It Means Desert, Desert (2020). Installation view. Photo credit: Vivian Doering
JACKIE MILAD thinks of her layered, mixed media works as time-based art. She employs layering as a strategy to protect, hide and transform recurring symbols like eye, snake, brick wall, and breast. She cuts and draws and paints and sews, cannibalizing previously-exhibited works to make new works. A part of one piece becomes the beginning of another. This ongoing, ever-evolving process of creation refuses the notion of artworks as static, archival objects. Jackie earned her BFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts and her MFA from Towson University. In 2019, she was named a Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize Finalist and a Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Ruby Grantee. Recent solo exhibitions include: Chaos Comes and Goes (2019) at C. Grimaldis Gallery (Baltimore), Portate Bien (2020) at Langer Over Dickie (Chicago) and It Means Desert, Desert (2020) at Julio Fine Arts Gallery (Loyola University, Maryland). Only three days left to see her work in Re-Materialize at Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). It closes on December 20, 2020. Jackie lives and works in Baltimore City, Maryland.
OtherPeoplesPixels: When I say the word layers, where does your mind go?
Jackie Milad: History. Ancestors. Information. Hidden. Protected. Removable or changeable.
Nope, No Way (2019) Mixed Media Collage on Paper. Photo credit: Vivian Doering
OPP: Who are your artistic ancestors?
JM: It was during undergrad at SMFA where I was first introduced to Performance Art and was really inspired by the work of women performance artists of the 60s and 70s and in particular: Yoko Ono, Adrian Piper, Joan Joanas and Valie Export. It was their fearlessness and vulnerability I was drawn to and how they used their bodies to examine and critique the politics of othering and to deconstruct power structures such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Other influences include Howardena Pindell and Jack Whitten for their textural mixed media works and their processes.
I love maximalist audio and visual experiences, it's hard to narrow it down because there is so much out there from mainstream pop culture to experimental work—however, my absolute favorite movie is Dario Argento's 1977 Suspiria, for its garish lighting and beautiful compositions. I also really love the synchronized dance sequences in Busby Berkley films of the 1930s for the extravagance of it all.
Chaos Eyes Redux (2020) Mixed media. 72" x 72"
OPP: You use recurring formal strategies like transparency, overlapping and reusing parts of old work to make new work. How do these serve your conceptual interests?
JM: Layering is a vital element in my work. Every layer shows a new choice; it’s a record of my decisions. History is a complicated thing; it is almost always told from the perspective of the dominant power. Showing the history of my hand is a way to tell my own story, my own history. I also dig back into the layers or cut and paste older works to reveal the past. My work is personal, and some of the layerings are meant to reveal and later protect or hide information.
Additionally, I think a lot about how works of art are read. There is a general expectation that the work will be broken down into basic and understandable codes, whether by the artist themselves a writer, or by a curator. I like to defy this expectation by stacking layers, mixing up multiple signals, codes, and even languages. I rarely give it away. I want people to understand and accept that not everything has to be for them, not all symbols have to be revealed and explained—and sometimes it can be confusing and left a mystery.
The Flood Six - Hyena (2018) Acrylic, flashe, marker and collage on paper. 50" x 42"
OPP: Do you think of your mixed media collage works as representing some kind of space, be it physical, mental or social?
JM: I think of them as representing all of the above, or more accurately a record of time within the physical, mental, and social-political spaces. It takes time for me to layer the works, the pieces do not have an endpoint or finish point—they are more of an ongoing ever-changing, malleable record of my hand, my decisions, and of my observations of those things outside of my control. Ideally, in my studio, I am cutting from one piece to add to another in a fluid ongoing intuitive process. I compare them to doing performance art or time-based work.
OPP: How do you think about the works that you’ve sold or gifted in terms of being ongoing?
JM: Once the works leave my studio, they become out of reach or off-limits for obvious reasons. In a way, the objects become something else, they become more of a document or remnant of the performance/process. It would be amazing to one day collaborate with a collector to have work returned to my studio so that a piece could have another life yet again... and again and so on.
Yallah Sim Sim (2020) Video. 4 minutes.
OPP: You use a pastiche of found and created imagery in Yallah Sim Sim (2020), a digital animation with the feel of a sacred dance party. Many symbols have been accumulating meaning for most of human history—pyramid, eye, snake, tear drop—and you use them in a way that is completely idiosyncratic. Tell us about the combinations of images and sound in this work.
JM: I did this video in collaboration with my spouse, Tom Boram. We worked on this video after a research trip to my father’s homeland of Egypt in January. Going from ancient site to ancient site, and seeing a repetition of pharaonic symbols, but more importantly, the confluence of many cultures and epochs on one surface was very inspiring. The video recreates the experience of seeing the layers of Egyptian history competing with wayward touristic signs, a far-off Pizza Hut sign, or a booming car stereo playing mahraganat (Egyptian electronic dance music). This is really on point with what I’m getting at in my own 2D works In this video piece— information collapses onto itself in a chaotic pop kind of way. The writing is literally on the wall of tombs built for ancient pharaohs, turned Coptic monasteries, turned mosques, turned touristic sites. One fascinating architectural example is the pharaonic Luxor Temple which the Romans converted and renovated to be a church, and then later Arabs literally built a mosque (still in use) on top of the ruins of both the church and temple.
Untitled (2019) from Chaos Comes and Goes
OPP: Can you talk about the untitled golden necklaces works from 2019? The composition and palette in these predominately black works is so paired down compared to most of your recent work.
JM: This piece and the other work in this series were done as a counter to the larger collage works. I have several works in which I single out one pattern or theme. I like the idea that a viewer can get a very unfiltered view of a symbol that is repeated and layered throughout my larger dense pieces. I think of the series as a map key to the other work.
Quarantine One-a-Day Drawings (2020) 7" x 7." Photo credit: Vivian Doering
OPP: Tell us about your quarantine experience. It included making a drawing a day. How were these works generated by the early days of the pandemic.
JM: Ah, quarantine. Well, I live with my husband, two dogs, and my nine-year-old son. At the start of the lockdown with schools closing and our jobs going entirely online, there was no time or energy to work in the ways I did pre-Covid. Going to my studio seemed impossible, so to maintain momentum and some mental stability I cut up some small 7” square paper and started drawing, but of course, was regularly interrupted, so what I thought would be these quick simple sketches turned out to take all day to make. This slowing down of my process was important to do at the time. I needed to slow down and be okay with it. I’m not actively doing the quarantine drawings anymore, I’m back in my studio, but I do have plans to go back to making them at some point.
Gold Bars (2020) Mixed Media Collage on Hand-Dyed Canvas.
OPP: What are you currently most excited about in your studio?
JM: These days in my studio, I've been using the time to think and experiment with materials. Just yesterday I cut up a canvas piece that I've shown in an exhibition recently and started to reconfigure it by sewing other remnants and painting over it with a palette of colors I rarely use. The pandemic and the general stress of this year have made it hard to be consistently productive, so I am taking small steps to find a way forward—and sometimes that means a dance break in my studio or lying on the floor for a different perspective.