Jacinda Russell is an Indiana-based conceptual artist working in the mediums of photography, installation, and bookmaking. Born in Idaho, Jacinda received her BFA from Boise State University in Studio Art and her MFA from the University of Arizona. She currently works as an Associate Professor of Art at Ball State University. Her work takes her to faraway places, from the Mexico-United States border to Antarctica, and has been exhibited all over the country. Jacinda Russell is not only an accomplished artist, but a mentor and friend. As my senior thesis advisor, her guidance and encouragement throughout my collegiate journey shaped who I am as an artist today. It’s been nearly a year since graduation, and with the state of the world currently, a lot has changed since then. I checked back in with Jacinda to get her point of view on COVID-19 and hear about future plans and aspirations.
Callie Zimmerman: Would it be accurate to say that you are an artist who uses photography as a medium, but you are not a photographer? What drew you to photography?
Jacinda Russell: Photography is a tool that (most often) best conveys my ideas but when it does not, I turn to installation, sculpture, bookmaking, or performance. I like its immediacy and my ability to control it. I am too many things to be called a photographer and do not want to be pigeonholed into one medium.
CZ: What drew you to teaching? How has teaching informed or influenced your personal work, if at all?
JR: By default is the most accurate answer (after having the worst job in arts administration after graduate school, I discovered it was something I could do and was fairly decent at it). Sometimes I will give an assignment and think that I could also learn something from it. For instance, documenting a performance art piece introduced me to a new working method that first appeared in 3 weeks, 6 earthworks, 1 portable studio and ALL that lies in between.
CZ: What project are you currently in the process of completing?
JR: It takes years to complete a project so that is a difficult question to answer. My three current in progress series have the following deadlines: Art Department (when I retire from teaching), Autobiography (when I die), and Metaphorical Antipodes (when we are able to decrease global warming, resolve the issues at the US/Mexico Border Wall, and eliminate drilling in the Arctic). Completion is not a familiar word as I tend to exhibit and publish in chapters.
CZ: What series are you most proud of and why?
JR: When I was awarded a research fellowship to spend two weeks in Robert Heinecken’s archive at the Center for Creative Photography, I did not anticipate the experience to be as transformative as it was. I held his remains stored in a saltshaker in my hands, a mythical object in the history of photography. I am proud of my response to this experience, plus the realizations I had about my own creative process were invaluable.
CZ: What are some of your professional goals and what is one thing you hope to accomplish as an artist?
JR: More awards, more fellowships, and living off my art practice are the obvious answers. One that is less transparent is the desire to have my photograph illustrate the fiction section in The New Yorker magazine. If I could live my entire life creating meaningful art, like Agnes Martin or Louise Bourgeois did, that would be the biggest accomplishment.
CZ: Your work often deals with lists or collections of things. Where does this fixation come from and what fascinates you about archiving them?
JR: Growing up in a house with 225 balloon-tire bicycles, thousands of bottles, soda paraphernalia, rooms filled with cardboard boxes, golden age comic books, trunks of advertising material and endless amounts of artwork will do wonders in the fixation department. I am drawn to the objects people surround themselves by and how those things control their lives. The lists occur when something is repeated too often, and then I have a compelling urge to count and document it.
CZ: As a conceptual artist, where does an idea begin with for you? What inspires you to create?
JR: I spend a year or two thinking about a concept before it manifests, walking around an idea from all sides, visualizing the medium, the location, and the actions needed to make it happen. The majority of ideas come from passing thoughts that unbelievably turn into multi-year series. What would a swimming pool look like filled with inflatable globes? I cannot believe how many people steal things from Art Departments. How long will it take me to find 50 of them? Etc.
CZ: In what ways do you feel the safety measures put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have impacted the way that you work? Do you find yourself having to be more creative in your process, or has it really changed that much?
JR: COVID-19 has impacted artists in many ways and for me it’s the loss of exhibitions, public lectures, summer travel leading into the next chapter of Metaphorical Antipodes, and lack of facilities to print photographs and coldwork glass molds. This grief has affected me deeply and I am still coming to terms with how to proceed when each week another cancellation arrives in my inbox. Most everything I make is constructed and the rest of spring will involve making rudimentary sets in the basement to photograph and print at a later time.
CZ: Who are some artists that inspire you, or whose work you admire? Why?
JR: Sophie Calle for titling an exhibition My Mother, My Cat, My Father, In That Order. Lenka Clayton for buying a week’s worth of groceries at Trader Joe’s in alphabetical order (as proven by the receipt). Katie Paterson for making a cast of a meteorite, melting it, recasting it as a version of itself, and returning it to space by the European Space Agency.
CZ: When did you start to notice that people spell your name wrong a lot?
JR: Remember that awful job I had right out of graduate school? It was there that I noticed, when answering the phone, that people called me by names they thought were correct with great conviction. When an artist asked if Duwanda was there for the second time, I started the list.