Artist Interview: Jasmine Pema

Jasmine is an artist of many disciplines. She paints, draws, captures photos, and has designed her own line of jewelry. This year (2018) she will earn her BFA with a concentration in metal-smithing from Denver’s Metro State University.

Dirt: I've been all about collaboration recently. Perhaps you haven’t collaborated with many different artists, but in your photography, your ability to evoke something out of your subject really has a collaborative nature to it.

Jasmine: With photography especially, I don’t feel like I’m asserting any particular vision. It is more a response to something that’s already there. So, in that way it’s kind of collaborative. Photography is very intuitive. It’s also a really accessible way to stay connected to my art. If I’m in a lull with my painting or with whatever else I’m doing – painting, drawing, sculpture, jewelry – if I’m in a lull with that or don’t have access to what I need, photography is always a way I can maintain consistency to my creative mind when I’m in a down period. Especially with film.

Dirt: Do you like film better than digital?

Jasmine: Oh yeah! I haven’t been able to print much myself, but in a recent project I was able to process and print some medium format film myself, which was so inspiring. That brought me back to my initial thread of interest. I was recently thinking about the photo-journals our high school photography teacher had us do. That’s where I started to think about composition, and a lot of thematic and aesthetic interests really came through in what he had us do with our art journals that I still come back to today. Do you remember that?!

Dirt: Yeah! Do you still have yours?

Jasmine: No I think I have some stuff, but I lost a lot of stuff in my recent move. I feel like my life kind of hit a reset button. I lost a lot of stuff when I moved from California and a lot of stuff in this last move. I have some of it documented.

Dirt: You’re going to be graduating with your BFA this year, so you’ve started your thesis?

Jasmine: Yeah, I’ve been working on it all semester. They re-mapped our program to make it more collaborative, not in the artwork itself, but in having more exchange between different disciplines of art. So, we’re not just isolated with metalsmiths, which can feel a little bit suffocating– the aesthetic trends can feel very kitschy. Instead of adorning the body, I’m more interested in objects, and the relationship between an object and the body and how one informs the other. Part of your creative expression is what you put on your body everyday, with conceptual and fine art, you’re thinking more about relationships and questioning – questioning everything! Why you make a form, and why we put these things on our body, and the history of that. Is an object informed by the body or is the body informed by the object? And how can you play with that a little bit. So, I’m really more moving in the direction of object making, kind of sculptural.

"We get so attached to our initial idea sometimes, but what’s more interesting is the exchange, and letting it totally fall apart, and not being afraid to start over – even if it’s jeopardizing a grade."

Our program has shifted to be more interdisciplinary. The upper-division studio courses provide an exchange between different creative mediums, which is really important because we do get stuck in our little bubbles of how to approach something, but the direction that art is moving in general is very multi-disciplinary. The program is trying to reflect what it’s like to be an actual artist– being in a residency and working with a lot of different artists that are working in different mediums, and having the result of that exchange bring you out of your particular orientation. So, I think it was a very good move on their part. It’s also new, so there are definitely kinks that have to be worked out.

I’m in that studio, and the whole class focuses on working on your thesis. I wasn’t necessarily prepared to start, but I’m really glad I am having a full year to make a body of work. It has already gone through two completely different iterations. It’s nice to watch the way my ideas come up too –having initial inspiration and trying to fulfill that. Then, the process of going back and forth between creating and dissolving an idea, as well as the physical object. That’s been really interesting for me to watch. We get so attached to our initial idea sometimes, but what’s more interesting is the exchange, and letting it totally fall apart, and not being afraid to start over – even if it’s jeopardizing a grade. It’s interesting that my thesis work has already changed so much. I totally started over a month before the end of the semester but I held onto one particular object. I was really attached to it and inspired by it and it was also approximately $200 worth of silver, so I was like – I’m not fucking letting this go! Ha! Then, we had a visiting artist, Frankie Toan. I sat down with them to talk about my ideas and they really challenged me. That was really helpful because I was spread way too thin. It felt like the first time someone asked what my vision was as an artist. I felt like I had to cram all of my ideas into one. It wasn’t all connecting.

