Artist Interview / Jessica Bingham
At first glance your work appears cheerful and bright, but a closer look reveals such raw undertones. What inspires your art?
I want my work to appear light and child-like because the true existence for the work is heavy, rooted in the loss of a close friend due to an addiction. After he passed, memories flooded my mind and I've found that through making work about grieving, childhood, and remembrance, it felt as if I was preserving my childhood and memories with him. We grew up across the street from a cemetery and all of the neighbor kids viewed this much like a front yard or playground, so many of my pieces contain cemetery imagery like tombstones, burial plots, coffins, etc. Because of this, I often view yards and cemeteries quite similarly, so gras, dirt, flowers, and cement are important to all the avenues of my work including assemblages, gestural paintings, and installations.
Tell us about an artist whose career you admire
This is such a difficult question, because honestly, I admire many artists. It's not as easy as just making the artwork , and that's an understatement. Many artists that I admire work in their studio and also have full-time or part-time employment. They are making the work, being vulnerable and challenging viewers, self-promoting, and exhibiting. It's a pretty crazy, but totally worthwhile course to be on. So I can't really narrow it down to one person, since the artists I admire are all pretty freakin' amazing.
What is the art community like in Peoria?
I'v only lived in Peoria for four years, but I have found that the art community is quite full and only continues to grow. There are so many wonderful things happening any more, and I am just very happy to be apart of this movement. First Fridays are of course a great chance to meet other artists and see what they are producing, but I also am a big fam of low-key, under-the-table shows. I also love how willing people are, artist or not, to talk about artwork and support each other by attending openings.
What is one thing you still have from your childhood?
I still have many things from my childhood, but one thing in particular is this old pink coat that I would use like a security blanket. I think my mom bought it at a yard sale when I was about 2 years old or so and instead of wearing it as a coat, I would carry it around with me and sleep with it. It's now all ratty and lives in a box in the attic, but I'm planning to make something with it soon as my work deals so closely with childhood.
Talk about Project 1612.
I don't want to sound lame, but Project 1612 is my baby. I co-founded this space in 2015 with artist Alexander Martin and my husband Zach Ott. We raised funds through a Kickstarter campaign to convert our two-car garage into an alternative exhibition space and since opening have hosted 25 exhibitions and over 35 artists and counting. Roughly nine months out of the year we host an artist or two at our home for a few days as they make work and install their exhibition. The show is only available for the public for one day, and just for a few hours, and then the artist deinstalls and heads home. They are short exhibitions, but we have found this to be the best solution for our artists considering many of them are from out-of-town and have full-time jobs on-top of their already busy studio practice, plus shipping artwork, travel, and supplies adds up. So we try to make it as economical as possible for everyone involved. Our shows usually fall on Sunday afternoons and sometimes we have artist talks, other times we find that it's best for viewers to just have personal conversations with the artist.
Running 1612 is also really fun and I've had great experiences with all of the artists. The artists shown at 1612 have been selected through an open-call and we choose work that is challenging and could be responsive to the garage space. We also tend to select work that would be rare to find in peoria, especially considering one of our main goals is to expose viewers to artwork that they might not see otherwise. Our artists come from all over; we have shown local and regional artists as well as artists from the West and East coasts, and have even shown a number of international artists in the garage during the Film Festival we hosted in 2016.
What's next for Project 1612?
We have so many great things coming up. First being an exhibition by Alix Anne Shaw, a Chicago based artist. Her exhibition will take place on Sunday, September 17th from 3-6pm. Then on Friday, October 6th we are hosting a one-night event as part of the 3rd Terrain Biennial. The event will be from 5-9pm and we will be exhibiting three regional artists and one international artist, all of whom will be making installations and/or performances throughout the whole property. Gina Hunt (Chicago, IL) will have an installation in the front yard, Connor Shields (Cholchester, IL) will make a performance piece in the back yard, Ryan Paluczak (St. Louis, MO) will have a sound installation in the garage, and Bryony Hussey (London, UK) will show an installation on the sun porch. It's going to be a huge event and we can't wait to see all the work!
Do you collect anything? If so, what?
Well, recently I have been collecting dirt, from cemeteries, for a growing piece called Beneath the Trees. I started collecting dirt last summer, but only from my childhood neighborhood and the cemetery, but since then I have collected dirt from over 45 cemeteries in the Midwest and Southwest. I used this dirt recently in my exhibition "The Ones That Art Here" at Mantle Art Space in San Antonio, TX. The piece deals with the current opioid epidemic and how there is an estimate 90 deaths per day from overdoses. Considering I only collected from roughly 45 locations, this piece will continue to grow and shift as I reach 90. And even then, the dirt will continue to show up in my work as long as I feel it applies.
I've also started a new project collecting stories called "Grieving Stories" where I ask people to submit their own grieving experience through a page on my website. Since my work deals so heavily with loss, I am interested in what others grieve and how they cope. These stories can be about the grieving of a loved one, a memory, a place, or an object, so it is pretty open-ended. They will then serve as a resource to make new work, and will only be shared with permission.
The project is very new, but I have already had a number of people submit stories and I have been blown away. Every time I receive a submission I can't help but feel honored to be included in their healing process. It takes a lot of energy to relive those moments and the depth and honesty of these stories has been incredibly beautiful. I plan to continue this project for quite a while, but considering it is so new I have decided that on September 5th I will select a handful of individuals who will receive a 5x7 work on paper just for sharing. So if anyone is interested in this project, they can visit "Grieving Stories" on my website.