In Conversation with Jessamyn Fiore about exhibition "Infinite Infinite" at Arts +Leisure

Available for purchase here at Arts+Leisure Gallery

Jessamyn Fiore: I suppose one of the things that I’m first struck by with your work is the relationship between the ceramic – which has these really luscious textures and forms - alongside technology. I don’t know if I’ve seen that combination too many times before – you really put it front and center in your work.

Do you mind talking a little bit about how you came from the ceramic background but then found this relationship to technology – how do you see those two elements relating?

Aimee Odum: A lot of that came about in grad school. Going into a program where I was forced to get out of my comfort zone – I gravitated toward using video to document movements within a natural place. And as I was doing that I realized I liked editing the videos a lot more than actually being a figure in the video space. I felt I could manipulate video material the same way that I touch clay.  There is this movement of pixels and texture that you can create within a 2D space that is similar to the way I’m moving the particles in clay, touching and manipulating them and creating texture.  Also in terms of technology I’m really interested in ceramics as the first technology.

JF: We spoke about this before - when mankind put their hands to something, to a substance, to an element, and manipulated it for their own use – that is the first technology.

AO: Right, yes. Being something that is a human manipulated object is – in the most fundamental terms- what I think Technology is. And so ceramics being the first man made object is really the first form of technology.

JF: You are bringing it back to this idea of touch – of using our hands and our fingers. That sense of touch in relationship to how we create technology and how we interact with technology. This work here – what is this called?

AO: Embedding.

JF: Embedding. I want to start by talking about this piece because I love its scale. Though it’s relatively small I think it captures a number of elements of your practice that are evident in this exhibition- including this idea of place and other worldliness. When I look at your works I feel like they are creating a world. The different elements and abstract figures have a sense of the organic perhaps, and a sense of place-ness, as if they might come to life in any second. Or it is as if there is some history that is established – rules to this other sphere that they are enacting. Can you talk about how your work is influenced by a sense of place?

AO: The backbone for that comes from what I have experienced when going to different natural places whether out west or overseas. I went to Iceland (on a residency) and I feel like there is an atmosphere in that place that is so specific to really being there physically, in present-time. I was trying to dissect what that meant and how that sense of phenomenology – or that phenomena - is happening. I became interested in the objects/things within a place that come together to create specific atmospheres – so really dissecting the ecology or the rocks or the little twigs and grass or whatever was there – the wind. At one point, I was reading Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett and she talks about things and how they have a willpower of their own. They have this ability to affect you. Maybe its not so much about us but how this energy within different objects or entities can create an atmosphere.

JF: I think you were able to capture that in your work- this idea that it is not just an object or depiction of a place but actually it is imbued with a kind of otherness and energy.

AO: Another thing I want to say about those objects in a place is the idea that they have their own will. They have their own vibrancy and movement. It feels absurd to us, it can feel really otherworldly, to think that this object has its own life outside of ours. That’s why I want to create this playful nature – to make the objects I’m making more animated.

JF: Like with an anima (soul) in the object. Do you feel that when you are creating them? How much of what you create is predetermined and how much do you let the process determine?

AO: I start out with all of these ideas and then when I’m actually working in the space I’m trying to be a lot more present. So I’m keeping those things in the back of my mind but I’m also reacting and imaging what another world could look like. I try to keep it really loose and intuitive and reactionary.

JF: I also get a strong sense of movement from the works that you create. For example this larger work here – what’s the title?

AO: The Other.

JF: The Other. It has a resemblance to some sort of electrical transmission tower or structure. But because of the texture of the piece – you can really see the touch of your fingers and your fingerprints – it has an innate sense of movement, a sense of potential as if it’s just about to start rippling and continuing to reach up. I notice that in a lot of your work there is this set energy within - as if they could suddenly animate and go. Is that something that you find just comes out when you create the forms or is that something you are aware of – a type of movement in the works even though they are still objects?

AO: It is something that I want to happen for sure. I think there are some boundaries that I set for myself – or some rules – I think almost every artist sets rules for themselves in their studio. Nothing can be angular or square in my work. I really want it to have this excitement that it’s going someplace. This also ties back to the video work. I was working with time-based media and then came back to making objects a few years later. So that sense of time and transition and sequencing filtered back into the objects. Everything influences each other between the mediums.

JF: I think it is really interesting how you are pairing - particularly in The Other - the ceramic object with the time based video work. Here the video looks like a kind of a reverse shadow of the sculpture. The video is the sculpture’s outline depicted in light – and it has movement - you’ve animated it. How do you see the relationship between the video figure of this piece versus the piece itself?

