Monday, January 19, 2009
My assistant, Zach, interviewed Jon Coffelt today about his upcoming show COMMUNION, the show of memory clothing, seen in the current issue of Fiber Arts magazine
INTERVIEW with JON COFFELT
ZACH PEARL // 11:00 A.M., JANUARY 19TH, 2009
1) What is it about working on a miniature scale that intrigues you, or how is it most rewarding?
Jon is drawn to miniatures, because of their very detail-oriented nature. He uses a higher concentration of stitches per inch than the average amount used for doll clothing. He is determined to make this distinction, because he wants to make clear that when he "miniaturizes" a piece, he does it with as much accuracy to the original as possible.
2) Why do you feel that people have such a strong affinity towards the Miniature?
Jon feels people are drawn to works on a miniature scale, because miniature objects often hold sentimental value for many people. He feels, especially since 9/11, the majority of the country has returned to appreciating works of a sentimental nature, and has even started to allow for more emotional behavior in public contexts in general. He believes that this is an important and powerful occurrence, because, "Sentiment takes the Viewer into a personal space." He also believes that since 9/11 there has been increase in public artworks and art that invites the viewer to participate, and even to interact with one another. Jon sees this as a positive trend, and he sees great potential for public interaction with, "Communion" this April.
3) Can you talk more about the meaning behind the name of your show, "Communion"? Is this exchange of feelings and ideas happening between the works or between the members of the audience?
Jon says, the name of the show encapsulates the collaborative process between himself and the commissioner. And, that Communion also means the sense of the community that is generated by seeing all the pieces displayed at the same time. "Each piece represents a person. Many of those people have passed, and so the piece of clothing is a fragment. The pieces are just fragments of ourselves—people that we may have been at one time, or will be at some point."
Jon also comments that when a person commissions a piece, that they are not only donating a piece of their clothing, they are, in fact, donating a part of themselves, "paying it forward in a way," and laying the groundwork for future collaborators.
4) You have sometimes referred to this body of work as being "memory clothing". Can you expand on this term/concept further, and how you see the role of clothing in a person's day to day life (a form of expression, a record of a time period, etc.)?
Jon said that he firmly believes, "we carry ourselves so much in what we wear". He described clothing as, "the shell", that we put on everyday, and that our style of clothing is often a key attribute of how we are remembered and how we are interpreted once we are gone. In this way, his miniatures work to commemorate events and periods in history as much as they do the person who wore the original. He says of his term memory clothing, "each piece helps the commissioner to transform through his/her grieving process in the same manner that the garment transforms from the original to the miniature."
5) What do you think about as you're making these works? Do you make a conscious effort to concentrate on the story behind the garment, or is it more about the physical process of constructing the garment?
As one might guess, Jon says his, "primary concern is the physicality of the pieces." When making a piece, Jon is entirely focused on the physical construction of the garment; operating as a machine, striving for an exact replica of the clothing donated.
6) Did you see yourself making this kind of work 10 years ago? 15 years ago?
Jon says that he did, in fact, see himself making this kind of work 15 years ago. In fact, his work on a miniature scale began all the way back in 1993. What he did not foresee, however, when he started this kind of work was the immense emotional responses that miniature artworks could elicit from people, and he was intrigued by this. From this moment on, Jon decided that he wanted to make work that contained as much emotional value as it did beauty and precision.
7) How has this body of work influenced your other artistic processes? Is miniature scale a permanent attribute of your future endeavors?
This body of work has had an effect on Jon's creative process. When he goes to the drawing board, he says that he thinks of how the finished work can be a shared experience between himself and the viewer. How can it be experiential? He also says, that another body of work of his, "Cosmos" has been drawing closer to the work of , "Communion" in the way that the paintings are very meditative, and offer a quiet moment of reflection for all who view them.
Since making this body of work, Jon is also concerned with "translating the same experience of making the work into the experience of viewing the pieces".
Jon told the story of a plein air painter, Jon Laub, who died a few years ago from leukemia. Only recently, Laub's partner, Bruce, approached Jon with a bundle of clothing. He told Jon that he had kept some of Laub's old clothes hidden away since his death. Bruce had never admitted this to anyone up until now. Jon didn't know exactly how to react to this request, but he knew that the fact that he had been entrusted with Bruce's meant that making these pieces would yield a very personal meaning. Jon accepted Bruce's commission.
When Jon arrived home, he opened the pieces. He knew immediately that these were the clothes that Laub had painted in—"the clothes that he really wanted to be in". Jon proceeded immediately to miniaturize Laub's clothes.
Upon completing the pieces, Jon delivered them to Bruce in a legal-sized envelope. He handed them to him one by one, and could see in the way that Bruce touched them there was both newness and familiarity in the pieces. Bruce began to cry. Without knowing what he had triggered, Jon apologized for bringing up so many feelings at one time about the replicas. But, Bruce immediately assured Jon that he was just a bit overwhelmed. The pieces, Bruce explained, had allowed him to cry about Laub's death for the first time in years—to really be able to cry about it and confront it but that he felt comforted too.
Jon got two more commissions this morning. He is now up to 378.
He recently got his first commission for an animal; a miniature dog jacket.
He is participating in another exhibition for this series during Mardi Gras of 2010 at the New Orleans with Ammo Arts.
"One thing that makes us Human, is that we make Art."