“A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there.”—Carl Jung
“You could say it’s my instinct. Yes I still have one.”—Neko Case
As we make lifestyle adjustments to minimize our impact on the environment and do what we can to conserve natural resources, we can’t help but be reminded how much we, as humans, will suffer the effects of global climate change, pollution, and species extinction. After all, we’re animals too. But it hasn’t always been this easy to appreciate our connection to the natural world. There are innumerable arguments for why humans and animals are different; we have an ability to reason and make decisions, we have developed elaborate religious and economic systems, and we have attempted to control our instincts. Roxanne Jackson’s ambitious two-gallery installation at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program Galleries (www.artsmia.org), “We Believe in Something,” explores human and animal interaction but also critiques the assumed differences between them. With ceramic sculptures, wall installations, and video she asks, among other questions, are we more alike than different?
Before she even begins her carefully molded sculptures, Jackson researches Native American folklore, gleans images from newspaper articles and nature magazines, and watches hours of film. Amidst all of this material, she is particularly attentive to specific instances of transformation in which humans take on animal traits and vice-versa. Jackson’s White Diamond (2009) is a buffalo head rendered in ceramic, white glaze, and flock. The white buffalo is an important Native American symbol derived from the story of a woman who first appeared to two hunters as a white buffalo. Since then, white buffaloes born in nature and captivity have come to be greeted as good luck but also as omens that mark an era of salvation and the restoration of Native American culture.
In addition to religions and folklore, Jackson is equally interested in the horror film genre as another realm in which the tensions between humans and animals are played out. Werewolves, vampires, and zombies are just a few of the monsters we are most familiar with. While many of these films are based on hunter-prey, kill-or-be-killed plot trajectories, they don’t make a direct appearance in her work. To her, “These images provoke a psychological simile between animal and human, instinct and reason, the subconscious and the conscious.” In Eat Your Heart Out (2008), a wolf’s snarled teeth and snout emerge glossy-red from the mouth of a human head. Her precisely molded and glistening glazed forms are both beautiful and grotesque, asking us to consider how animal instincts are still part of and within human nature.
Text excerpted from the exhibition brochure for “We Believe in Something,” written by Christopher Atkins, coordinator for the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program.
Fierce Fangs and Furry Flocking
Jackson’s ceramic sculptures are built solid and, once the clay becomes just beyond leather-hard, she hollows out the form. Her work is bisque fired to cone 04 and glazed between the range of cone 06 and 04. Often, there is an additional gold or silver luster firing (cone 018)—usually applied to the teeth of a piece. Jackson is interested in enhancing the quality of the glazed surface and accomplishes this by juxtaposing it near a soft, matt material—usually felt flock fibers. For instance, matt, gray flock, when placed adjacent to shiny red glaze, emphasizes both the saturated color and juicy quality of the glaze.