The Woskob Family Gallery is a space for contemporary arts and culture in downtown State College, PA.

Artist Q & A: Jenna Spevack

September 27, 2017

Jenna Spevack is a Brooklyn-based artist, designer, and educator focusing on issues of sustainable ecology and well-being.  Her current work merges her varied titles through projects and practices that explore how human interactions with ecological systems support resilience in the shifting natural and social-political landscapes. She has a BFA in Printmaking from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an MFA in Painting/Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design.

How does living in an urban environment impact the urgency of the work you do?

Much of the work I’ve made over the last ten years has focused on making connections to natural systems in urban environments. This kind of work was in response to feeling a loss of connection to nature in my everyday life. I was specifically interested in how exposure to plants, trees, birds, bugs, even those which mimic the natural world through image or sound, help urban dwellers find an improved sense of well-being. Projects such as Birds of Brooklyn and 8 Extraordinary Greens were part of that desire to provide a panacea for urbanites deprived of nature.

Can you tell us about your choice to use a TV as the mode of communicating weather?

The aim is to communicate the meditative experience of watching and hearing the rain. I have childhood memories of being stuck inside on a rainy day and watching the rain drip, drip, drip down the window. Hours could have passed while following the life of a drip, interacting with other drips, connecting and separating. Watching those drips allows one to disappear into another world, to create other worlds, or to just observe closely and quietly.  The animations are played through an old black and white TV to connect to that time period, but also to communicate that trance-like experience of escaping the present.

Can you describe your process? How do you go from concept to completion with a piece like Hourglass?

I keep a long list of project ideas. For a few years an item on my list said “animate water drips.” When Ann contacted me about the Water / Seep exhibit, it seemed like the right time. I took a residency in Provincetown on Cape Cod, where you can see some of the most beautiful and diverse clouds. I created a series of cloud drawings in water color pencil and then began to dissolve them with drips of water using stop motion animation. The stop-motion reminded me of the absorbing experience I had as kid, watching raindrops slowly drip down the window during a rainstorm. It was calming, meditative, but also sad- like tears. I imagined my family’s 1980’s living room with it’s small black and white TV and pillows on the floor. When the TV reception would go out during a storm you were left staring at the static, which sounds like the white noise of rain. I originally planned to project the animations on the wall or a screen, but these two childhood experiences seemed like they fit together, so with much trial and error (and numerous adaptors) I rigged up a conversion from the digital, stop-motion animations to old school analog television.

How much do you expect/want viewers to interact with your installation? Do you want them to take a seat?

I make work that viewers are encouraged to interact with, but understand that unless explicitly directed, most viewers won’t take a seat and zone out in front of an old TV. I often find that younger viewers will see a pillow on the floor and think, “hey, that pillow is for me!”, but less so with adults.  I observed this with my participatory installation, Insideout House, which asked viewers to contribute to the work by creating a drawing while listening to the sounds of the forest in the dark. Children were all over it. They got it right away and contributed some amazing drawings.

Your installations frequently use traditional power sources to run lights, videos, etc. How do you reconcile this with your interest in sustainable ecology?

I wish we lived in a country that used renewable energy to power our lives and our modes of communication, but sadly we don’t – yet. Sustainable solutions exist to run lights and videos, as a culture we just haven’t embraced them. I aim to tread lightly in my daily life, but I also accept the limitations of the world we currently live in and try to work with them in order to produce and communicate. My interest in sustainable ecology looks at the overall relationships we have with the natural environment and how in a few generations we have lost the shared knowledge of growing our own food, building a fire, drinking from and bathing in a stream, the sound of a downpour in the woods, hearing birds in morning, the mesmerizing sound of peepers at dusk, seeing the stars and true darkness when we go to bed. I am interested in encouraging urbanites to reconnect with these natural systems as a way of moving the culture toward a more sustainable future.

How does your role as an educator affect your work as an artist?

Several years ago I looked at all the hats I was wearing: educator, artist, designer, environmental advocate, and I started developing work that tried to incorporate all of these roles. As a educator I work with a diverse population of students. For many English is a second language, for others, they are the first generation to attend college, struggle with learning disabilities, or are trying to make a fresh start.  Communicating across cultures, languages, and abilities has been humbling, but also incredibly rewarding and inspiring. It has changed my approach to art making so that I try to consider a general audience when creating work. I aim to exhibit work in a variety of spaces, for a variety of viewers, and in a variety of modalities, such as my recent installation, Treetones Tour, on Governors Island in NYC, which was an educational, environmental, art installation.

For more information visit Jenna Spevack’s website at http://jennaspevack.com and follow her on Instagram at @jennaspevack

Skip to toolbar