AO: I wanted it to feel like a reverse shadow or a more electrified version of this static object – or physical object I guess is a better description. Some of that comes from thinking about the places we go in the natural world and how we view them more on personal digital devices – either prior to going or while we’re there - we are viewing them through a filter or our camera lens constantly. So I wanted to have this physical entity and also its digital self next to it. The digital outline is from different perspectives of the physical object and it is constantly moving and glitching. I’m thinking about how there is a divide here. Or maybe there is no separation between the natural and the world through technology.

JF: This idea - which obviously a lot of us our grappling with because of the rapid advancement of technology - this idea that we view our world- our physical world, our embodied existence- increasingly through a screen and then we give priority to the understanding gained from that experience over real world encounters. It does beg the question – so what is reality?

You have mentioned to me that within the physicality of your works – that is within the ceramic and the glazes – you are actually trying to use some of the same materials that are the materials used within contemporary technology – such as some of the materials that go into making a cell phone. Can you talk about that relationship?

AO: Yes. With this piece Embedding, the ceramic piece is an imprint or faux fossilization of the cell phone shape. I was thinking about not only what if I tried to create my own fossil but also how do I incorporate materials like ash, which is a flux that works with silica to form glass. I’m connecting that to the glass that is in the screen of your phone – that shiny surface that is the most attractive for touch. And then I also used a ceramic luster material that contains palladium, a metal with a similar color to silver, and silver being used in wiring. The palladium creates that sheen that is on the ceramic piece. Then there is black copper oxide and red iron oxide and other ceramic materials that are used in bigger industries. I’m analyzing the materials I’m using and how they relate to cell phone components – however, there is a lot that goes into making them and I’m definitely not an expert. The materials that are coming from the earth are used in so many different formations. I like that they can be connected in the same place but in different forms.

JF: I know I personally don’t think about the materials that go into my phone – with the embracing of a virtual space we can loose a connection to the physicality of the phone and what is this object we are holding in our hands. Along those lines - I think is most clearly defined by this piece here – what is this called?

AO: Infinite Imprint.

JF: Again here you are taking these technologies we have incorporated and have rapidly adapted to but you are taking a step back and viewing them from a different perspective in relationship to the ceramic. When I consider the materiality of something that we usually engage with in a virtual or imaginary space - it immediately makes me think of paracinema and the artists who explored the materiality of film or filmic based experience. That is the physical embodied experience of film versus the story world created. Anthony McCall is a good example of an artist like that. I think it is interesting that you are beginning to walk these lines for the digital encounter – that is what is the materiality of phones and other digital devices – expressing that through ceramics.

But also this idea of touch. Going back to what we started the conversation with - the earliest form of technology being early man putting their hands to ceramic and manipulating it to create something. I feel like in this piece you really see that physical manipulation from the human hand. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of this particular work?

AO: It’s hard to define where it started. I was researching meteorites – I was really interested in a specific meteorite called regmaglypts. It has this imprint in it that looks like human hands touching clay – so it looks just like if I were to dig my hands into a piece of clay and then paint it black. Of course there is a physical explanation for why it comes to look like that with air passing through and so forth – but it also creates this imaginary world where maybe there could be other hands touching these meteorites before they travel through space. And then I went to the Grand Gulch in Utah which is part of Bears Ears National Monument – a controversial space right now – and I was looking at these kivas, these dwellings, where in 500-1000 AD people was using clay to create their houses or their storage units. And you can see the imprint of their hands in the sides of the wall. Thinking about touch and ceramic as the first technology and how that impression was made such a long time ago – it shows our need to leave marks and have a haptic relationship with the materials in our surroundings.

JF: Last time we spoke about this you used the phrase “Obsessive Touch”…

AO: Yes.

JF: And how this need for Obsessive Touch is such a human need. It’s funny because since we last spoke I visited Sedona, Arizona, and also visited a settlement built by very early Native Americans from the same time period. They built these red brick walls, the mortar or clay in-between the bricks was also obsessively touched. It was deeply moving and I really understood what it was you meant. There is something powerful about seeing these structures that have survived for well over a millennia and you still have the fingerprints there- the remnants of these people. There is something incredibly human about it – the very understandable need to touch. I think you immediately pair that with the touch phone – because here we are now interacting with this technology where it’s all about our touch – constantly swiping and teaching our hands to do new things – it’s a very touchy way to interact with virtual space.

