A Study: Ingenue (ity)
Elizabeth Jaeger interviewed by Isabella Behravan for Rika Magazine
Elizabeth Jaeger is a prolific young artist who has quickly gained a name for herself in the art world. This past fall, her first major solo show was unveiled at the esteemed Jack Hanley Gallery in Soho, New York. For this show she created an installation articulating, “there’s something unspecific that’s gone wrong.” Jaeger, a skilled sculptor and ceramicist, creates form with informal intrigue. She’s most well known for her female nude sculptures made of ceramic, hydrocal, and synthetic hair. Coincidentally, Elizabeth Jaeger and I both grew up in San Francisco and attended the same high school — a progressive international liberal arts school. I was interested to see that her work was influenced by this time and she’s recently discovered her own passion for teaching.
Do you think that growing up in San Francisco has influenced how you've developed as an artist?
Most, if not all, of the work I make has a dark underbelly to it. I think it comes from growing up in a city where you were constantly in-between the super rich, the super poor, and the drug addicts on the street. There was always something awry.
Has the past four years in New York had an impact on your work?
New York has an intense amount of cultural exchange; even just on the subway. It’s totally impacted my work. The first year of living here was like getting hit by a bus full of art and culture every day.
When we met in high school you were already creating such fully formed work. I have a really clear memory of you photographing our artwork in the basement at school – documentarian style. I can't help but wonder if that was the same thing that drove you to start a publishing company in 2012. Can you tell me a bit about the New York publishing group you founded called Peradam?
I actually started and co-run Peradam with another ex-FAIS student, Sam Cate-Gumpert. We started it right after I moved to New York. It came out of this feeling of arriving to New York empty handed but desiring an opportunity in the arts. Designing and publishing was something I could offer to the artists I admired without taking much back. We started small, basically making zines in editions of 30-100. We eventually moved to offset editions of 1,000 so that we could better distribute the artists’ books. Neither of us make any money from the project – everything is poured straight back into the next book. Peradam was essentially born out of guilt and sustained by generosity – working for those you love keeps you sane here.
You mentioned that Peradam came out of a desire for an opportunity in the arts. What eventually gave you your opportunity?
It's not so much opportunities as ongoing conversations. I’ve found that if you immerse yourself in the people, things and spaces you love — not the opportunities you seek — they embrace you.
You’ve published a huge range of work, everything from Linda Simpson’s heartfelt homage to her transgender friend Page to artist Elaine Cameron-Weir’s notebooks. Does literature or the printed matter you publish influence your visual art?
I’ve been fairly immersed in trying to fully understand the readings I’ve assigned for my class: Sol Lewitt’s artist writings, Merleau-Ponty, Jan Verwoert, Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag, On Longing by Susan Stewart, Nelson Goodman, and The Open: Man and Animal by Agamben. In general I feel like I’m still processing books I read in high school — Les Bonnes by Jean Genet, The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Bell Jar, Dostoevsky… I keep finding that the things I’ve learned in high school still haunt me.
What’s the class that you’re teaching?
I’m teaching Show and Tell: Sculpture. It’s a free class offered by BHQFU that features bi-weekly lectures by emerging and established artists, curators and critics, discussions on selected texts, and group critiques of student work. It’s great — and it’s all ages too. I never ask my students about their backgrounds, so they can be anyone or any age they want. This semester I have about 40 students and somehow we manage to have a productive group conversation once a week. It’s been a good exercise in learning how to listen.
I saw some beautiful photos of your home and studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. What's your space like?
I live in an old slightly dilapidating mansion with several of my friends. I have a studio in the basement. It's a weird set up, but keeping overhead low gives you more freedom.
Do you and your housemates collaborate?
We mainly work separately but share space and help each other out from time to time. Aidan Koch [Peradam published author] moved in afterwards (by chance) which has been nice. Aidan cut my hair last night — that’s semi-collaborative.
Definitely. So, what's next for you?
I'm settling down from doing the show, Six-Thirty, at the Jack Hanley Gallery and my solo show at And Now in Dallas is up. I’m pretty focused on teaching and preparing for a few upcoming shows. I just started teaching after school art at the high school in my neighborhood. The feeling of exposing young minds to contemporary art for the first time is unprecedented joy. You realize that learning about contemporary art is really about freedom.
What do you think drew you to teaching and how do you help your students to find that freedom?
It fell into my lap. Jarrett Earnest, from BHQFU, convinced me to teach and I ended up truly enjoying it. Then I saw a flyer in a cafe that asked, “Do you want to make a difference in the life of a teen?” It hit me that it was important for me to at least try. So far, I’m just trying to expose them to as much great work as I can. I think the work itself is what helps them to find freedom.