Other Investigations: Jacob C. Hammes

Previously featured on Make Space, Jacob C. Hammes discusses his studio practice and experiences with artist residencies, specifically his most recent one at ACRE Residency. Make sure to check out his work in person at Roxaboxen Exhibitions this weekend. . If you are in Chicago this weekend, check out MAKING IS THE MIRROR with new work by Jacob C. Hammes, Katie Hargrave, Laura Hart Newlon and Erin Sweeny. Curated by Anthony Stepter, the exhibition is open from November 10-24, 2012 at Roxaboxen Exhibitions (Chicago, IL).

On collecting and process:

Every project starts differently, but it usually involves a certain amount of research, either looking for information to help form the content, or looking for methods of production. For example, when I wanted to work with vacuum formed plastic, I built a vacuum former and probably wasted $100 in plastic trying to experiment with it. Those failures became part of the work. When I wanted to work with Aluminum as a material, I researched the history of aluminum production, its acoustic properties, and its industrial uses. From there I ended up getting interested in WWII era musical instrument construction and the various attempts at standardizing pitch on the western scale. I enjoy this research period so much that sometimes it feels like I’m not really working, often spiraling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. The same can be said for the “messing around in the studio” period, which usually happens at the same time.

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I always work on different projects simultaneously. It helps so that I don’t lose momentum when working, where I can switch back and forth between projects. It especially helps if I get frustrated with something not turning out right. I like immediate results. Often the next project is a reaction to the previous project. A recent series involved a number of kinetic electronic pieces where I modified household electronics, which was a slow process where I taught myself a number of new skills. So when I got to ACRE I decided to work on something that would be immediate and require a cognitive activity more concerned with aesthetics than with motion and electricity. With electronics, you’re concerned with one small place, getting a circuit to respond in a specific way. I decided my reaction against this needed to be concerned with the largeness of the environment around me, so I walked around the property collecting found objects to cobble into spears, harpoons, knives and axes. These are visceral, primal, survivalist items, but I wasn’t concerned with making them functional, just mimicking the shape and style. It was relaxing and even liberating to turn 180 degrees away from those previous tech-based production methods.

On materials and medium:

There are a lot of materials I use in my work, but there’s a few I have really love working with, such as silicone, charcoal, and graphite, polystyrene, which work well as a sculptural material but also as a substitute for paint. I’ve been covering canvases in silicone, brushing graphite or charcoal into the crevices produced by streaks, then layering more silicone, until the material becomes foggy. I do a fair amount of work in photoshop to prepare for these images, although I don’t typically deal with photography as a medium. I do a fair amount of plaster casting. I like to work with materials I can get my hands in.

On research process and site:

I research artists that I like, artists that are working in similar materials, or artists that seem to address similar themes. I’m also interested in artists and architects that have reached immortal status, so much that they become less relevant in contemporary art. Most of my research isn’t really about artists at all, it’s about culture, politics, materials, history, etc. Lately, I’ve been thinking about Voltaire, Alfred Jarry, Paul Thek, Matt Mullican, Ayn Rand, and John Wayne.

I share my studio with two other artists, so my studio can be an extremely cramped space. I’m lucky enough to be able to work in a spare bedroom in my apartment when I need to do clean work, as well as a shop at work when I need to cut wood. It’s good to be able to allocate these different spaces for different uses. As for exhibiting, space is important on a number of levels. In Chicago spaces are often short lived, tend to be small, or have certain architectural impediments. As an artist I think about the spaces I where I want to exhibit, and that informs the work I make. My work tends to be 5-10 pieces in a series, because that’s often all I can show in the spaces that are available to me. As for geography, the Midwest has always been a part of me. I grew up in a small town in Iowa and as soon as I was able I moved to the nearest big city in the Midwest. Though the experiences were extremely different, I’m willing to recognize my particular Midwestern attitude informed by the attitudes of people and the nature of the landscape. I made a series of replicas of internal organs of sperm whales as a way of confronting my land-locked fear of the ocean. We don’t have access to the ocean, or mountains, or earthquakes or volcanoes. I feel an intense anxiety riding in a car in a place with steep inclines. We have 4 seasons, and at least, two of them are difficult to live through.

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How was your experience at ACRE?

This was my second visit to ACRE, and I’ve participated in residencies at Harold Arts in Chesterhill, Ohio and JJ Morgan and Co. in Wellington, NZ. I did a lot of rope-swinging and met a lot of great artists. I showed up three days late, which meant I missed out on most of the meet and greet activities and people were mostly settled into a routine at that point. I hosted a hypnosis session that worked out really well. The most valuable aspect was the general positive attitudes everyone had, a lot of great ideas came out of just talking to the other residents and staff. I think residencies can be a great resource if done right. They can be like a vacation in the sense that you’re in a new place that you’re excited to explore, but there’s also a sense of urgency that you have to be productive, and in the right setting, around the right people you should want to be productive.

I’ve gotten to the point that I’m usually thinking about projects that are 6 months to a year in the future. When I arrived at ACRE this year I thought I knew what I wanted to work on, but ended up working on something entirely different. This is how all of my residency experiences have been so far, which makes me think that at least for myself, this setting makes me want to choose the fun projects instead of the frustrating, depressing, or labor-intensive ones. It’s because I feel stimulated by all of the activity around me, and I want to talk to and learn from all these people instead of falling into my usual solitary style. These interactions are the main reason to go to a residency like ACRE.