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Shaping Time: After Hours

Shaping Time: After Hours

Shaping Time
By Kim Webb, OAC Riffe Gallery Fellow

“At a fundamental level, all art and creative output is the result of some expenditure of time, as time is the medium in which thought and physical construction take place.” – Lucy Cantwell, Art and Time, 2011.

Time is both necessary for the work and, essentially, is the work. Yet time is one of the most challenging things to come by for people in modern Western societies, especially artists who create and need time to think, experiment, fail, and repeat – actions that rarely yield tangible objects or guarantee financial support. Thankfully, artists persist and find time to create. To do so, this often means maintaining a job to sustain an income outside of their creative practice.

This is the commonality of the artists who are currently exhibiting at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery. After Hours: Artwork by State of Ohio Employees showcases the work of 43 state of Ohio employees. These artists’ daytime positions range from paralegals to tax examiners, librarians to correctional officers and psychologists, working in agencies across the state such as Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The exhibition brings to light the multifaceted roles artists navigate.


Jennifer Whitten, 
Illusion Shatterer, 2015, beadwork assemblage, 2" x 8" 18"

An abundance of time is evident in the work of Jennifer Whitten, a human service program administrator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Her objects are embedded with methodic time, meticulous labor, and meditative practice. Jennifer describes her three sculptures included in After Hours as beadwork assemblages.  She creates assemblages from found objects, adhering them together through the historic, slow, repetitive, labor-intensive process of beading. Her work comments on ideas about time, cognitive process, and utility. 

In her artist statement, Jennifer wrote, “I am interested in the body’s response to hand tools and hand skills, as well as the place of both in our present culture. These works allude to a psychological, rather than a practical, utility and as such, reflect my dual career as an artist and a clinical counselor.”

I asked Jennifer to tell me more.

Kim Webb, Riffe Gallery Fellow: Can you describe the duality of your roles as an artist and clinical counselor? Do these roles inform one another?

Jennifer Whitten, Artist: As an artist, my practice supports my work as a clinical counselor as it is an outlet of expression. My current series is directly informed by my work as a clinician as I am exploring psychological concepts through object-making. Some of the ideas I’ve worked with so far in the series are competence, detachment, passive aggression, optimism, and illusions. Being thoughtful and curious, making creative connections, and having integrity in my work are qualities that inform and serve both my artist and clinician roles. 

KW - You describe your work as beadwork assemblage. Can you tell me more about this process? Are you assembling found objects and adhering them through the beading process? 

JW - I assemble found objects, currently hand tools, sometimes cutting them apart and grafting them to each other in new iterations. The beadwork is done after the structure or form is finalized but I think of it as a parallel process to the assemblage. The beadwork becomes a skin of sorts that makes the object complete, and it is also used in a dimensional manner to create new forms. 

KW - How do you select your objects? Do they have a relationship to each other?

JW - I am drawn to objects that have the wear of use, usually someone’s hand, reflecting utility over time. For example, Mallet Totem has the most beautiful change in patina on its wooden handle.  I covered this patina with intricate beadwork, but it is what initially drew me to that object. 

KW - Are these objects spiritual?

JW - In a sense, yes. I view my object-making as a medial practice. Medial refers to something that bridges between two worlds. I think all art does this in some way. At times with my work I am purposely evoking a sense of wonder, awe, and entrancement that has a spiritual dimension.

KW - You mentioned being interested in the body’s response to hand tools and hand skills. Can you expand on this?

JW - As a maker, I am completely dedicated to the process of handwork and have developed a set of specialized skills to support my art practice. I also have a curiosity about the body’s haptic response, feeling an urge to grasp, or feeling an accommodation to pick something up, and how that intersects with the traditional role of the art object.  


Whitten explains her object making is informed by themes of impulse, grasp, repetition, and ritual. She describes her series (still in progress) as “tools of psychological utility.” In her piece Illusion Shatterer  (pictured above), she “composed fragile glass vials, some of which contain fragments of an 18th century textile and others a color copy of it. The viewer may have an impulse to grasp the beaded handle and swing or shatter the work. I am attempting to create a sense of the restraint needed to maintain illusions and the impulse to shatter them.”


Jennifer Whitten, Mallet Totem, 2016, beadwork assemblage, 11 1/2" x 5" x 5"

Whitten imagines Mallet Totem as a totem of the future to hand tool and skills. “In today’s age of 3-D printing and virtual worlds, the direct and straightforward use of a wooden mallet can seem simple or charming. A future world may see this object as mysterious and the dexterity needed to use it skillfully completely lost. Mallet Totem asks, ‘Will legends of men making items by hand seem like magic to those of later generations?’”


Jennifer Whitten, Optimism: Orange Rake, 2016, beadwork assemblage, 6" x 3 1/2", 24"

Witten explains, Optimism: Orange Rake “expresses both the joy and the labor required to maintain a positive viewpoint. Its tassel of flowers is a reminder of the adage ‘you reap what you sow.’”


After Hours jurors Mary Cusick, Kevin Milstead, and Stephanie Rond stated, “Finding time to nurture one's creative voice after a long day at work takes physical and emotional energy. This exhibition demonstrates that if you have the passion for artmaking, you will always make the time.”

The OAC Riffe Gallery presents After Hours: Artwork by State of Ohio Employees, May 4 – July 8, 2017. For more information visit riffegallery.org 



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