Jessica Skloven by Keristin Gaber

Posted on April 4, 2011

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KG: What initially interested you in photography?

JS: I was initially drawn to photography when I was about 15 or 16 in  Black and White Photo Class. I loved painting and drawing and had taken High School courses and extracurricular classes in those subjects. I was really fascinated by the immediacy and magic involved with black and white photography, and I had a great teacher who initially pushed creativity over technicality.  I still enjoy the alchemical aspect of black and white printing, even though I don’t currently use the process in my work. When I went to College, I decided halfway through to become an Art Major, but I was concentrating in Painting, which is the medium that led me to my current practice.

KG: Did you grow up in a household where you were encouraged to make art or to engage in the arts?

JS: Yes, I was definitely encouraged to make art. My mom is a very creative person and she naturally passed that on to me and to my sisters. She started us off at an early age experimenting and making things. We definitely had a highly developed imaginative life. There were several other aspects that I feel very strongly influenced my creative growth. We were not allowed to watch tv growing up, until I was about 13 or so, and we were allowed to watch selective movies but not your typical Blockbuster. Reading took the place of tv in our house and that definitely made a lasting impression. My parents also were very adventurous and we traveled extensively as a family when I was younger, which deeply effected my and my sister’s sense of independence.

Visual art was probably the least stressed of the arts in our household. Literature, music, and dance were primary activities until I developed my own sense of wanting to learn more about visual art and practice on my own.

KG: What fuels you to continue making art?

JS: That is a difficult question these days. There are so many ways in which it is fulfilling to make art, and so many ways in which it can produce anxiety and stress and difficulty. Ultimately it boils down to the fact that I can’t not make art.  Showing the work is vey satisfying because I feel that my work relies on an audience, and to some extent that fuels me to make it, to share it with people. However, for me art making is a very individualistic and almost selfish activity, so I don’t really pretend that I do it for anyone else other than myself.  If it can be impactful on anyone else that is an added bonus but not a requirement.

I truly enjoy the theoretical aspects that go into making my work, and that is very satisfying as well. In other words, art-making is another way for me to be intelligent, and to share ideas that aren’t necessarily verbal but are nonetheless about communication.  When the work goes out into the world it has the ability to continue this line of communication with an audience outside of my intention and outside of my control, and that is really exciting to me.

KG: Your work tends to deal with the abstraction of space. You take existing environments and create the illusions of new ones. Can you elaborate on this?

JS: My work vacillates between being entirely abstract and somewhat representational. I am interested in the point where an image becomes so pared down that it almost disappears. From a theoretical context, this sort of abstraction has its roots in minimalism, but I am more interested in how simplification can actually expand, and how this expansion can effect the perception of time and space.

I use photography because of the perceived immediacy of the medium, but actually I am employing very slow and laborious processes to achieve the images I make (i.e. using 4×5 negatives, color printing using a mural enlarger, making extremely long exposures, etc).  I enjoy the illusion that goes into the production of an image and in the resulting photograph that is created.

Most of my work stems from an idea of how I perceive being in a space, whether that is a landscape or an interior space. I use landscape for its ability to draw a viewer in, but I am more interested in destabilizing the landscape than representing it. I have photographed in places where the landscape is unrecognizable, such as in Iceland, and I have fabricated imagined landscapes that reflect an interior space, such as in the work called Domestic Seas. To me, the place photographed is not important.

KG: How much of your work is in the photographing and how much is in the post-production process? Can you describe your routine?

JS: I am very interested in the highly physical production that goes into making my work. It is usually a meditative process for me, and one that will leave me exhausted upon its completion. When you work in an experimental way, there can be much frustration that comes from perceived success or failure in making the work. For example, I have been working on a project for over a year now that involves burying negatives under the bed while sleeping and only allowing the exposure to take place over a long period of time. There is no perfect image that results, and the fine line between a “good” and a “bad” negative becomes very blurred. My practice is all about allowing a space for the unexpected to happen, but it can take many failures to come to an image that works.

My process doesn’t follow a traditional workflow all of the time. I spend a lot of time thinking, researching, and writing before and during the time that I am shooting. I tend not to shoot a project at a time, but instead work on something for an extended duration. I continue to use analog materials, shooting 4×5 and medium format film, and I make prints in a color darkroom using the traditional RA-4 process. I use a mural room with an enlarger that can be turned to project on the wall, which allows me to make a maximum print width of 40”.  I imagine that as materials and chemistry become scarcer my process will begin to change.

Printing is my post-production process, but it is the point at which the photograph becomes realized. I don’t have much of a notion of what the print will look like before it is printed, as I make changes to the color when printing and it takes on a physical appearance that may not be evident in the negative or small print.

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