Mental Contagion

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Cause & Effect Mental Contagion
Art. Environement. Interview.
Submission

Jane Ingram Allen Troy, NY | Aristis-in-residence in Taipei, Taiwan
Interviewed by Sam Edsill | Exhibitions | Grants & Awards | Web site

Artist Statement

Since the mid 1990s, I have traveled as an artist-in-residence to various places throughout the world to create environmental art installations. Using local materials and taking inspiration from respective areas and their cultures, the structures I create help raise awareness about preservation of natural habitats, global warming and the importance of bio-diversity. My experience as an art teacher and professional artist create a logical extension to include workshops and collaborative participation with children, senior citizens, college students, scientists, artists and adults from all walks of life.

Rather than attempting to achieve a state of permanence, the installations collaborate with the forces of nature. Materials include paper pulp created from local plants, natural string and non-toxic dyes and food coloring, as wells as fallen branches, renewable plant resources and recycled materials. Mixing wildflower seeds into the paper pulp serves to attract and feed birds and create new life. These sculptural structures evolve with time, producing ever-varied images and something new for the viewers in every season. They last for many years and eventually return to the earth as compost.

Jane Ingram Allen
Tunghai University, Taiwan

MC: You've done a fair bit of traveling in your career, both around the U.S. and across the globe, including the Philippines, Brazil and, currently, Taiwan. What is your sense of how these places are dealing with environmental concerns? Are their problems different? Is the artistic community more or less involved than here in the states?

Jane Ingram Allen: Just to make the record of international residencies complete, I have also done residencies in Japan and Nepal as well as the three you mention--Philippines, Brazil and Taiwan. I would say that Taiwan definitely has the best recycling program that I have seen, although there does not seem to be so much concern about air quality or water quality or other environmental problems here. I think that Taiwan and Japan being islands maybe have more problems dealing with waste. In the US, it seems to me that recycling has sort of gone out of fashion lately, and there is no longer the pressure to recycle that we had back in the 80s and 90s. Maybe this is because the US has so much land for landfills. In Nepal plastic bags were everywhere, flying in the winds, in trees and in streets. When I was in Japan, I was in a rather rural community, Mino City, far from Tokyo and there did not seem to be much interest in recycling or other environmental issues. Maybe Tokyo is different, but I did notice that the Japanese are extremely clean and the streets are certainly cleaner than Taiwan! I like the program in Taiwan that charges you for plastic bags and decreases the use of these polluting items. I read recently in the paper that the Ikea stores in the US are planning to start charging US customers for bags and maybe this will catch on with other US businesses.

I think the environmental concerns are the same everywhere, and we are all in this together. The whole Earth needs to solve the environmental problems, not just some parts of it, because it is all interconnected. I think that water quality may be the next great concern everywhere...even in the US some parts of the country currently do not have clean drinking water. Also, of course, global warming is a problem for the whole world and will effect everyone everywhere.

Perhaps more artists in the US are making works focused on environmental issues, but this is largely because of economic reasons I think. There is more support from institutions in the US for this type of artwork. You look at Calls for Proposals in the nature or environmental art field and they are mostly all from the US or Europe. Here in Taiwan, it is hard to make a living as an artist of any sort. Most artists in Taiwan survive by teaching, as do many in the US. Others in Taiwan work in the tourism industry or receive occasional commissions for public plop art pieces in commercial spaces and government commissions. These do not usually offer any opportunity to do something that might be environmentally focused.

I think here in Taiwan, the interest in environmental art is just beginning, and the Guandu Nature Park show I have done for the past two years is probably the first time for art with a connection to nature and the environment. This year I received over 260 entries from artists all over the world for the Guandu Festival, but it was difficult to get proposals from Taiwanese artists. I received the most entries from US artists, and the next largest number from Germany with other European countries next. I found that the proposals from Europe and the USA had the strongest environmental focus. Many of the proposals from other countries had no connection to the environment and were more traditional monumental stone or steel structures. I think that this is what artists are called on to make in developing countries, and if they do environmental pieces there is no support system for their work. Many go to the US or Europe to be able to do what they want in art. However, in the little research I am able to do without the native language, I have found that aboriginal artists in Taiwan still have the connection to nature, and the art they make for ceremonial and ritual purposes may have an environmental focus, but little relationship to what we know as contemporary art.


