I’m fascinated by intersections. I join wood and fragment it, often doing both in the same work. In many of my sculptures I join natural tree limbs to milled lumber, tools, furniture, and human hair. I refer to these fusions as grafts. In the traditional sense, grafting is a process used to join two distinct plants, often trees, to make them more productive. My grafted combinations are gangly, elegant, contrived, fragile, and at times self-destructive, such as in Bubble, where a cherry branch transforms into a clothespin and loops back to pull the bark off the branch.
Wood is an ideal medium for me. Formerly a living organism, it is constructed of cells that, even after being cut and dried, continue to respond to the environment. Wood expands and contracts with varying levels of humidity. It turns darker, lighter, or changes colors depending on its exposure to light. Wood is deeply entwined in our lives. Despite being replaced by plastic and steel in numerous instances, wood continues to be the medium from which we create many of the objects we use in our everyday lives. Tables where we eat, chairs that support us, beds where we sleep, even our homes are still built of former trees. Due to its sustainability and engineering advantages, wood is even undergoing a resurgence in architecture. But its draw results from more than its practicality. This material has a strong aesthetic allure, both visual and haptic. Wood has a physicality and a relationship to our bodies and our lives that reaches back to our arboreal past. It lends itself to be metaphors for us, our social and political idiosyncrasies, and our peculiar role in nature.
I’m intrigued by how humans see themselves as both part of and separate from the natural world. In one sense humans and their productions are clearly as much a part of the natural world as any other life form. Our skyscrapers are as natural as the honeycomb of the bee and, in fact, replicate some analogous structural principles. Yet, there are reasons to believe our species is different from the rest of the natural world. We invoke science and religion to explain the apparent division. We position ourselves above nature by declaring that we are its stewards. We position ourselves below by elevating the rest of nature to a romantic ideal. We look for natural cures and natural foods. We seek Natural Light beer and Nature Valley granola bars.
The myths that uphold our illusion of difference also foster an illusion of mastery. They uphold the artifice of our exceptionalism and make us blind to the disproportionate power we lord over the planet. How can we fully acknowledge our melded role in nature? Can we find a consensus about the world we’d like to live in? And can we repair our splintering social and political structures in order to shape the environment we envision?
Excerpted Statement from the Juror of the 2020 Rocky Mountain Biennial at The Museum of Art Fort Collins, Leah Ollman
The Grand Prize winner [Jim Jacobs] impressed me with their material ingenuity, not for its own sake, but grounded in substantive questions of what is natural and what is not, what belongs, what can be made to belong. The images of these works stayed in my mind and felt like they tickled it with their lyrical suggestions of continuity and discontinuity, connection and disjunction, fusion and unity.
Leah Ollman writes about the visual arts for the Los Angeles Times, Art in America and numerous other publications.
Her books and exhibition catalogues include Alison Rossiter: Expired Paper, William Kentridge: Weighing...and Wanting, The Photographs of John Brill, Michal Chelbin: Strangely Familiar, and Camera as Weapon: Worker Photography Between the Wars..
Excerpted Statement from the 2019 Utah Visual Arts Fellowship Juror, Laura Addison
There is a quotation that I keep on my office bulletin board, by a curator whom I admire, Nicholas Baume. It reads, “Simplicity in art is rarely achieved without a struggle.” It reminds me daily of the hard-won triumphs of artists, and that each art object is the product of an artist’s investment of time, talent and technique. It is an act of courage to speak one’s deepest thoughts and convictions through making, to take that risk to create and be heard. I thought of this quotation when I saw Jim Jacobs’ sculptures. He makes the seamless transition of wood from its natural form to its sculpted counterpart appear effortless. Yet one recognizes simply by seeing Jacobs’ sculptures, the years of creative fortitude and accumulated knowledge about wood and sculptural methods that coalesced to make that transition so…simple. Simple they are not, however. Jacobs’ sculptures disrupt. At first, there is a certain whimsy and wonder to the works. Is that toppled chair metamorphosing into a tree? Or, how is it possible for wood to transmute into hair? Slowly, the disjuncture inherent in the object unsettles our sense of the “natural” order of things. Jacobs calls these transitions “grafting,” a decidedly scientific term that reveals an uncanny, even grotesque, insinuation of the works. How did such an anomaly as this object come to be? The answer, the artist tells us through his sculptures, is that modern society has had an unnatural impact on the natural environment.
Laura Addison is the curator of North American and European folk art at the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, a position she has held since 2013. Previously, she was curator of contemporary art at the New Mexico Museum of Art (2002-2013).