Thursday September 25th from 6-9pm
The house shelters daydreaming,
the house protects the dreamer,
the house allows one to dream in peace.
From Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space”
When the Hown’s Den founders, Crystal Brown and Bobby Howsare, invited me to make a work of art for the exhibition space situated in their home, I was intrigued. The program’s focus on the domestic space as a site for experimentation and neighborhood engagement is distinct from museum contexts. First, the space is for the family, parents with a young boy. Unlike the quiet and clear spaces of a traditional gallery, the house is an active space with furniture, toys, books, art, functional objects, and a cat.
I felt an attraction to the concept of Hown’s Den immediately because of the role that their home plays in providing art to viewers outside of an institution. My connection to this domestic exhibition space is natural since the ideas in my artwork can be traced to architecture of my childhood home. Growing up in a three-story working-class house played a key role in the development of my worldview and artistic vision. My parents labored continuously to modify the domestic spaces to meet the ever-changing needs of the family. My father installed flooring, drop-ceilings, concrete steps and more. He cut into the house with a chainsaw to install a window. From him, I learned that architecture is like flesh (porous, flexible), always bending to the forces of nature and in need of care. I learned that labor is an act of love. Architecture is not static; but rather an active dimension of relative energies. The sites we call home have the power to become extensions of our thoughts, selves, personalities, and our dreams.
The understanding that space is subjective, experienced through the human body and senses, permeates my work today. My art is an investigation of the symbiotic relationship between the human body and architecture expressed in temporal installations, drawings, and models. The art envisions a place of interdependent relation between the human body and architecture, where the exchanging forces and tensions of construction, deterioration, and restoration emerge as thematic possibilities.
Through the use of site-responsive installations, my art endows architecture with a human sense of being while maintaining the structural integrity of the built environment. Sculptural forms made from ordinary construction materials denote bulges, wrinkles, folds, and biomorphic elements that intertwine with walls, floors, and ceilings. While space demarcated by walls, floors and ceilings is perceived with the eye, it is also sensed and understood in directional terms such as above, below, inside, outside and beyond.
Sensory experiences fuse the mind and body with architectural space. The void created by a building’s walls is a space that the installations seek to disrupt. Sculptural forms embedded into the flesh of architecture expand and contract space in order to suggest a sense of place. The work intends to stimulate the viewers’ awareness of space and their bodies’ relationship to the built environment. I seek to offer viewers an opportunity to reflect on the physical and social structures that contain and protect human fragility.
Jill Downen is currently an assistant professor of sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute. Significant awards include: 2010 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, Studios Inc Residency in Kansas City for 2013-1015, MacDowell Colony National Endowment for the Arts residency, and Cité International des Arts Residency in Paris. Downen was selected for the 2004 Great Rivers Biennial, a grant and exhibition sponsored by Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Gateway Foundation. Downen has been invited to lecture about her work extensively, including the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. and the Luce Irigaray Circle Philosophy Conference in New York. Her art has been reviewed in publications including Art in America, Sculpture, Art Papers, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times. Downen lives and maintians her studio in Kansas City, and is represented by the Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis. She holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA as a Danforth Scholar from Washington University in St. Louis.