Jane Ingram Allen
Guandu Nests for Humans

MC: What attracts you to handmade paper as a medium?

Jane Ingram Allen: Handmade paper is not only beautiful, with great texture and natural color, but it is also cheap; it is like making something from nothing and only requires lots of labor to produce. I enjoy the whole process and by learning about the plants I also learn much about the culture. I make new discoveries of plants in each place I go. With paper, I can make large pieces that are light in weight, don’t break and that pack and ship and store easily...great for an artist who is traveling around. I find that handmade paper is very flexible and you can do just about anything with it, and it is something from everyday life that is used in just about every culture. It is ordinary but it can be extra-ordinary if you make it yourself. I like being in control of the artistic process from the very beginning, and the process becomes part of the finished artwork.

I also like paper’s connection to nature and creating my art with an ordinary material that comes from plants growing in a particular place and time. It has great connections to the site and I like making site-specific work. It is exciting to make new discoveries and each time you try a new plant you may discover something interesting and unique...each piece has different texture, sound, color and feel. I use trimmings and fallen branches for the bark and dying leaves and trimmings from plants without cutting down or destroying any plants. Many materials can come from agricultural waste such as sugar cane leaves, rice straw and pineapple leaves. In Japan they plant fields of paper mulberry and other fiber plants to produce Japanese paper, and the trees are trimmed about every 3 or 4 years and keep on producing renewable resources.

Jane Ingram Allen
Vermont Boundary Wall

MC: You've been doing outdoor installations made of bio-degradable material for over ten years. Has your creative process or approach changed at all during that time, and if so, how?

Jane Ingram Allen: When I began doing this sort of work, I knew almost nothing about plants. I learned a lot from my research, scientists, nature experts and gardeners in all the places I have worked. Now, while not a scientific expert, I am familiar with lots of plants from many different places and can even make some good speculations about the fiber possibilities of most any plant that I see. I have also learned about growing things from seeds and have worked with environmental scientists and gardeners to learn about this part of my process. I think when I first started doing this I had no idea it might really work, and had some cases where the seeds did not come up well and even one case where the whole artwork was mowed down by the park maintenance crew just as the flowers were beginning to bloom. I have learned that one thing you have to do is explain how this can be art and make sure the maintenance people and community people know about the art project.

My work has tended to get larger in scale and involve more people as it has changed and developed. I also think the notion of temporary art installations or work that changes over time is more difficult to find support for. It is getting easier now that I have a track record so to speak, and I am finding it easier in some cases to work with nature centers and parks than art centers and museums to do this kind of work. Maybe it is also easier doing this type of work in Asia. I think there is a connection to Asian philosophy and Buddhism in particular that says everything is transitory and even works of art don’t have to be permanent. I think this type of work does require lots of planning and dealing with people and that also makes it more challenging.

Jane Ingram Allen
Tunghai University, Taiwan

MC: In an article on ephemeral environmental art, you wrote that around ten years ago you decided nothing could last forever, even so-called "permanent" art installations. Was this a difficult realization for you, as an artist, or was it in some ways liberating?

Jane Ingram Allen: As an artist the realization that nothing is permanent is a little of both feelings. On the one hand, I had always felt that somehow art ought to be one of the things that lasts and be something that people throughout the ages, hence, could experience and enjoy. On the other hand, it was liberating to realize that maybe what ought to last is the concept and idea of the work and not the physical object. I think that art is more a process, and it is great that it is constantly renewing itself and that people continue to produce new and interesting things that last for a while and then exist only as ideas.

MC: During the creation of your work, you often encourage other people to get involved through workshops and other means. Is this part of your artistic philosophy, to make the viewer a participant? Or is it more of an educational aspect? Or something else?

Jane Ingram Allen: It is definitely part of my artistic philosophy to make the viewer a participant. I want the viewers to do more than just take a look and walk on by. I try to involve them in the process with participatory activities and look on them as co-creators. Many of my installations are completed by the viewers and constantly changing during the course of the exhibition by weather, growth and also by the action of the viewers. I think because I have been an art teacher also for many years I may be more inclined to allow and encourage active participation. I used to feel that my artwork and my teaching were very separate activities, but now with the type of work I am doing I feel they are coming together. It is sometimes rather scary not knowing what will happen to the artwork with the participation of other people and not having total control, but it is always exciting and challenging to keep it going in the right direction and direct the process rather than making it all yourself. With artworks in public spaces I find that involving the viewers in creating parts of the work makes them take ownership and decreases chances of vandalism, and the community people become caretakers of the artwork.

