March 26, 2014

From the Artist: J.J. McCracken

We asked artist J.J. McCracken to offer us the inside scoop and personal insight on her piece Husk, on view now in CSA: 40 Years of Community-Sourced Art. Here’s what she had to say:

J.J. McCracken, 'Husk.' Installation
J.J. McCracken, ‘Husk.’ Installation. 2013.

Husk, thoughts, by J.J. McCracken

I was selected to participate in the CSA show by Martha Jackson Jarvis. In wanting to think about our pairing, I kept revisiting her interest in clay. I once made my living as a potter, and have over 20 years of myriad points of interaction with clay, the most recent being cultural and conceptual readings of the material.

I am very interested in others’ interests in clay. Martha talks about clay’s history and its ability to connect us with our prehistory, or remind us of our place in a larger continuum of being. I am also interested in current research positing theories of ancient clays acting as a primordial womb, incubating the generation of the first organic molecules on Earth (thus possibly playing a role in the origins of life). I am excited, then, to learn of Esperance, the Martian rock containing clay particles that suggest a history of interaction with drinkable water—our relationship to the Realm of Possibility continually shifts as we learn more about our universe…

J.J. McCracken, 'Husk' detail. Installation, 2014.
J.J. McCracken, ‘Husk’ detail. Installation, 2014.

My sculpture responds, asking where clay building blocks end and the body begins. Mammary glands and orifices are suggested while architecture is referenced. Living organisms thrive on this building fragment that may seem to lean more toward decay than formation.

Considering our perception of or relationship to time encourages my repeated reconsideration of the first of T.S. Eliot’s 4 Quartets. The poem opens suggesting a boundarylessness between the entities named “time past,” “time present,” and “time future.” There is a sense that each is a (conceptual) space, capable of housing the others, or being housed inside the others, from human perspective. Time is a human riddle.

J.J. shared with us a summary of the notes on her studio wall:


Husk may be interpreted as a thing (a noun), with history:
Husk is a useless shell that once grew, and was once protector.
New life thrives in Husk’s decay.
Husk is a life stage.
This is the role of the specimen room.


Stars were once light;
Our present viewing is their past.
As stars extend our perception of time,
Stars extend our awareness of space
And our place in it—
Our planet is just one planet, and there was water on Mars…
Darkness, stars, and the whisper of dead grass underfoot
Set the stage in the second room: a place to reflect on perception
Where Husk may become a verb


Here, time present is underscored by the chewing of clocks
Marking the passing seconds
While the mouths of visitors chew incessantly;
Testimony: we chew, so, we live.
Non-nutritional consumption/non-consumptive chewing—
Fruit need not be borne in this, the chewing is enough.


Martha’s Markings II uses scale to invoke the body.
Reading a relationship to winnowing structure,
We mentally place the body in action at the top—
Seed is separated from chaff in the intellect,
Husk becomes a verb.



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