Based in Düsseldorf, Jennifer López Ayala is one of this year’s Aesthetica Art Prize Painting & Drawing finalists. For the Prize’s exhibition, staged at York St Mary’s in the heart of one of England’s best-loved cities, the multi-disciplinary artist created a new site-specific piece entitled Timeframe (2016). Selected for and represented in Future Now (the Art Prize anthology) by Interspace (2015), López Ayala is known for her work with vast numbers of eggshells. Installed in locations across Europe, the artist and her team create large-scale works that reflect upon aspects intrinsic to each space. As part of our official Call for Entries Countdown, we speak to the practitioner about her relationship with the eggshell and its role in re-visioning old and new environments.
A: Timeframe is a site-specific piece, created for the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition. How did the medieval interior of York St Mary’s impact the design and development of this installation?
JL: For each of my installations, the exhibition space determines anew the composition of the image. Every picture is different. It is defined on location what the image will be like; referencing distinct shapes, light and shade, the colour of the floor, and the tint of the walls. Functions and actions of this space. The scars, operations, blind spots, the uniqueness of a location. To see its stories, to pick them up, to embed them, to retell them. Here, the history of the exhibition space was highly relevant for my work and proved to be one of the most inspiring aspects during its development. The sheer-scale of the venue’s gothic architecture—symmetrical and centrally aligned—was an exciting and inspiring environment to work with.
However, it is its age and history that gives the place a perceivable presence. The structure has outlasted centuries, during most of which it served as a place of worship. As a result, the church has seen countless visitors, each of whom has brought with them their own story. Alongside the visible traces of each visitor’s physical presence, their stories have been written into the substance of the place as well. It is, of course, on the floor where these traces are most distinctly visible since the flagstones have been polished by each footstep. Moreover, these traces of time, which were left unconsciously, are found right next to the intentional traces of chiselled reliefs and carved inscriptions: the combination of which have been crucial to my installation.
A The title Timeframe conjures up a series of themes and ideas. What is the significance of this, and how does it assist in the interpretation of the work?
JL: It is true that the title allows for many different associations. It is important for my work not to restrict its interpretation to one single direction. It should much rather function as a vessel that collects each spectator’s experiences, emotions and ideas. The formal quality of the broken eggshell is vital to this idea, as the eggshell itself is a small vessel with its open form. In my work, the topic of time has got its very own interpretation. Here, it takes on two modes: one, as part of the material itself, and two, as part of the occupying form in the space.
The material is the eggshell. As a pure symbol, it embodies—simultaneously—the becoming and the passing. Moreover, in the form of the shell, a physical boundary, it becomes evident that time itself is a kind of boundary. With this in mind we can observe a discrepancy between the spiritual and the physical perceptions of time: the spirit does not know this boundary, as it can seemingly move at will between past, present and future. The body, however, has to endure the boundary of time—it has no control over the flow of time and must move with it. Meanwhile, the form of the installation reflects these assumptions about the character of time. Is it a ribbon, a gradient, a pulse in space. Is time really to be comprehended as linear? Isn’t it, perhaps, more like an in-and-out-breathing, a simultaneity of becoming and passing?
A: Comprised of up to 100,000 eggshells, your installations present elements of fragility, nature and temporality. What inspired you to use this unconventional material?
JL: Virtually everybody is familiar with and has access to eggshells, one way or another. What is important here is that, each time we encounter a person or thing, we can actualise our own history by re-evaluating our perception of this person or thing. This is true for the eggshell as well: upon encountering it in the installation, we can re-contextualise it. An everyday object becomes something sublime, something aesthetic. As a material, the eggshell is per se lifeless and at first reminds viewers of the passing. But in the form, the formation given to it, it gains new life, which reminds visitors of the becoming. Of course, this spark of life is just a projection. However, for us, the spectators, to see life in a till then lifeless matter, and to thereby re-contextualise the egg for ourselves, means that we are truly present in the here and now.
A: In your artist statement, you speak about the relationship between installation and photography, as well as drawing. How do these three mediums interconnect?
JL: Just as I do in my installations, my photographs consider the small gap between the composition and the decomposition of pictures, which usually results in extraordinary transitions and transformations. In the installations, the sharp-edged eggshells appear like delicate flower petals or even a soft carpet due to their sheer number and unconventional arrangement, whereas in the photographs, it is the larger-than-life scaling, the lighting, and the perspective that turn a well-known object into something new. With both the installations and the photographs, I seek to extend the image from the wall into the space. This is why the motifs of my photographs are set up to be inherently substantial and expansive.
By exposing them to different, special lighting situations, the fragile shards become oddly tangible and sculptural in the scaled-up images and even seem unreal sometimes. The spatial impression is reinforced by printing directly on a reflective surface, such as aluminium, especially in large formats. The resulting reflection expands the surrounding into the image and makes it a part of the image, which in turn makes the image a part of the space.
Drawing becomes a part of my practice when working with the immediate visual impression of both installative and photographic work; an impression that is generally quite reduced. The jarred edges turn out to be fine, monolinear, graphic characters, whereas the shaded gradients on the white surfaces seem to be taken right out of a pencil drawing. To locate these graphic elements in order to manipulate and rearrange them is an exciting and rewarding part of my work.
A: A description of your work as Spatial Paintings can also be found. Can you expand on this idea?
JL: I trained academically as a painter. That’s why I deliberately resort to the principles of painting in my installation works. I analyse the question: how little intervention, how little addition does painting need in order to be painting? And on the other hand: how far can painting depart from the canvas and still be painting? The shades of the broken and cleaned eggshells that pick, break, and reflect the light in many different ways mimics the role of painting. Mixing colours happens with no intervention at all, as becomes obvious in the formation: white is no longer just white when the light, which is split along the jarred edges of the eggshells into different spectra, produces the impression of countless flickering, coloured nuances of white. To me, it’s all about staging this spectacular white in the exhibition space.
Contrasts, formal properties and relationships, reduction wherever possible: all of this is applied to my work. Particular attention is paid to the impressionistic concept of pointillism, which is vital to my spatial paintings: in order to lay out a gradient, I use each individual eggshell the same way a dot of paint is used in a pointillist painting—today, you would probably rather compare this to the use of pixels in a computer-generated image. The difference is, however, that my canvas is not a limited plane on a wall but an entire room. Thereby, the viewer is not excluded from the image. On the contrary, he steps into the picture and becomes a part of it. This empowers him to perceive the painting in a completely different way, to experience it physically.
A: The series takes on many forms and formats. Where else can audiences view your creations?
JL: This year, besides the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition, I’ve had solo exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions in museums and galleries across Germany. Recently, an installation of mine has been on display at the baroque-style palace, Schloss Benrath. Other pieces are currently on display at Galerie Voss in Düsseldorf. At the moment, I’m working on several very exciting projects that I won’t talk about yet, but my current and upcoming dates and events are continually published on my website, www.jlpz.de. Currently, I’m also working with Studio Bronx, an interdisciplinary workspace and showroom for contemporary art and design. You can find and contact us at www.studiobronx.de.
The Aesthetica Art Prize 2016 is open for entries until 31 August. To submit, visit www.aestheticamagazine.com/artprize.
1. Jennifer López Ayala, Timeframe, 2016, York St Mary’s Courtesy of Jim Poyner.
2. Jennifer López Ayala, Schloss Benrath, 2016. Copyright and courtesy of Guenter von Ameln.
3. Jennifer López Ayala, Interspace, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.