Primary Medium: Installation, with a focus on soft sculpture. (Also, I’m an author)
I published my first book last year, a short work of literary nonfiction about the disappearance and death of my younger brother in 2014, and my subsequent move to Austin. The book is not a traditional memoir, instead leaning on the strange workings of memory and parallel universe daydreams. The weekend of February 21st, I’m releasing the audiobook via an immersive art installation, playing with the themes of memory, grief, and memoir as a medium itself.
Fancy Fancy Studios will become a surreal facsimile of a home, with each room immersing guests into the world of the book. One of my favorite features is the “kitchen”, a crumbling, post-apocalyptic cafe, serving patrons pour over coffee to sip as they are invited to write their own autobiographical stories in the abandoned journals scattered throughout the room. Those stories will later be shared anonymously, read aloud by volunteers at a closing party Sunday night. Throughout the installation, audio from the book guides guests down a submerged hallway, through a reimagining of my own bedroom from 2014, to a recreation of the early 1990’s bedroom of my brother, complete with his own brilliant childhood art.
What are you working on now?
I’m framing out walls for the installation, painting a 12 foot long panel of canvas, recovering dozens of blank journals, recording audio, doing event promotion, and about 1000 other little things. Apart from this current project, I’m working on my next book, a collection of short stories about every house I’ve ever lived in.
What draws you to do what you do?
My book was written in hopes of opening up the topics of loss and grief, in a society that tends to keep them behind closed doors in an attempt to appear strong and composed at all times. For the longest time, long before I lost my brother, I felt like I was the only person with insecurities or anxiety. Everyone I knew was so determined to appear confident that it took me years to figure out that most of them were faking it. As a person who will forever be tripping up stairs and spilling coffee in her own shoes, I prefer to laugh at my own clumsiness, not run and hide in embarrassment. People are so terrified of appearing vulnerable, and that prevents so many important conversations. When my brother passed away, I wanted to talk about it. I needed to. Some friends of mine didn’t know what to say, or how to handle me. I want to do what I can to open up those conversations, to help people understand how similar we all are. I’m intending this installation as another step in that direction.
How long have you been an artist and/or curator and how has your practice changed over time?
I learned to sew at a young age, and throughout my twenties, I thought of myself as a fashion designer, creating one of a kind pieces for fashion shows and photoshoots I arranged with my artistic community in my hometown of Sacramento, CA. I encountered many opportunities to grow my design work into a business, but I never was interested, and I assumed that meant I was lazy. The fashion shows themselves, whether in a hotel events center or dive bar, were the only thing I was working toward. It took me until only this last year to realize that the whole time I was actually doing art shows, I was just using fashion as a medium. That realization was very freeing, and let me see myself in a new way, let me take myself out of a box I’d put myself in. For a long time, that box was very restrictive. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed in something I never actually wanted, and wouldn’t allow myself to explore other mediums.
In your opinion, what does the Austin arts community need as the city continues to grow?
I’ve only lived in the Austin area for 5 years, and apart from one piece in a HIVE show at MoHA in 2018, this is really my first immersion into the arts community here. I am thrilled with everyone I’ve met so far, so many helpful people, and a lot of positivity. I hope that as the city gets bigger and bigger, artists can maintain affordable workspaces and a low enough cost of living to have enough time to devote to their work. I moved out to Lockhart in 2017, so I’m managing ok, but I can’t imagine trying to put this installation together and still afford $1000+ rent plus a studio space. As a city built on “weird-ness”, affordability for artists must be maintained.
ABOUT JAMAICA COLE
Jamaica Cole grew up in the foothills of Northern California. She spent her teen years staying up late, writing short stories and plays which she still has packed up in boxes somewhere. She’s thirty-six years old and has lived in thirty houses.