Dirt: So in the last month you found you were able to narrow it down and be okay with that?

Jasmine: Yeah, and I haven’t necessarily abandoned all those other things that I was investigating, but I’ve brought it down to a more essential point that way there can be more experimentation with that one point.

Dirt: That’s such a big lesson in art, and in life - how the form and the narrowing actually create more potential for experimentation.

Jasmine: Totally, and from there you can develop and expand. You have to start in a more concentrated point. The choice for me to go back to school felt like that. It felt like abandoning all of these dreams or aspirations, when actually you bring all of that with you. You don’t abandon it. You’re just choosing to apply that to one particular path. And that’s what I feel like I’m starting to do with this body of work also, which is so fun.

Dirt: It sounds like the transition happening in your program is really important too. It used to be that the artist was this secluded individual, almost a hermit, but it never really could be that, and so many artists struggle with that. The collaboration piece is so important.

Jasmine: I think it’s important to move back and forth between isolation and community, and to work from both sides. Both are valuable and both inform the other.

Dirt: I want to ask you about themes you’re working with and in particular women’s sexuality. This is something you’ve always worked with, and embodied yourself as a woman… Something I have been mulling over recently has to do with sharing provocative photos on Instagram. I think that although men often like it, they don’t usually understand why women share sexy photos. Maybe they’ve never shared one themselves and don’t understand how empowering it can be. Women’s sexuality is amazingly powerful. I was recently cued into an idea looking at the back of a book called, Sex, Time, and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution. It centered around the idea that women were the driving force of evolution. Menstrual cycles are in congruence with the moon cycle, and this allowed humans to keep track of time. Keeping track of time allows us to have an informed reality. The rest is the history of the patriarchy. LOL. So, there's a concept to play with…

Jasmine: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it like that, as a tracking of time, but it is on a fundamental level. When we talk about the Earth we use feminine pronouns. I think there is a very special quality to the way that we are connected to the Earth. It’s totally our sexuality. The beginning of women’s oppression is always rooted in the body and our sexuality because that’s our power source, you know. That is the root of the fear. It’s just a power struggle, and our power is definitely in our sexuality –which is also our ability to give life. I was reading about midwives being criminalized, during the inquisition and movement into a Christian society. The idea was that women’s pain in childbirth was their punishment from God, midwives who were easing the process of childbirth were interfering with God’s punishment and were prosecuted. Our ability to give birth, and our sexuality has always been the grounds for our oppression. That’s something I’m working with in my thesis- bringing it into the body. It inherently has a sexual quality. The question of sharing your sexual self online in a visual way is a question I struggle with. It’s so tricky. I go back and forth with it- feeling very empowered by it and then also feeling a degrading quality to it too. We're all working with the way oppression is internalized. Living in a patriarchal society, there’s no way to escape the degrading sexual perspective on women. It's built into my framework of how I think about women and how I think about myself. You can’t escape it because we’re existing in it. My understanding of women’s sexuality is still coming from a framework of a patriarchal imbalance. It’s so interesting because you can’t ever escape that, but it’s really important to work with, and to bring empowerment back into your own hands. Expressing my sexuality isn’t necessarily subverting the power dynamics and the way our bodies are used as sexualized objects, but it is bringing the responsibility into my own hands instead of someone else’s. If I’m putting the agency in my own hands it’s not objectification, it’s my decision to express myself.

Dirt: I bring this up because I notice that it is something you work with in a tactful way.

Jasmine: I think sexuality is so important. It’s part of our natural expression as humans and also part of our creativity. I think it’s something that’s really important for women to work with because we do live in a culture in which it’s repressed and also used against us.

Dirt: Right, like the virgin/whore dynamic. You’re either rebelling against it or you’re mindlessly going with it…or you can kind of play both sides.

Jasmine: Either you’re indulging in it or you’re totally rejecting yourself as a sexual being. There’s no way to win as a woman. And we know that. lol. As long as we’re working within this framework, we’re not often allowed the depth to be both.

