Interview with Jenny Hager

Posted by on Nov 10, 2008 in Art Coverage, Interviews

Jenny I see you received your MFA from San Jose State University. How did you end up in Jacksonville?
D. Lance Vickery and I lived here in Jacksonville in 1999 for about 9 months right after completing my BFA and BA in KY. Lance had just earned his MFA in Sculpture there as well. I needed a place to hang out while I established residency in CA before going to grad school (yes I did this while in FL). Lance had moved here to help out his mom in Cocoa Beach and I found a job doing pre-press at a local printing company in Jacksonville. We eventually both ended up in Jacksonville.

So while living here, we noticed that living on the beach was still somewhat affordable (compared to other places on the coast) and Jacksonville had several colleges/universities where we could teach. After I attended graduate school in CA we stayed for another 3 years, working in Silicon Valley with the idea that we’d eventually move back east closer to family. Jacksonville stayed in our head because of the options for teaching and owning a house at the beach. We actually bought a house in Jacksonville Beach while we still lived in San Jose, CA. We had owed the house for a year before getting teaching positions at UNF and finally moving here.

Do you have family here?
My family is in Shelbyville Kentucky, a small town about 20 miles outside of Louisville. Lance’s family is spread out between Atlanta Georgia, Cocoa Beach, FL, and Boca Raton, FL.

After reading the different artist’s statements for your projects I notice that your work is very personal in it’s observations. You use materials in a very symbolic manner. Do you worry sometimes that the viewers will not get the symbolism or are you okay with them being able to read into it?
My work begins from a personal place but hopefully that is not where it ends. My experiences give me inspiration and guide what is created. Hopefully, in the end, the piece still connects to the personal experience but can also have a more universal read.

Materials hold meaning for me. It is very important that the objects created, be made of the most appropriate materials to convey the idea. Because I am not limited in the materials I use, I often have to learn a new material or technique in order to produce my idea. I find this to be rewarding since I love to learn process.

On the other hand, I value images that hold multiple meanings. I appreciate that the viewer may embed his/her own experiences into the work. The Rust and Satin series is a collection of feminine adornments – hairpins, bathing caps, combs. Often, people see other things in them. They may view them as purely design elements, or I have also been told they seem fetishistic. I think this makes the objects both accessible and interesting.

The only works that I have seen are installation works. When did you start working with installations and how do you produce installations in your studio?
I enjoy working with installations because the work creates a memorable experience for the viewer. You can walk around a sculptural object, but in an installation piece, you’re actually “in” the work, as the viewer. It seems to be the most experiential genre of art, because it can be multi-sensory, and its the most open-ended in terms of materials.

I did a couple of installations as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky. But I really got into it when I attended San Jose State University. The school had a great student gallery system, 8 student galleries that changed out weekly. I was able to put up installations pretty regularly and completely alter and control the space. It also allowed me to be very experimental.

There are some inherent problems in producing installations. Space is a big factor; I rarely see the finished product in its entirety until it goes into the gallery. Also setting up the work changes from site to site. One gallery might have a drywall ceiling while another might have cement (like MOCA Jacksonville) There is a certain amount of problem-solving that happens during the installation process at the gallery. I enjoy this aspect, but it can also create some serious anxiety. 🙂 I try to test every detail possible prior to putting it up in the gallery, but without fail, there is always something that you don’t expect. Sometimes its difficult to get installation work into shows, because of the transportation issues, the A/V needs, or because the pieces simply take up too much space in a group exhibition. I felt very lucky that MOCA J wanted the Flight Lab piece. I’ve only showed the piece one other time in California. I had to re-create the piece for the MOCA J because of A/V limitations. The rotating projector was a new feature; the original piece required 4 projectors which worked off a complex timing sequence.

Another issue is the option of selling the work. Its large; it has many components. I actually got away from producing installation work for awhile, because it takes up so much space, its difficult to transport and I had trouble storing it. I got some good feedback on the piece at MOCA J, which was great. And I’m working on a new installation piece now, but I’m also still creating sculptural objects, too.

How does your creative process begin? Is there a set formula or do you have many different points of entry for arriving at your concepts?
Usually, I have an image that sticks in my head for awhile. I jot it down or write down a few words and put it into my sketchbook. It usually stays there for while and if image seems interesting enough a few months later, I start figuring out how to build it and what it might look like in the real world. The Flight Lab piece was inspired by a recurring dream in which I’m doing the breaststroke but I’m flying. But other times I’m inspired by a material, as in the Rust and Satin series. Because iron is a heavy, industrial, masculine material, I wanted to do something feminine and luxurious with it.

I like to pair things that don’t seem like they would have any unity whatsoever but then push them to a point where they have synergy. The Ponytails and Toenails piece was inspired by the horse hair itself. I was going to do some sewing on another piece and I was going to use horse hair. I ended up pinning the tails to a wooden palette to clean them and loved the tails themselves. I decided to elaborate on the idea and use the tails in a piece.

Once you have the idea how do you arrive at the materials and such to use to create your projects?
Looking at the sketches, I make notes about the options for materials and what each material connotes. I decide on what works best for the concept and then start researching. For example, when I made “Ponytails and Toenails,” I called a tallow company to obtain the horse tails and a taxidermist to learn how to “cure” (tan) the hides. If I need a display case, I might start looking at a trophy shop for ideas. I literally go through the yellow pages phone book sometimes, trying to get ideas for where to find certain materials.

How was your experience at San Jose State University receiving your MFA?
It was great. I was encouraged to work in a cross-disciplinary way. The reason I decided to attend SJSU was because of wanting to work in both digital media and sculpture. This seems like an odd combination to most people, but SJSU supported it.

