Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Jill Marie Mason recently had a show called LET'S PLAN OUR ESCAPE in Indianpolis. Mason is currently finishing up her MFA in printmaking at Indiana University's Herron School of Art + Design. The show was an interesting combination of installation elements and framed prints. The juxtaposition of the campground environment that Mason created with the more traditional gallery feeling evoked by the framed prints on the walls is thought provoking. In creating this installation, Mason strives to "call to attention its constructed nature, exemplifying the illusory nature of the perception of reality." At once, you are transported from the gallery setting and then reminded that you have failed to, well...escape it.

Mason states that she constructed the campsite "to act as a metaphor for both escapism and the melancholy of longing." Very personal in nature, LET'S PLAN OUR ESCAPE explores the themes of nostalgia, nature and escapism and is largely inspired by Mason's childhood experiences including camping and playing with her sister, pretending to be other people. This is combined with a more contemporary desire to reflect and escape. Mason explains,

"the desire to escape reality through pretend play always coincided with a desire to go back in time, or return to innocence. I find that throughout my adult life I have continued this way of thinking. I escape the present by looking to the past with fondness and imagine the future as a recreation of elements from this deceptive recollection. As an artist, the work that I make is often an effort to understand these behaviors. I am interested in recreating an idea, something that is neither here nor there, and making it a reality—something tangible. Themes of past work have included: memory, thought process, time, nostalgia, role-playing, humor, innocence, and guilt. To express these ideas I often utilize pre-existing imagery and content from personal belongings, children’s books, movies, and television."

The "Ship of Fools" canoe is intended to function as a self portrait. When asked how a floppy canoe made of felt functions as a self portrait, somewhat sarcastically, she responds "It's worthless and defeated, much like me...this is a ship that will get you nowhere fast. The form is floppy and lifeless. This defeated vessel, complete with floppy oars and lifejackets, is intended to function as a self-portrait, representing my unfulfilled desires to commune with nature."

The fishing pole holding letters that read "GULLIBLE," is another element that points to the artist, who is easily caught by the allure of escapism. The tent is also a self-portrait; "The things that are not revealed to the audience are housed within the safety of the tent," Mason explains. This is a good metaphor for the self; there is one side that we show the world and one that we keep inside. Simultaneously plain and striking, inviting and closed-off, the tent draws attention and curiosity all the more because it is lit from within. Mason feels that "the light in the tent could be compared to that of a lighthouse. Just as lighthouses are a symbol of safety or a safe haven, they are also seen as lonely or isolated structures."

The nonfunctional stools, closed-off tent, and floppy canoe are all purposely useless. This is a fascinating if pessimistic way of looking at memory, escape and nostalgia. Like memories themselves, the elements of this installation are not rigid nor are they complete in their details. They are of little help when confronting real-world situations, but serve as reminders all the same. The experience of viewing LET'S PLAN OUR ESCAPE ideally embodies the lesson Mason has learned from so much contemplation: the value of being present and enjoying the moment rather than looking backwards or forwards.

Regarding her future artistic endeavors, Mason plans to "continue to explore the paradox of escape through creation of a thoroughly planned and executed body of work in order to gain further understanding of the following questions: What am I escaping from? What am I escaping to? And why?"

In the end escape is futile, but it is certainly an interesting exercise in self-reflection and also makes for some pretty awesome art in this case. I had a chance to talk to Jill during the creation of her installation and after its completion. See what she had to say in the videos below.

Conversations with Jill Marie Mason Part One from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

Conversations with Jill Marie Mason Part Two from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

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