Death is a welcomed part of nature– fueling the ecosystem, charting the passage of time, and completing the cycles of our seasons. As humans, we would like to forget this inevitable closure of our brief moment on earth, but perhaps it is the experience of death that can make living more visceral, rich, and enlightening. With her sculpture Death Bed, FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist, Jess Hirsch (MN), invites you to contemplate death in the comfort of nature.
Describe your creative process:
My process is very idea driven. I study holistic medicine and glean a lot of information from the healing world to infuse the work. An idea generally comes from this process. Sometimes an idea will awake me in the night or appear while I am driving. I feel very fortunate to be the recipient of these ideas with so much ease. I feel like a conduit that pulls ideas in. Perhaps its because I am an Aquarius.
When I have an idea I try to honor as best I can, sometimes having to learn new skills and integrate new materials. The concept drives the process. There is of course a foundation of skills that I pull from. I have a great love for woodworking and am studying traditional swedish craft this year through the MN State Arts Board Folk and Traditional Craft grant. Sometimes my woodworking will trickle into my projects, but the idea comes first.
Tell me about your project at FSP:
The project at FSP is called Death Bed. Its an invitation for viewers to lay on a coffin and contemplate their own death. I really wanted to make a work that helped others consider the preciousness of life and in my experience thinking about death is the best form to appreciate life.
The tiers of the piece are partially influenced by Incan terraced gardens. I went to Machu Picchu a year and a half ago and saw the gardens they used to grow medicinal herbs. Using the terracing as stairs, I like the mini-pilgrimage it requires for you to experience the piece. Only at the top of the three coffins do you realize they are all coffins. When you look at the structure head on it looks more like a boat. I like that reference to boats being the carrier to the afterlife. Its subtle. The piece is 6.5’ high making it the approximate distance that you would bury a body, only its inverted.
The flowers are a crucial element to the piece as well. They are all selected for their healing capabilities for the emotions around death. Prairie Smoke instills harmony. Fireweed combats anger. Rattlesnake Master protects us from negative energy. Aster heals anxiety and fear. Spiderwort helps us find clear truth. There are 17 different kinds of plants in all. They should grow at least 2 feet taller than the top coffin so they will form a wall around the place where you lay down.
The top tier is embedded with quartz crystals because of their ability neutralize negative energy. They are one of the primary stones used in energy work.
2016 FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist
Born: 1985, Robbinsdale, MN
Resides: Minneapolis, MN
Why did you propose this project for FSP?
I chose this project for FSP because of the audience interactivity here. The idea of art as a precious thing is not here. People are constantly climbing the work without fear. I like that casualness. I wanted to have participants climb the work. It felt like an appropriate project for the type of visitor that comes to Franconia. Also I have been wanting to use plants as a sculptural material. They hold many different healing capabilities and I am fascinated with using a material that is ripe with energetic power. In order to use plants, you need an outdoor space, again making Franconia a perfect place for this piece.
How does your project relate to your previous work?
This project is a logical next step after my piece Death Wish, a gemstone essence to help people acknowledge their own death through mine. In that piece I am having my body turned into a diamond when I die, from which my niece will make a gemstone essence. People can sign up and receive a gold essence before I die and then the diamond post mortum. Its a highly complex piece with a lot of emotion within it. I had to have my will written and talk to a lot of my family members about my death. The piece here is more about the viewer. I want people to look at their own deaths, not mine. I am hoping the plants and crystals will do the work to communicate the support for the viewer. Often I am the host that supports the viewer while they experience my work. I am excited to hand the reigns over to the plants.
What did the experience of working here offer you?
The experience working here offered me focused time. As a self employed artist I am constantly working on 3 or 4 projects at a time. Here I had one task and it was a great model to accomplish something bigger than anything else I have made. There are also a lot of great minds here that I constantly called upon for technical advice. I learns how to make things to survive a winter and strong enough to hold 30 school children.
I also formed a new community. The artists here are some of the most ambitious I have come across. Franconia really draws people in that are strongly committed to their practice. We work 12 hour days and appreciate the time to do so. While here I have also started conversations around future collaborations, exhibitions, and workshops.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies?
It was more work driven and less social then other residencies. I have mostly been on unconventional residencies: Elsewhere and Signal Fire which is a camping residency. Those models don’t seem comparable really. I really enjoyed the number of artists here and the amount of responsibilities. Also the other residencies I had to pay for, where as this one is supporting me financially. Its huge to have a budget to complete more ambitious projects. I think it really effects the work and lets you accomplish things that seem impossible in any other scenario.
Where and with whom did you study?
I went to Lewis and Clark College. Studied with Mike Rathbun and Debra Beers. I then got my masters at the University of Minnesota and worked with Chris Larson and Jan Estep.
What did you learn at FSP? What was your biggest challenge?
I learned how to cope with limited time. Its hard to create something large-scale in only 4 weeks without entering into a frantic mindset. When we are stressed we do not have clear thinking. I really tried to focus on maintaining a composed mind and not allow the deadline to induce anxiety. It really helped me enjoy my process more.
I also learn about the benefits of stretching, turmeric, and wrist braces. Franconia is very hard on the body because the condensed time. We can prevent injury if we take care. You would think I would have already known that being that my whole practice is based on wellness. Ha.
Pine, hardware, concrete, quartz crystals, soil, wild indigo, prairie
clover, prairie violet, prairie smoke, alum root, blazing star,
rattlesnake master, prairie sage, pasque flower, black eyed susan, harebell,
spiderwort, silky aster, and fireweed.
6’ 9” x 8’ x 22’ 6”