Arts preview: Artist Jackie Brown welcomes uncertainty in her art

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From the August 29, 2013 edition
  • Photo courtesy Jackie Brown

Philadelphia artist Jackie Brown, like fictional X-Men founder Professor Charles Xavier, embraces mutation in her life’s work.

The sculptor’s artist statement is littered with phrases like “biological growth and transformation” and “systems are cross-wiring and melding into new and uncertain growths,” and she utilizes materials (expanding urethane foam, etc.) that are difficult to control due to physical properties that cause them to morph and change.

“Allowing for the unexpected is definitely important in my studio process,” said Brown, 31, whose work has been on display at the Roy G Biv Gallery throughout August and who will participate in an artist talk at the gallery on Saturday, Aug. 31. “I have something I hope to achieve, but then I see what happens [with the materials] and see how the work evolves. There’s so much creative problem-solving and discovery involved, and that’s what keeps it engaging for me.”

At times, Brown’s colorful, large-scale instillations resemble elaborate lab experiments gone awry, constructed of amorphous components that could almost be classified as new life forms. It’s little surprise, in turn, much of the initial inspiration for the artist’s work comes from the field of science. Brown avidly watches online TED Talks, devours books by the likes of neurologist Oliver Sacks and biologist Gerald Edelman and even enrolled in a free online course in bioelectricity taught by a Duke University professor last year.

“I’ve been soaking in everything I can and using that as a catalyst for the work,” said Brown, who was born in a quiet Connecticut suburb to a corporate attorney father and an administrator mother. “So it’s related to real phenomenon and based on real phenomenon, but then hopefully it starts to go beyond that and take on a life of its own. I think of the work as these imaginative systems.”

Similar to a scientist, Brown views her workspace as a laboratory, and most instillations begin with nearly six months of experimentation before an early form starts to take shape. As a result, the artist describes her studio as a haphazard mess littered with boxes and test pieces and random materials — a chaotic scene that stands in sharp contrast to her relatively organized day-to-day existence.

“I think for me the studio is a place where I can … really lose time and be absorbed in what I’m doing,” she said. “In daily life you’re running around, you’re thinking about conversations you had the day before and wondering where you’re going tomorrow. I think it’s important to have that place where I can just exist in the present moment.”