Jane Ingram Allen
March 2003

MC: Had you encountered problems with vandalism in the past?

Jane Ingram Allen: Doing public art pieces, you always encounter some vandalism and have to think about how you can make the work last. Doing the education and making work that people are involved in somehow always seems to be the best way to counteract potential vandalism. If people want to vandalize some public art, they will figure a way to do it. I never had any instances of malicious vandalism, but it was more just prank or unintentional manhandling of the work. Once I did a clothesline installation between buildings in a small city of upstate NY. My installation was a line of wash...old clothing that had been gessoed, painted and coated with polyurethane for weatherproofing, and installed on a wire clothesline far above the reach of people, I thought. I had a pair of women’s panties as one of the objects on the line, and these were stolen one night! I thought this was very funny and could imagine some teenage boys climbing up on each other’s shoulders one dark night to get this object. This installation remained up for several more months without the underpants and got even more attention after the story about the stolen underwear came out in the local paper!

MC: Your work is unique in that it exists in nature and is also constructed from it, eventually even becoming part of it. Do you usually look to the land for inspiration, or do you come to the location with an idea already formed?

Jane Ingram Allen: Usually I am invited or selected to do an installation in a specific location, and I have to come with some idea already formed or at least a basic concept that I will work with in that particular place and time. However, I do make my proposals rather general and very flexible so that I can change and adapt to the place and become very site specific. When you make a proposal, it is usually for a place you have not visited before and you are going by photos and research, and this is never a substitute for actually being there and experiencing the place. The work always develops and changes on site. The land is definitely an inspiration and each work is for that particular place and time. I want to be careful that I am not introducing something foreign or harmful to the environment and that what I am doing can work well in that location.


Selected Solo Exhibitions

2004
Made in Taiwan: Taiwan Site Maps,
Suho Memorial Paper Culture Foundation and Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei Site Maps, American Cultural Center, Taipei, Taiwan

2003
Site Maps–Red Hook, Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn, NY
Of Time and the River, Spencertown Academy, Spencertown, NY
Feathered and Unfettered, Albany Center Galleries at Butzell Gallery,
Schenectady High School of the Arts, Schenectady, NY

2001
Site Maps, Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia, PA
Different Views, Phoenix Gallery Project Room, New York, NY
Jane Ingram Allen - The New York Years 1988-2001, Rome Art & Community Center, Rome, NY

2000
Bird Watching in Rochester, Pyramid Arts Center, Rochester, NY

1999
3 For the Birds, Zeitgeist Gallery, Cambridge, MA
Map Room 2, Central New York Community Arts Council Gallery, Utica, NY
Bird Watching on Lake George, Lake George Arts Project, Lake George, NY

1998
For the Birds Too, Rathbone Gallery, Sage Colleges, Albany, NY
The Map Room, University Art Gallery, University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, CT
4 the Birds, Kirkland Art Center, Clinton, NY

1997
Bird Watching 3 - Migration, Castellane Gallery, outdoor sculpture exhibition
on an abandoned barn, Rte. 46, Munnsville, NY
Hair Shirts & Other Garments, downtown storefront window installation, Utica, NY

1996
Colors - New Works, Percival Galleries, Des Moines, IA
Spiral Shelter and Silo Shelter outdoor sculpture/installations,
Duntog Foundation, Baguio City, Philippines
Winter Heat, Arts Center/Old Forge, Old Forge, NY

1995
Patterns and In the Clouds, 171 Cedar Arts Center, Corning, NY

1994

Shadows and Mirrors, Rome Art & Community Center, Rome, NY
In the Clouds, Kirkland Art Center, Clinton, NY

1993

Jane Ingram Allen - Sculpture and Installation Art, City University Graduate Center Mall, New York, NY

Selected Group Exhibitions

2004
International Exhibition at Arai Residence, Art Base Null, Osaka, Japan
International Paper Art Exhibition, Japan Paper Academy Symposium,
Kyoto International Community House, Kyoto, Japan.

