’s challenging to have a studio on many levels: physical space, financial stability, uninterrupted time. This makes me appreciate the magical vibe when there’s no clock or set plan. Generally I approach materials loosely – I also do stop-motion animation, cardboard sculpture, mixed media.

Limits and parameters for casting gave me a structure to work within for these pieces: how thick wax can be, which materials will “burn out” in a foundry. I love the flexibility of working additively and subtractively with microcrystalline wax. I usually pre-mix batches of soft & hard formulas and work on many things simultaneously, joining and cutting pieces with a hot knife; if something fragile collapses it goes in the fridge to firm up or can be re-melted down. I pour melted wax onto textured surfaces and assemble cardboard, wood or dry pasta into patterns. My tools are basic: ladles, heat gun, floor mats, other household supplies for textures. Having the technical stuff ready lets me work playfully in the moment, and then casting wax into metal turns impossibly fragile collages into unique bronzes at the foundry, without molds or multiples. This uniqueness seems to increase their mystery, as though they were facts of nature.

Bronze comes with inherent art historical connotations. Integrating it with found objects creates thought provoking tension between old and new, durable and ephemeral, textures. What is your take on that?

It’s an interesting question, I’ve been thinking about the space between hand-made and found objects. When I’m in the zone it feels as though I’m finding them in my hands, or recognizing forms rather than crafting them step by step. Sometimes I pair bronzes with other sculptures of cardboard, to push them beyond a historical connotation. Bronze for me is about warmth, heft and duration rather than fancy monumental status. For this show, the found objects are the shelf items which have connections to my home and studio, and several “as-is” chunks of limestone, marble and alabaster, physically combined with bronzes. Together they suggest archeological fragments, industrial textures, sketches, playful games and modernist architecture- I think the found objects add an approachable context to the strange or absurd nature of the sculptures. Those tensions and adjustments are often on my mind.

Jennifer Macdonald, Spy v. Spy, 2019, unique bronze casts, each 6 x 5 x 5.5 inches, photo courtesy of Sala Projects

Tell me about the title: We met in Kaarthijenkia 

It came from a dream where I was with a group of artists. Someone asked if we all knew one another and I replied “we met in Kaarthijenkia”. It was immediately understood that this meant we’d all been through a meaningful experience together. When I woke up and wrote it down, I realized it wasn’t a real place. It felt like the right name for this show, diverse interconnections and a shared public realm we’ve been missing recently.

What does the visitor see in the space? Then, let’s take a closer look at a sculpture of your choice .

First you see a recreation of one of my bookshelves with some old favorites: Plains Indian drawings, Eygyptian amulets, Mexican, African, Etruscan, Inuit sculpture, Agatha Christie, archeology, cover art on paperbacks, 70s movies, a hand-painted box of postcards from travels to Giotto frescoes, Pompeii, Greek ruins, and a pandemic playlist (from March 2020-Thanksgiving I listened to the same music on shuffle every day). I love mysteries in any format – the shelf offers optional clues about some inspirations or where titles come from. My sculptures are grouped on a long table, a few pedestals, and on the walls. arranged in a sort of chorus of simultaneous activity. There are figurative characters, helmets, and pieces that resemble architectural models or aerial views, a mixture of humor and intrigue, or I hope there is! There’s a “secret” cluster of sculptures in the kitchenette too, with another stack of my books.

Venice is a wall relief bird mask with disc eyes, a large beak and a built-in hook handle, to use as a Venetian carnival or Il Medico della Peste mask. I used popsicle and bottle-top molds to cast the wax into eye shapes, parts of the beak, and the hook, combined with hand-modeling for the face. Strangely, I made the form way before the pandemic started but then finished and painted it during lockdown. Venice is a cartoony, new and ancient, friendly and scary, shiny and chalky talisman to ward off evil.

Jennifer Macdonald, Venice, 2020, unique bronze cast, 12 x 8 x 7 inches, photo courtesy of Sala Projects

This is the inaugural exhibition at Sala Projects. What can you share about this new venue?

Manuela Mozo and William Eric Brown have done a great thing- they started a beautiful, professional venue for artists who may not be known beyond their peers.

Jennifer Macdonald: We Met in Kaarthijenkia at Sala Projects 526 West 26th Street, Room 708, New York, NY. 10001, April 21, 2021 – June 4, 2021