An Interview with Jason Meyer

Up now through July 22nd at ICA Baltimore is a survey of sculpture by Baltimore-based artist Jason Meyer. Meyer’s work combines an interest in landscape, foraging and process to yield a graceful, biomorphic, and materially experimental sculptural practice. We checked out his artist talk late last month, and decided to present some follow up questions here for those unable to make it:

Experiential Surprise: Could you explain the concept of “Westing,” and why you chose it as the title of the show?

Jason Meyer: Westing is a an “artist-directed retrospective.” It’s the second of these types of shows presented by the ICA Baltimore. As “artist-directed” I was given complete freedom to present my work in any manner I wished. As a retrospective, I was encouraged to present older work along with newer pieces. It’s a rare opportunity for an emerging artist to show work representing a broad span of time and to see how it relates conceptually and formally.

The word “Westing” resonated with me as I was considering possible titles for the show. The word itself means “westerly progress.” My work examines our relationship to the natural world. It considers the natural environment, our built environment and history. I came to Baltimore from the West, and in a macro-sense live in the Western World. “Westing” seemed open enough to describe a broad range of work.

ES: The show is bookended by a piece made about 13 years ago, Dendral (1999), and continues with work made up to the present. Why was Dendral your starting point? What separates it from other work you may have been making at the same period?

JM: Dendral is one of the last pieces I made in college and is the earliest piece in the exhibition. I’ve been dragging it around from place to place since college. It was part of a series of works I was making at the time using steel bailing wire. In these pieces I formed the wire into large root or nerve-like forms. The steel wire was purchased at the Tractor Supply Company. It’s normally used to bind straw bails. I was interested in making sculpture with material related to the place where the work was made or in those days presented. I found the forms to be interesting and evocative and allowed for multiple readings. The process of manipulating material into organic forms was simple yet an open enough avenue to lead to many more works.

In my artist talk I mentioned this piece was one of the pieces that bookended the work in the show. As situated in the room, it is directly across from one of the newest pieces in the show, a work titled Future Landmark. Future Landmark presents a lightning rod system attached to a living Ginkgo tree. It relates formally and conceptually to Dendral but operates in an opposite manner. In many of my newer pieces, including Future Landmark, I have begun using organic matter directly in the work rather than creating organic forms from manmade materials.

ES: Westing includes two pieces, Stayed Gone and Cortez, that are made employing the traditional “rammed earth” building technique to create clusters of sand-colored, hexagonal bricks. Could you explain your use of this process?

JM: Rammed earth is an ancient building material. It is typically used to make walls for homes and other structures. Part of the Great Wall of China is made from rammed earth. It is basically a mixture of clay soil with sand and gravel. Typically, the mixture is placed into forms to make walls. Shallow layers are added inside the form and are then compressed, usually by hand, using a tamper. As the wall is completed, the forms are removed. The earth dries becoming solid. It’s an inexpensive but very labor intensive process used in many parts of the world. It’s becoming more popular in the US as green building gains momentum.

I adopted this process to make sculpture. I am using smaller geometric shaped molds. It is a heavy material. Each unit in Cortez weigh about 7-8 lbs. The units in Stayed Gone each weigh about 40 lbs. Cortez has about 160 units and Stayed Gone has about 50, so each sculpture weighs about a ton. I would estimate each work probably took about 60 hours but I can’t say for sure.

ES: Your work seems to have a lot of resonance with various Minimalist and Post-Minimalist sculptors and sculptures. Do you see your work as relating more or most to materials and process, or to a history of sculpture?

JM: I suppose both. Thematically, the work is about landscape and materials. I am particularly interested in the abilities of the chosen materials to contribute to the viewer’s reading or understanding. I try to make the work about something other than art. That being said, I do see the work as part of the history of sculpture. I certainly have influences and those influences appear in the work, sometimes overtly and at other times in ways unforeseen.

Thank you, Jason! Westing is on view through July 22nd. ICA Baltimore is located at 16 West North Avenue. It’s hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 to 4:00 pm.

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