Do you have any faculty there that you would like to mention and or alumni that you were influenced by heavily?
(Links to their web sites would be great.)
I was influenced by Tony May (no website that I know of), Joel Slayton, Shannon Wright and Susan Otto and alumni Tim Hawkinson

What was your path in order to arrive at installation work? Do you have a history as a painter, sculptor? Did you ever define yourself as one or the other?

I guess I consider myself to be a sculptor now (in a broad sense of the word, which would include installation artist). I started out as a painter, but I haven’t painted in a very long time. My most recent piece of sculpture used Intaglio etching printmaking processes, in which Emily Arthur-Douglass and John Hutcheson (our printmaking professors at UNF) gave me guidance. Contemporary sculpture seems more and more open-ended. I still like the word sculptor, because it implies the process of “making.”

What types of classes are you teaching at UNF and how have you found your work influence your teaching style?
I teach Sculpture I, II, and III as well as Enlivened Spaces (an installation, site-specific class) and 3D Design. I think I’m pretty resourceful about materials and I try to pass this on to students. I like to help them figure out a way to make their ideas, regardless of whether or not I already know the process they should use. I help them to research the best methods and approaches to their ideas and then put them to action.

Are there specific artists in art history that you push your students to become more aware of?
Through the art history classes they get a link to the masters of our past, so I push them to learn about what is happening now, in the Contemporary Sculpture world. I push them to read and be inspired by “Sculpture Magazine.” My personal influences include: Magdalena Abakanowicz (for the power of the multiple), Tim Hawkinson (for inspiration in “low tech-high art”), Simon Rodia (for obsession in art and for his use of recycled materials), Christian Boltanski (for the power of installation art and its ability to create lasting memory), Tom Friedman (for the transformation of the ordinary to extraordinary), Janine Antoni (for the power of material as metaphor), Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin “The Listening Post” (for the power of communication and technology in art) and Martin Puryear (for the power of beautiful form and exquisite craft). I show them my influences but I also encourage them to find their own. One of the ways I get them to learn about other artists is to do “Sculptor Reports” at the beginning of every semester. Each student shows a Powerpoint on a specific sculptor that inspires them.

Are you getting involved with the local art scene and how do you see UNF’s role with that scene as I’ve seen a sort of disconnect between the two?

I think there is some good energy in the Art & Design Department at UNF right now; we’ve really got great faculty. There are also some wonderful local artists, as evidenced in the Making Marks show. In the 2 1/2 years I’ve been here, I’ve been awarded some great opportunities, both at UNF and locally/regionally. The disconnect for me seems to happen in the sprawl of Jacksonville. We have interesting “pockets of culture” in Jacksonville, but because it is so spread out geographically, there seems to be a lack of a “heart of the city,” where I imagine the local scene should be.

How do you feel UNF can become more a part of the local scene?
I think the possible merger of UNF and MOCA J is a great idea; it will provide opportunities for both institutions and will hopefully bring a higher degree of art appreciation to the Jacksonville community. It is also really important that UNF embraces and supports the idea that artwork belongs on campus as well. UNF needs an art museum, a professional gallery and some student galleries on campus. We need a “lively” art scene on campus that people want to be a part of. Another idea I have is to create a set of permanent concrete sculpture “pads” on UNF’s campus that will rotate every 2 years, showcasing our outdoor large-scale student work and perhaps highlighting some local professionals as well.

What are you plans for showing in the future?
I’m working on a body of work now (more pieces in the Rust and Satin series) and a new video installation piece that will hopefully be completed at the end of spring. I’d like to have a couple of solo exhibitions in the region and maybe travel them. I also have interest in creating some public outdoor pieces. My husband and I worked collaboratively on a piece for the Without Walls 2 Exhibition in Fort Pierce last year. Hopefully we can do some further collaborating. It was a great experience. The piece we created, “3 Clouds” has been re-leased by the city of Fort Pierce and is on display downtown.

There’s this other great project that Lance and I have been working on called “Imagillaboration”. Michael Cottrell, the Sculpture Professor at FCCJ is the founder of the project. Its a collaboration of over 100 sculptors across the country. This project has been in the works for over a year. Its loosely based on the “exquisite corpse” model. Each sculptor creates a “seed” element and the element is then passed on to 7-8 other people who then add, subtract or modify the piece. In the end, there will be over 100 sculptures that have each been worked on by about 7-9 people. The large body of work will be exhibited at UNF and FCCJ for concurrent exhibitions in January.

Do you have any specific words of wisdom or advice to pass down to others?
Chance favors the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur
My interpretation is “Work hard. Be ready for action…”



  1. morrison
    November 11, 2008

    now this was inspirational and a good morning read something to be proud of, great work and love the pastuer quote at the end, good luck with all the ideas.

  2. Byron King
    November 11, 2008

    Glad you enjoyed it Morrison.

    There’s definitely some food for thought in this interview. Thanks for sharing Jenny. Jacksonville is lucky to have you.

  3. Kristin
    November 12, 2008

    With her energy, drive and imagination, Jenny is a great asset to Jacksonville.

  4. Karen B
    December 1, 2008

    Jenny is an Awesome professor. She is an inspiration and knows how to guide you without barriers. She is so enthusiastic. UNF is truly blessed to have her. She will be the one to turn the sculpture department into something spectacular and she will inspire so many great artists to come.

  5. Folio Weekly Invitational Artist Exhibition « Turning Arts Group
    August 25, 2012

    […] Jenny Hager, who was also in the Installations! show had another cast iron and steel sculpture that really made a statement. © Ed Malesky 2012 / Jenny Hager – Winged Hoof […]


Leave a Reply