AO: Exactly. And it affects our bodies, it affects our posture, our attention span, our mindset, it affects our emotions. With touch devices it is like we are the malleable beings now, not just the ceramic. When people were building kivas – when they were building those dwellings – that was also revolutionary. It gave them a home. That obsessive touch could almost be the backbone for how we are evolving.

JF: If you think about phones in particular - that somehow this little handheld object is what we have gravitated towards, as opposed to the Google Glass or other technologies that don’t have that element of touch. We want to have this object that we are manipulating with our digits. I love how you have the phone embedded in this work with the video of the fingers touching... I think that is my favorite video in this show. And that was filmed in the kivas themselves?

AO: It’s a couple different places but the one with the fingers is at The Perfect Kiva – named because it is the most perfect looking one – the most restored. It is a little bit of a newer one too – it’s from around 1000 AD. But the canyon is filled with them all over the place.

JF: The other two works in this exhibition Here (In Reverie) and There (In Reverie) are smaller but still have that incredible presence – like they could be some kind of life form – I’m not sure what – they could be from under the sea or another planet or existing on another plane of existence. But what is interesting about these is that you are also acknowledging some more traditional ceramic tropes in that they are vessel-like.

AO: Yes, they are. Which is kind of funny because it has never really been something I pursue. They are vessel-like in the sense that they have feet and they have an opening and a body and they could contain water if you wanted them to. But I think they relate more to a vessel in that there is a fullness to the body and an entity to them – something that in a more subtle way, pots or vessels could portray.

JF: I love how insane the glaze is. I think that adds to its organic and otherworldly nature – there is something alive and happening with these forms on it. You mentioned to me that you make your own glazes… 

AO: I do. I make my own glazes – I didn’t come up with the recipes – I found them on the internet and modified them through testing. I also use under-glazes, which are commercially bought. Together, they are a little bit of a menace because I’m really playful with them and sometimes things don’t interact the way that they should chemically. Although, then I get the reaction I’m looking for aesthetically. This one, There (In Reverie) was trouble because some of the glazes weren’t bonding well with other glazes so they jumped off the form while they were in the kiln.

JF: But at the same time it works because the effect is it looks like it’s bubbling away, that energy, like it could shoot off at any second. There’s something really animated and almost mysterious- you can see there is a process happening there but you are not quite sure what it is or what is going to happen next.

AO: I want them to be an enhanced version of something we would see here (in this world) – or maybe a more exaggerated form of something we would see here. And for them to be a conglomeration between experiences of the sea, the sky, the forest and other wilderness places.

Clay is an organic material that is alive. It is alive in the way that when you are first touching it there is bacteria present and the material is really fluid – it has a memory. The particles align and take any shape.

JF: It seems to me like you work is playing with the materiality of reality and how we interact with the physical world. You are also asking how do we then create worlds, create anima, create otherness? And then how do we deal with these various types of realities? Is it a grounded everyday reality? Is your reality in a virtual space? Is it a reality in a spiritual space?  

This is a small exhibition, but strong, presenting where you are right now with your work – what do you see the next step as in terms of pursuing these same ideas, the relationship between ceramic and technology? Where would you like your practice to go?

AO: The Other is the most recent piece for me and I’m really interested in the way the video is coming along. I want to play around with how that could become a full installation and the video can become even more alive and three-dimensional. Right now they are kind of balancing each other out because the video is flat and virtual and the sculpture is physical and present. I want to play with how they can counteract and contrast each other. In terms of Infinite Imprint I want to go back to the Gulch or a similar area to take more videos.

JF: When I look at your work I can see it becoming an entire immersive environment. It is like right now you are setting up little windows into these worlds - I could see them becoming spaces that one could actually enter and be surrounded by.

AO: I would love to make my next piece be completely immersive. I think that’s why I’ve been gravitating towards the phones because they are like little pieces of immersion. I can get really lost in my phone. So yes – full scale – all the way.

Going back to our discussion about the piece Embedding – when I first started thinking about fossilization and phone materials – I was reading Jussi Purikka’s book A Geology of Media. He wrote about Marshall McLuhan’s idea of media as the measure of all things. If we are being morphed and manipulated by media, by our phones, and if those things are made of geological materials or materials of the planetary - then in a way, the planetary is the measure of all things. The earth, the rock, those minerals and those resources – they are the source for how we are evolving as humans.

I just like that thread of how it comes back full circle.