2003
Accessibility 2003–From the Outside In, Sumter, SC.
Lost & Found, Martinez Gallery, Troy, NY.
Fire & Ice, Fulton Street Gallery, Troy, NY.
ISC Member Exhibition, Grounds For Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ

2002
Haven–Artists Talk About the Residency, Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy, NY
Color…y mas color, Martinez Gallery, Troy, NY
Inaugural Exhibition, Trink Gallery, Cohoes, NY
Pieces of Six, Fulton Street Gallery, Troy, NY

2001
Spirit of Place – Site Ecology, outdoor sculpture exhibition, Huntington, VT

2000
Assembled Imagery, Barrett Art Gallery, Utica College, Utica, NY
Paper at the Millennium, American Museum of Papermaking, Atlanta, GA
Fragile Structures, Essex Art Center, Lawrence, MA
Beyond Bricks and Mortar, OIA exhibition at the New York Mercantile Exchange Gallery, New York, NY
Patterned Flowers, George Billis Gallery, New York, NY
Art in the Heart of the City, Ithaca Commons, Ithaca, NY
Elements 2000, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, NY

1999
Paper Art Village Project, Mino Washi Museum, Mino City, Japan
Material Sensibility, Omni Gallery, Uniondale, NY
Site Specifics, Islip Art Museum Carriage House, E. Islip, NY
New Talent Invitational, Denise Bibro Gallery, New York, NY
Available Space: Explorations in Installation, Smithtown Township Arts Council,
Mills Pond House, St. James, NY

1998
Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Franconia Sculpture Park, Shafer, MN
BWAC Pier Show Sculpture Installation, Brooklyn, NY
Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Connemara Conservancy, Dallas, TX
50/50 invitational group exhibition, Gallery OneTwentyEight, New York, NY
Pulp Art: Investigations into Slurry, national invitational handmade paper art exhibition,
Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Black Velvet and Other Tactile Delights, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY

1997
Between the Bridges, Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, Brooklyn, NY.

1996

The Harvest Show, Gallery 53 - Artworks, Cooperstown, NY
For the Birds, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY

1995
Exposure & Vulnerability, Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, Brooklyn, NY
Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood, Chesterwood Museum, Stockbridge, MA
Recycling with Imagination: Art from Detritus 2, Kansas City, MO
Once Is Not Enough: Repeated Forms by Seven Artists, Utica College Barrett Art Gallery,
Chenango County Council of the Arts Gallery, Gannett Gallery, SUNY Tech
Utica-Rome, Wells College Gallery, and Nassau Community College Gallery
Refiguring the Figure, Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven, CT

1994

Figuration: a Visual Dialogue on the Human Form, Firehouse Art Gallery,
Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY

Selected Grants & Awards

2004-05
Fulbright Scholar Award Grant Extension for one-year artist in residency expanded project in Taiwan,
supported by the National Council for Cultural Affairs

2003-04
Fulbright Scholar Award, 6-month research grant for artist in residency at
the Suho Memorial Paper Culture Foundation and Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

2003
Artist & Communities Grant, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, for residency at Delaware
Center for Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE
Puffin Foundation Artist Award for “Bird Watching on the Hudson,” Troy, NY
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York, NY

2001
Artist as Catalyst Grant, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, for artist-in-residency at
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia, PA
Residency Fellowship, Sacatar Foundation, Bahia, Brazil
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York, NY

2000
Individual Artist Grant, Empire State Craft Alliance, Syracuse, New York.
Professional Development Grant, State University of New York United University Professions
Special Opportunity Stipend, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York, NY

1999
Grant for three-month residency in Japan at Paper Art Village Project, Mino city, Japan
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts

1998
Artist-in-Residency Award, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry, WV
Professional Development grant, State University of New York
Workshop Artist Award, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Statewide Artist Workshop Program

1997
Individual Artist Grant, Ruth Chenven Foundation, New York, NY
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts

1996
Residency Grant, Duntog Foundation, Baguio City, Philippines

1995
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts

1994
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts

1993
SOS Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts

1992
Empire State Crafts Alliance Artist Grant
Professional Development Grant, State University of New York

       
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