Everyone, including me, still talks about the bale project with awe—a 2000-2002 performance installation where a constructed living room was deconstructed over the period of an exhibition and rolled up into a landfill hay bale. De-familiarizing the material object from its intended function has been Jennifer Stillwell’s ongoing practice through sculpture, video, and performative installation. The kernel at the heart of her body of work is that sculpture is form, and form is in motion.
While the works are highly conceptual and use everyday objects, they each harbour a hilarious perversity—from the strawberry baskets of sifted gravel (Particle Shifts, 2007) to the grated tofu hanging off of a ventilation grate (Grated, 2006). The punch line is not a note, but a sustained snickering; and objects are not material so much as forms re-forming.
Jennifer was secretly living in her loft studio at the time, and I remember seeing the maquettes for the early stages of her first major public art commission with the City of Winnipeg. We talked process and I was convinced in her curiosity with the material. We would later record a lengthy interview about the public art sculpture that played on viewer perspective. All of that material was lost when my laptop was stolen in Scotland.
In 2012 I was just getting back into researching for this show and I was trying to see everyone again. After I’d disappeared from the country for nearly a year, I wasn’t sure who would still be interested in taking part in the show. In that time, Jennifer had moved out west to teach in Victoria.
I was in the car with Divya Mehra and we were driving back towards Winnipeg after a short visit to Heather Benning’s studio when Divya got a text from Jennifer asking for last minute help with some final sight lines with city officials. I volunteered. I had not spoken with Jennifer since she moved to Victoria and I left for Scotland, and I didn’t know if she was still interested in making work for the show.
The next morning, I woke up exhausted from the trip and with only ten minutes to meet Jennifer at the car rental return place where she was picking me up in order to drive to the baseball field. I threw on the first things I saw and ran down the street to the car. Only after I started driving did I realize I had no idea where the car rental place actually was—they had picked me up, I had not gone to them. I drove right into Osborne Junction—aka, Confusion Corner—and made Jennifer anxious and late for her meeting. We didn’t talk much about the show as she drove. I wondered if I was just wasting her time and mine, but she broke the news that she’d just been made an Assistant Professor in Victoria. I was just so overwhelmingly happy for her. I then stood in the rain for about an hour, at times holding a twenty-foot-high wooden post, and then I got on a plane to go home.
We would have an actual meeting later that fall, while I was over in Victoria on some other business—after the initial September 2012 dates of the show had come and gone, but before the gallery pushed the show back again from January to June 2013. Jennifer reassured me that she would make a work, but that I would not know what it was until the time of install. That’s just her process. Because of our studio visit some two or three years earlier, I knew this to be true. It was because of this logistical hiccup—the fact that I would not know all of the final works until the exhibition was installed—that I was led to write these portrait sketches of each artist. The process of writing about the accumulating interactions also reflected my curatorial practice, building on the overlaps and reflections that happen over a long period of time, elapsing experiences from one into multiples back again into one.