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Frosty pink lipstick smeared all over his face, paper, acrylic paint, fabric, masonite, embroidery, crochet, heat press with foil, sequins and other sewn embellishments, metal pipes. 2010, 20' x 10' x 5', photo: Jessica Labatt


Artist: Jesse Harrod, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Interview 10: Jesse Harrod exhibited in the 2009 World of Threads Festival exhibition Common Thread Juried Exhibition Part 1.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Jesse Harrod has an MFA from the department of Material Studies from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. She is originally from Toronto, but now lives in Chicago, Illinois.

She has been writing and making work that employs traditional and contemporary craft and sculptural practices with a focus on craft as "other" and how this pertains to queer theory as well as second and third wave feminism. Jesse is interested in working with the layers that exist within the history of cloth and fabric. Those layers include, class, colonization, trade, puberty, and domesticity. Website


Jessica Harrod in her studio.



Tell us about your work?

My art practice explores the relationship between the so-called traditional processes of fiber including embroidery and embellishment, and those newer technologies that attempt to replicate hand-based techniques such as laser technologies. I use the histories of fiber's materials and methodologies as a critical framework for exploring how context informs/affects the perceived meaning of things by working in the interstitial moment between the traditional and the new. Through an interest in class and material culture, queer theory and second and third wave feminist theory, I use fiber and craft as a platform to explore assumed, relative meaning via contextual remixing and queering.



Detail: Frosty pink lipstick smeared all over his face



From where do you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration from reading, travel, music, film, pop culture, people, nature – everywhere. I think that the most important thing in my practice is to be as involved and aware of what is happening around me as possible, not just looking at local politics or concerns but also thinking globally and trying to be engaged. Being curious!


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

I completed my undergraduate studies at The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. During this time I was equally drawn to fiber-based classes as I was to painting. I spent a lot of time in undergrad experimenting with a variety of materials that would allow me to play with colour and depth of field. In weaving, I was thrilled to find ways to create a three dimensional space with a process generally seen as 2-D. I was excited to take colours that I was looking at in painting and try to bring them into my weaving. Because I couldn't purchase the colours I wanted in the type of yarn needed, I learned how to dye yarn. As a result I learned new skills that meant I was more involved in the process of making the work - from beginning to end – and this relationship to labour became a theme in my process for a few years. I see myself as an artist who uses a variety of fiber-based processes along side other material explorations that include installation and painting.


Detail: Frosty pink lipstick smeared all over his face


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

I am in love with cloth – deeply in love with textures, patterns and colour. I love the historical connections, the way that I can look at a piece of fabric and guess either where it comes from or what it's trying to be. I have fabric I have carried with me from Toronto to South Africa to Peterborough to Halifax and now they live with me in Chicago.

The chintz that I use is made on the crappiest cotton or synthetic fabrics that catch the dry skin on your fingers when you fold it. Its chintzy chintz! I have other fabrics I use where the designer intentionally plays with the registration to give off the idea that its from the 1950s when actually I purchased it new two weeks ago, its layered in lies. I am interested in this history of class in relation to textiles that I use in my work.


Detail: Frosty pink lipstick smeared all over his face


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

I see myself as an artist who uses fiber along with many other materials such as wood, paint, plastic, metal and much more. All the materials I use have their own histories and these histories inform my work.


Justine at Nine, exhibited in the Common Thread International Juried Exhibition Part 1 at Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?  

Polly Apfelbaums work amazes me. When I first saw her work in undergrad I was blown away, she had these large pieces of fabric that had floral imagery on them and other abstract forms that were laid all over the floor in different patterns. It forced me to ask myself all sorts of questions. Were they painting? Was it fabric? Was it hand died? How did it relate to a domestic space? How permanent was it? Could it be different in different locations? What was the ground? How did the floor relate to the colour and field? And many more - I was totally confused by her work but simultaneously in love with the work.

Another artist that I found informative in my work early on is Fred Tomaselli's collage work. He works with found images and small objects like pills, buttons and pieces of wood that he captures in resin – he has said that he "uses the resin to contain the ephemera". He then goes back over the resin surface and applies paint on top, creating a sense of space between the surface of paper and the paint on the resin an inch or so above. The work is contained, and on a wall in a traditional square or rectangle but it references repeating patterns in fabric using a variety of materials to achieve this.


Detail: Frosty pink lipstick smeared all over his face


Pepon Osorio is someone who I have been very interested in. His use of accumulation, excess, colour and the objects themselves are informative in my own practice. Before becoming an artist he was a social worker for a number of years. Osorio who is of Puerto Rican and African American decent, has said his work is "always connected back to the community". In thinking about accumulation which is clearly a large formal concern in Osarios work he points out that "there is not one watch, but three watches. There is not one sneaker, but eight sneakers. It almost feels as if we need to multiply, just in case...it's almost as if we are always going to war. We might not have enough tomorrow, so lets just buy a whole bunch now."

Another artist that I love is Allyson Mitchell a Canadian artist who works with discarded craft items. She creates lesbian feminist monsters using abandoned domestic handicraft. The objects and environments that she creates are in her words are about "articulating some of the ideas and imaginings from second-wave feminisms that were so foundational to me, while still remaining committed to an inclusive third wave theory and practice." Allyson has made films, installations, wall work and she has written a manifesto called Deep Lez.







What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

Fiber has been a part of the contemporary art scene forever - they have been having a secret conversation for years! I think one thing that is exciting about fibers in contemporary art is that it brings all of its history with it and that history includes labour, race, class, technology, domesticity, activism, performance and much more.




What other fibre artists are you interested in?

I am interested in many artists and some use fiber and some don't – it's more about their ideas, critical engagement with the materials etc…less about what the specific materials are. I like Allyson Mitchell who I mention earlier and El Anatsui from Ghana; I love his work, his use of recycled materials and the way in which he re-imagines them and references traditional African patterns and fabrics. Yinka Shonibare is another artist from Nigeria who explores colonialism and post-colonialism and uses fabric, installation, painting, sculpture, photography, film and performance. Diana Guererro-Macia is an American artist who uses fiber in her text based work in a way that references painting. Anne Wilson's work is hugely influential to me, her sense of restraint in the work and the way she works across mediums from installation to video to social practice. Rebecca Ringquist who is also American does these thick layered drawings with embroidery that are amazing and Sarah Alford who is Canadian and uses hot glue to build lace or patterns that reference something in the architecture or a political concern – she is wonderful.


In Process: Detail: Untitled 2010


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I am compelled by accumulation, physically in my work and in my research. I do a lot of writing and research for all of my work. I like to be able to see all the material choices I have available to me as a result I have piles of cloth and trimmings all over my studio and shelves with paint, paper and al the other options. I work on two projects at a time, usually one that is larger in scale and something at my desk, I tend to move back and forth between the two – they are in constant conversation with each other.


Which World of Threads Festival did you exhibit in?

I exhibited in the 2009 Common Thread International Exhibition Part 1 at Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre.


Where do you imagine your work in 5 years? 

I have no idea, but I hope I am as excited as I am now about making work.


In Process: Untitled 2010


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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.