Jennifer Trask attended Massachusetts College of Art completing her BFA in Metalsmithing in 1993 and later graduated the State University of NY at New Paltz with an MFA in 1997. She now resides in Nevada at Lake Tahoe where she is a full time studio artist.
Examples of Trask’s work can be found in many public collections including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; the Museum of Art and Design in New York, NY; CODA Museum, Apeldoorn, Netherlands; Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia. In 2011 Trask was named Sculpture Fellow by the New York Foundation for the the Arts.
Trask’s work has been cited in many international books and periodicals including W, The New Yorker, the Financial Times, Modern magazine, the Lark Books series, Metalsmith Magazine, American Craft and The Sunday Boston Globe Arts section, among others.
The elaborate objects and sculptures made of found materials like bone, wood, and antlers point to the Dutch tradition of Vanitas and at the same time addressing the traditional practice of isolating examples/ideals of beauty stylization of nature, "in effect a death of the real, the imperfect, the individual."
a mark, trace, or visible evidence of something that is no longer present or in existence: A few columns were the last vestiges of a Greek temple.
a surviving evidence or remainder of some condition, practice, etc.: These superstitions are vestiges of an ancient religion.
a very slight trace or amount of something: Not a vestige remains of the former elegance of the house.
Biology . a degenerate or imperfectly developed organ or structure that has little or no utility, but that in an earlier stage of the individual or in preceding evolutionary forms of the organism performed a useful function.
Archaic . a footprint; track.
Origin: 1535–45; < Middle French < Latin vestīgium footprint
My curiosity about the intrinsic nature of things, of materials and my interest in biology is paramount, and many sources, Wilson's Theory of Biophilia, Darwin's sense of the sublime, BioArt and Botany and my own response to the materials informed my process. While making this group of objects I had a question in the back of my mind, like a mantra, "what is written in our bones?" meaning, what desires, ideals, motivations do we carry silently? One answer could be ideals of beauty, our desire to manipulate, or perfect natural forms. In the words of BioArtist George Gessert, 'Our ornamental plants, pets, sporting animals, and spice plants constitute a vast genetic art, or art involving DNA, in which aesthetic qualities determine survival…Very quietly hybridizers have become major interpreters of nature, producing organisms that are simultaneously beings and "images."'
I can roughly pinpoint the beginning of this series to a wall piece, Intrinsecus, made for Dead or Alive, at the MAD in 2010. I was struck by the highly carved and stylized acanthus motif of the a 19th century italian frame that serves as both frame and subject. Formally this work addressed the traditional museum practice of isolating ideal examples of natural beauty, and in effect a death of the real, the imperfect, the individual. The cultivated notion of nature overshadows the authentic. On another level, the question of cellular memory and unspoken intent is brought to light. It seemed ironic that here are these highly stylized leaf forms, carved in wood -from a tree that was once wild, organic and unruly, no doubt cut down, milled and processed into manageable slabs, and shaped into a perfectly proportioned leaf pattern.
The new wall pieces, Abundant Uselessness and Still Life still point to a human curatorial oversight of the evolution of our environment and its inhabitants for several millennia from outside the museum walls.
Still Life refers to the tradition of the Vanitas, serving as a warning of the hollowness and brevity of earthly pleasures. The painting here is disintegrating, the exotics have all but vanished. Queen Anne's Lace, what we now consider weeds(though not long ago they too were cultivated as ornamental plants) burgeon forth from the canvas and the wooden foliate structure of the frame. The Tulip, and Chrysanthemum, the Nest, Pearls and Keys are what one might have found in the original painting.
Chrysanthemums are just one example of an ornamental that has been cultivated to an extreme. For over 2000 years in China and then Japan, mums and peony hybrids have become increasingly exaggerated, animated, and grotesquely shaped in some cases. The plants have become 'ornamental-ized', some are cultivars and cannot reproduce without man's intervention. This is true for most commercial crops. As a gardener myself, I get a thrill from such purposeless, strange beauty. (Perfection, and symmetry do not hold my gaze - it is the mutation, the aberration that excites me.) Plant and animal breeds have societies devoted to them, volumes written by various authorities delineate categories and determine the ideal forms a grower should strive for. Most of us are blithely unaware that the adaptations we find so beautiful in many plants are aggressive survival strategies. The number of ornamental plants produced and hybridized today outnumbers food (economic)crops by vast numbers, suggests that our appetite for the unusual, for the rare or exotic beauty outstrips our desire for and investment in agriculture.
“Certain kinds of uselessness free our minds …the wonder of things in themselves confirms the goodness of being….One of the great unacknowledged forces of domestication today may be a hunger for abundant uselessness.” (G.G. 30)
Perhaps that feeling of wonder Gessert refers to is also a response to the 'otherness', the seemingly wild and alien appearance of some domesticates, safely experienced in the controlled setting of a greenhouse or fenced garden. Though the tameness is an illusion. Recently we have learned that genetically altered, domesticated plants are far from harmless. And fences cannot contain insects, pollen or seeds. Our appetite may have consequences we are yet to see.
Neither clearly baneful nor benign, these objects are intended to mirror our complex relationship to our own internal nature(s), and the peculiar concept of dominion over intrinsic nature, or wildness by engineering a domesticated, ornamental nature.
J. T. 3/26/2011
Green Light: toward and art of evolution/George Gessert.
MIT Press 2010
Random House Dictionary, Random House, Inc. 2011