Locust Projects presents Eyes of the Skin, a newly commissioned project by Miami-based artist Jen Clay that invites viewers to explore an alien forest of quilted tree-like creatures through both a site-specific immersive installation and interactive video game animation in which players maneuver to "get out of the woods" while navigating monstrous behavior.
Clay's video game - the first made entirely of animated quilts - is the first chapter in what will evolve into a lengthy visual novel that invites game players to choose their own adventure similar to the 1980s children's game book series. The game and its installation at Locust Projects are designed to create a soothing sensory-inclusive environment with a hypnotic soundscape created by Elise Anderson and dialog made with mental health consultant Tayina Deravile.
Influenced by the theoretical framework of Cosmic Pessimism, a pop culture philosophy of horror, Clay’s monsters are a hybrid of alien and natural forms whose pastel palette and cushioned fabric surfaces distract from an existence that is indifferent and even menacing to human exceptionalism.
Within a decision tree coding structure, player’s avatars can choose from a list of prompts to each manipulative encounter with the trees, who communicate via text on screen. The monsters’ choppy movements recall nineties’ video games and children’s shows. The game’s title refers to Juhani Pallsamaa’s book Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, an architectural theory classic that advocates trusting one’s senses. This nearly therapeutic philosophy echoes positive self-talk Clay adopted as a child who hallucinated monsters. Her work represents that experience and the work of managing it. Clay’s work also helps viewers who have not had this experience to empathize with this condition of near constant uncertainty. Of course, as more and more monsters prove themselves to be all too real, she lets us widen our acceptance, in her work’s soft cuddly embrace, of all that might be.
Eyes of the Skin is funded in part by a Knight New Work Grant awarded to the artist in 2022 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The exhibition’s realization at Locust Projects is presented as part of Knight Digital Commissions.
In addition to being supported in part by a Knight New Work Grant, Jen Clay’s project Eyes of the Skin involved the support of several individuals and organizations. Above and beyond providing support for the exhibition, Locust Projects provided studio space for several months. Metcalf Creek Holler (MCH), Emerson Dorsch Gallery’s residency in Mars Hill, NC, hosted Clay and her collaborators over the summer. Elisa Anderson provided soundscape support and Tayina Deravile provided dialogue and mental health consultation. Clay extends special thanks to Samuel Lopez de Victoria for his coding mentorship and to Dennis Scholl, president and CEO of Oolite Arts, for his guidance and friendship.
About the artist
Jen Clay works in a wide range of media, from quilted wall hangings to interactive and multimedia performances. Drawing from forms familiar to her from personal experiences with mental illness - particularly hallucinations - her elaborately sewn textiles of ambiguous, non-human figures embedded with audio and text messages, make fear, anxiety, and uncertainty approachable. Whether sculpture, performance, and now video games, her works serve as meditations on how uncertainties and fears impact our ability to perceive the world as it is, sometimes forcing suspension of truth to preserve sanity.
Jen Clay was born in 1985 in Mountain View, North Carolina. She received a BFA in Sculpture from University of North Carolina Charlotte and an MFA in Sculpture with a minor in applied behavior analysis and costume design from the University of Florida. Her screenings and performances have been presented at Girls Club Collection, Fort Lauderdale, FL; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; NSU Art Museum, Ft Lauderdale; and Miami Light Box, Miami. Girls Club Collection and Young at Art Museum in Ft. Lauderdale, South Dade Arts Center, and Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach commissioned more complex and immersive multimedia performances. She was a South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellow in 2019. A short segment on her practice, “Jen Clay: The Texture of Anxiety,” won a 2020 regional Emmy through South Florida PBS. She is represented by Emerson Dorsch Gallery.
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