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Down the Rabbit Hole with Jeila Gueramian

Jeila Gueramian

Jeila Gueramian

GraphicsThe opening date for State of the Art is nearly upon us.  Today at the Museum we are gearing up for a media preview of the exhibition, then a preview for Members, and then the Big Day on Saturday, when everyone is invited to come in and see the work of these amazing artists.

One artwork that has been tantalizingly semi-visible to Museum visitors over the past two weeks is the large-scale textile installation It’s You, by Brooklyn-based artist Jeila Gueramian. This otherworldly installation will serve as the primary entrance to the exhibition, and it will definitely set the stage for Museum visitors, alerting them right off the bat that they are Not in Kansas Anymore.

Created of crocheted afghans, quilts, doilies, fabric scraps, bits of up-cycled embroidery, and just about every other piece of notions-store goodness you can imagine, It’s You is an entire world of its own.  As you pass through, you’ll encounter the strange denizens of this new environment—bizarre, yet friendly creatures that might be plants, or might be animals. You can’t help but be delighted and surprised by this playful work of art, and that’s a perfect frame of mind for beginning your journey through the exhibition as a whole: open, curious, and prepared to be amazed, puzzled, amused, moved… are you getting my drift?

I had the opportunity to talk with Jeila as she was busily pinning and sewing and arranging her bizarre and wonderful artwork. I found her story to be an inspirational one.  I’ll share here a part of our conversation. –LD

Jeila Gueramian, b. 1971. Studio in Brooklyn, NY

Jeila Gueramian, b. 1971. Studio in Brooklyn, NY

There’s such a child-like appeal to this work.  You can’t help but be drawn to it! I’m designing this almost like a Fun House or a Tunnel of Love. I want it to feel like this really fantastical thing. That experience of something new, to me, is really childlike; and to be in the moment is the goal of my work—to bring people to just be there and observe. To let go of how they perceive art and show them everything is art.

Do you have a full plan when you start creating a work like this, or do you just create all the pieces and figure it out as you go? I wanted to half have it done, but also be able to be completely flexible at the same time and be able to work with the environment and change my mind at any moment. So I made a lot of small pieces that could be… it’s like a giant flower arrangement.

A friendly critter from Gueramian's installation "It's You."

A friendly critter from Gueramian’s installation “It’s You.”

You used to create individual creature s and then light boxes that were like mini-worlds.  How did you start making whole environments? I’ve only been doing art since 2010—but I came to it after becoming a mom and it kind of completed my life in a way. When I was younger I did go to art school, but I just kind of put it on hold. I started to make animals out of special items and selling them and doing craft fair kinds of things. But then at the Wassaic Project, which is an art residency in upstate New York, I wanted to explore bringing those two worlds (of art and crafts) together, so I made these animals and they were very successful. And the next year I put in that I wanted to create the world that they came from. So I made an entire forest.  From that I was offered a show in Allegra LaViola gallery (now Sargent’s Daughters) and she gave me an entire basement.

An assortment of fabricated bits and pieces await placement in Jeila Gueramian's installation "It's You."

An assortment of fabricated bits and pieces await placement in Jeila Gueramian’s installation “It’s You.”

What I wanted to do there was bring people into this thing, so I said “I want windows into these worlds.”  And I made these little windows, because you can’t make a giant installation everywhere. I wanted people to lose themselves in these tiny little worlds. And I love dioramas! The challenge for me with this piece (at Crystal Bridges) was I wanted to merge those worlds together.  I’m trying to take the detail of my light boxes and bring them onto the surface, so it’s a strange journey. This is definitely down the rabbit hole!

You said you didn’t become an artist until after you had kids, I’m interested in that connection… I have two children one year apart. Before having kids, I worked in a design industry.  I did prop styling, worked in film–fine art was never anything I ever thought I would do. I was not happy with my interaction with the art world. I felt like—“I don’t want to be around those snobs, I’m not part of that, forget it, I’m not an artist.” So, having the two kids, it was this intense time of being a mom. Becoming a mom made me more of a complete person. When I was younger, I felt like “I’m just an artist.” Then I turned my back on it, and after having kids I felt like there was a balance that came. Because I have a family and I have art and that’s okay. I can just do what I want to do with the freedom of knowing I’m just doing what I want without having that “Goal.”  I feel so lucky to be able to do this. Because it’s like building a fort. It’s like letting your imagination go and building a fun fort.

Jeila Gueramian will visit Crystal Bridges in October to participate in a host of public programs, including an Art Talk, an Art by the Glass workshop in Creature Creation, the Teen Council’s annual Fright at the Museum event, and Family Sunday.  Check out our online calendar for a listing of upcoming events and programs with Jeila and many other State of the Art artists!

Linda DeBerry
Senior Copy Editor / Publications Manager

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