Artist Jennifer Wester is revealing more through the art of movement. A Dallas TX native and former USA figure skating pro athlete, Wester obtained her art degree from Yale University and is the author of a Montessori-based activity workbook series.
In our interview, Wester talks about the healing power of art in traversing multicultural borders, With focus, precision and determination to always be working on new elements of innovation.
As a professional ice skater, how do you define the intersection between art and performance?
I think there is always an interesting difference between craft and art. The craft of skating, that is to say the skill which covers technique and execution, is necessary for fully being capable of exploring the medium of ice and the activity of skating but obviously not the entire equation for creating art on or with the ice. Art therefore is where the intersection of personal interests, understandings or lack of understandings, interactions, attainable and unattainable desires, and the performance of craft collide. In the case of skating, it’s where technical knowledge meets fantastical desires under inhospitable circumstances.
Often there is also the intersection of musical impulse, environmental nuance, and situational pressures in the apex of skating as art. I tend to work with smaller subsets of factors involved in skating as performance and as practice to identify the variety of ways that skating becomes art. An example of this work is SoundSkate, an audio-visual project that I hope to have many iterations of, but that started with the premise that the sound of skating is an often ignored but hugely impactful part of being a skater and creating the sport. I ended up developing a musical notation system in order to ‘play’ my skates and skate blades like musical instruments against the ice and the final product of the first iteration of the project made a 6 minute music video (in familiar terms) that used only sounds of skates on ice to make a percussive and moving soundtrack, highlighted further by the discrete visual images forcing the connection of skate to sound for the view.
You studied art at Yale, what was the experience like and how was it for you to manage the transition from university to the art world?
Yale’s art school is amazing. Transitioning out of the University environment and the breadth of experimental as well as highly developed art that I was able to explore daily on campus there into a developing arts city such as Dallas, TX has been an adventure to say the least.
There are plenty of things that I miss about the rigor, analytics, and experimental atmosphere of campus, but simultaneously it’s incredibly exciting to be part of this huge shift in Dallas art and it’s place in the culture here. I came down here as a native but also a stranger and the Dallas arts community has really been amazing to integrate into.
I’m happy to be forming working relationships with many other artists, locally and abroad, that have allowed me to continue having highly fruitful, critical discussions about my work as well as other work that we encounter. I expect my challenge to continue to be pressing a critical lens on my work as time moves further along and I get farther from that academic environment.
Your work has a lot to do with mind-body sensations, do you research and then perform, or the ideas come through movement during skating?
A lot of my ideas come through close analysis of sensations that I recognized through my practice and history in skating. As I’ve analyzed those sensations however, they have often expanded to sensations that are more widely experienced. It seems as much as I try to be retired from skating, the residue of the sport on my life is only ever more important to my understanding of my life, perceptions, mindset and experiences.
Can you share more about your participation in Burningman, how did the opportunity came up and what did you create there?
I first engaged with the Burning Man community as a result of an artist call put out by Glasstire — an important arts organization out of Houston, Texas. Glasstire awarded me a ticket and artist stipend to complete my proposal at Burning Man in 2017 which was the initiation of my practice of live skate painting — using various methods to have specially designed roller skates to interact with paint in order to record tracings of my movements, balance, and spatial explorations on canvases).
This project was particularly challenging at Burning Man because of my necessary materials which involved a few very large canvases, underlayment that could allow me the support to skate on those canvas, paints which are particularly susceptible to mess making which categorically opposes the culture of Burning Man in relation to the playa, among other logistical challenges. That being said, my trek to Black Rock City was incredibly enlightening and I was extremely satisfied with my completion of my art proposal once accomplished. Last year, for Burning Man 2018, I returned, with friends this time to share the incredible culture with, to create an experimental, interactive light piece that manipulated the movement of those interacting with it by shifting their movement patterns as sensor-activated solar lights mounted in a 30-foot circle at 12 feet in the air turned on and off, activating and deactivating shadows of the human visitor.
You promote therapy through art, how does it work? and do you feel that entrepreneurship is a skill required for any artist to manage their career?
I think that self-management, determination, a sense of organization and motivating direction (which can be as simple as the goal to compete a vision and the intelligence to locate and pool resources in order to achieve that goal), are all aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset which are similarly necessary for an artist.
As far as my ARTb line, I titled it Artistic Refinement Therapy (ARTb) because of how the interaction with line, space, and material used in the project aide in the human developmental processes of fine motor, visual motor, executive decision making, and other important skills. My focus is on communicating through the visual faculty to improve the adaptation and absorption of physical and visual clues into human movement patterns. I do this in ARTb utilizing a design toolbox that I developed which consistently communicates physical action items via simple linear visual cues to create interesting, creative activities.
The first advantage is that these activities are immediately accessible with literate or illiterate users because the instructions are not word based. For example, any time a solid line is present it is supposed to be cut with scissor. Similarly, anytime dotted lines are present it is to be traced. And so on and so forth the system works to instruct 7 different actions, which are more often in subsets of 2 or 3 action series, which can lead students to making things from pages in a book as simple as a three dimensional tree to even building Paris, complete with 6-7 iconic building forms, in geographical relation to one another, without ever taking a page or item out of the book, using the front and back cover as the base on which everything is built — and simply by interacting with 3 instructions, working page by page, applying the same algorithmic process of ordering those instructions activity after activity. This activity line came to me as a result of studying the Montessori Method of education and child development.
I found a need to have even very young children interact with the material of paper in more ways than that which I saw in the stores: crayon meets paper. Immediately I began trying to conceive a way to communicate the interesting properties of paper while engaging necessary fine motor and cognitive skills in practice as the youngest of ages. It’s been an absolute joy watching kids and teachers adopt these materials and benefit from them. It has become far greater a project to me personally than I ever imagined when I started developing my first activity book.
Are you currently working on any project or have something coming up in the near future?
I am excited to be currently working on some interesting concepts in collaboration with various local and international artists. Some of those projects are extensions of previous work, some are forages into new areas. I also have a couple of private projects that I hope to have out in the coming year. I am fortunate to have a few projects in various stages that should be coming to fruition in 2019 although I’m not currently at liberty to discuss more formal terms on when and where those projects will live or be view-able. I will say that it is a very exciting time to be in the arts, and even more so in the arts in Dallas, Texas where the future position of art in relation to the city is in formation.
This artist introduction was curated by Shally Zucker for Artqol