Hard Hat Optional (Bruno David Projects)
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Jill Downen's latest installation, "Hard Hat Optional", resembles a construction site, filled with anatomical forms reminiscent of sensual bodily elements, pockets of empty space, and areas of densely packed material. She stacks, leans, and places sculptural and architectural forms to be seen not as individual pieces, but rather as a complete installation. The exhibit emphasizes the temporal nature and transformation of place. Downen invites viewers to question whether the site is in a process of construction or deconstruction, with seductive fragments, sensitive folds of architectural skin, and stacks of flesh-like blocks. The work employs an indeterminate nature and offers viewers an opportunity to experience the space and directly interact with precariously balanced building materials and forms.
Peripheral vision became part of the inspiration, process, and concept of Hard Hat Optional when Downen began to notice construction sites. In this exhibit, she aims to bring qualities from these overlooked sites out of the periphery and into direct conversation with the viewer. She captures the temporal energies and unsettling tension that objects create in both their physical weight and spatial movement. The idea of architecture as flesh is opened, exposing the infrastructures and energies of the sensual building blocks. Still resembling bodily structures, the sculptural forms reveal varied surfaces; chiseled, cut, punctured, scarred and smoothed. Downen urges viewers to imagine these pieces as parts of a building that is in a state of becoming.
Hard Hat Optional reveals the relationship between the objects and the space in which they are situated. Although the space feels like a construction site, it is presented free of grit and grime. Palettes, sand bags and lumber are all part of the installation, carefully placed to create a distinct conversation with the viewer. A fifteen-foot wooden support structure cantilevers ominously overhead, building unsettling tension while holding up a pocket of empty space. The exhibit reveals the shared substructures of architecture and the human body, as well as the temporal nature of their creation.
Recently, Downen was awarded three residencies at the Mac Dowell Colony in Peterborough, NH; Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest, IL and; Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT. In 2007, she was awarded the Cite International des Arts Residency, Paris, France. In 2003, she received a Great Rivers Biennial Grant, sponsored by Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Gateway Foundation, and in 2004, she exhibited "The Posture of Place" as part of the first Great Rivers Biennial. Her art has been reviewed in numerous publications, including Sculpture Magazine, Art Papers, The New York Times, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Downen holds an MFA in sculpture from Washington University in St. Louis as a Danforth Scholar and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in painting and printmaking.
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