Building Blocks

Jessica Joy is an MFA candidate and experimenter extraordinaire at the School of Art and Design.

The following images were taken from my end of year review presentation. Each image was taken in an effort to document the process and progress of the construction of this series of sculptures.

The first image is one piece viewed from two different angles. I experimented with two different glow in the dark powders (blue and green) to create this glowing effect. The outcome reminds me of the way biomedical researchers use dyes as markers to track different parts of the cell to get a better understanding of their development.

The next stage of development in this series was a collaboration with gravity. I really enjoyed the way gravity changed the morphology of the sculpture, but it was a tough battle and gravity won out. I spent days repairing the weaknesses in the sculpture that gravity revealed. In order to repair an area that was pulling apart ( I wish I had a picture to illustrate this) I would apply more of the raw material (meaning the wet material) to the area. The repairs that occured as a result of the weak points made the piece more irregular. Instead of returning the damaged areas to their original configurations, I took advantage of the openings that were created by forming them into tubules. I would repair one spot and then gravity would find the next weakest point and start to peel it apart. I was able to keep up with the repairs for several days. I went home after witnessing several hours of stability, and when I came back the next morning I found this piece on the ground. I wasn't too disheartened, because it made me realize that I needed to reinforce my sculptures from the beginning.

This is an image of the piece after it fell and I repaired it. I had to decide what side to flatten so that it would sit on a flat surface. One morning the light was coming in from the skylights in the studio which created this beautiful glass-like luminescent effect.

This is the same piece without direct lighting.

Here is a sneak peek into how each building block is made and warmed up before it is attached to the larger sculpture.

My next piece was constructed on a plastic dome that I repurposed from my piece in the All Student Show. My thoughts were that building on a dome would increase the volume of the sculpture and give me a solid support for the piece to ensure its longevity. This time I used building blocks with more size variation. The smaller building blocks (formerly known as cells (I will expain the name change soon)) do not have nuclei.

The next few images illustrate the progression of growth from left to right.


The next two details illustrate my discovery of what happens when I sandwiched two different colored building blocks. When I started using this method to create varying degrees of color I realized that I was approaching the construction of this sculpture like I would a painting. When I paint I almost never use the pigment from one tube of paint. Art students are usually told to make their own black rather than using it straight out of the tube, the same principles seem to make my sculptures appear more 'natural' in appearance. Variation is the key... to the survival of a species and the believability of a sculpture.


After making this series and presenting it to a faculty of three people I gained a lot of clarity about my studio practice, what it is that I am actually making, and why I am making 'it'. I am not mimicking biological systems, or even illustrating them. I am using the many fragments I have seen and learned about biology to inspire the creation of my own world. My end of year review allowed me to say with confidence that "I make fantastical sculptures/spaces inspired by biology". Armed with this clarity I will use this summer to imagine and design my fantastical world. I was encouraged to explore new materials, but don't worry I will not abandon my current sculptures. I plan to add to them and build an environment for them to exist in. Also, to address the name change from cells to building blocks... I do not want to box myself in by only thinking of the small components as cells, so I have decided to call them building blocks instead.

I am still working on the last piece featured in this post, and when I am finished it is going to be installed in a new diagnostic center outside of Ann Arbor. I am projecting that I will be finished by next week Monday, so I will post updates soon after that.

More posts to come over the summer as I begin experimenting with new materials!