Dirt: We can work on expanding the box.

Jasmine: Show the illusion of the box too –realizing that these binaries we exist in are totally false. That’s a lot of what I’m dealing with in this body of work too- subverting binaries. I’m using Buddhist philosophy to pull that apart and also Jacques Derrida’s de-constructivism. He used it in a literary way, but I’ve been reading some feminist articles where they actually use it to support their argument that we operate in false binaries that don’t really exist. If subject and object are made in relation to one another then they can’t exist without each other and thus they’re not binaries at all. That’s what Buddhist madhyamika reasoning talks about too- pulling apart this dualistic perspective that we function by. That’s how our mind works. It’s how we organize information. We put things in boxes. It’s easy to do, but it’s a tool, it’s not the end-all be-all. Especially in our Western culture, we orient from our analytical mind instead of from our intuitive bodies and our hearts. We get stuck in this analytical modality where we’re orienting based on dualities. It’s just a way to organize, but it isn’t the essence of the way things are.

If you think about male and female, where is the delineation between the two? There isn’t one, even biologically there isn’t. There’s this full range of expression. As many people as there are on Earth and as ever will exist, that’s how many ways there are to be a man or a woman or a sexual being. There’s no box of sexuality or of gender. I also want to recognize that there’s very different qualities that come with each. When I was a baby, my mom tried to dress me androgynously. She’s a very socially aware individual and she wanted me to have a choice. From the minute I could talk I was attracted to pink things that sparkled and tu-tus and leotards and skirts with a spin factor. I don’t know if that was socialized into me or if that was just naturally how I wanted to express myself. That would have been just as valid if I was biologically considered a boy. I’m lucky that I’m a girl because I had that social support to express myself in that way. It’s interesting. Even though these binaries aren’t fixed and they’re illusory, there’s still distinguishable qualities that we’re relating with. In trying to subvert these binaries as a plea for greater balance within our selves, and socially within the world, and in a political sphere. I also don’t want to suppress or deny the very tangible experience of being a woman. Even though I think these binaries are false, I also think there’s a very unique and special quality to femininity and I don’t want to deny that in trying to subvert the patriarchal relationship that we’re in right now. It’s a lot.

Dirt: It’s juicy though. I love that you’re working with all of these ideas.

Jasmine: Also, trying to work in a larger-scale has been really fun. In jewelry you get so sucked into a very small scale, it doesn’t feel like it suits my energetic quality right now. I can’t even focus that much. I want it to be way more naturally expressive and sometimes it feels so suffocated.

Dirt: Sculpture feels much more body-oriented.

Jasmine: Totally. It feels like a natural extension of the body because your body is the tool you’re using to make it. It’s the same with jewelry or any art really, but there’s something about it which feels so much more liberated and that’s really what I’m craving right now. There’s still a very process-based approach that I have to take, which I hate. That’s what I like about painting. I have this serge of emotion and I want to just throw that onto a fucking canvas and then walk away. I don’t want to have to think about this for six-months.

What I’m encountering with this thesis project is this kind of painstaking process of doing your research and figuring out how to even use these mediums, and trail and error and totally fucking up the first five times, and buying all of these materials, and then the actual object not even taking that long, but leading up to it is excruciating. And I keep being told that I can’t do things. But I really want to and I’m really stubborn, so… I cast this fallopian tube form, which is what I initiated this project with, and it visually looks like a vessel. I was looking over my free writing about this project and realizing a vessel is a really important symbol, because I’m interested in holding space for that complexity of both sides to be in this moving relationship without just having to pin it down- so this open container felt like a really important visual to have be my starting point.

The fallopian tube is something I was attracted to because in talking about reproductive rights, that’s where everything starts. As I created it, it ended up looking way more abstract, which I actually like- this organic, abstract quality. I think female artists tend to have that quality that is much more fluid, and abstract, softer tendency. Whereas, we’ve been existing in this institution of very male dominated art which is solid, and supposed to last forever, and we respond to it in a very intellectual way. What are its formal qualities? Are those done well. Whereas feminine art kind of has this more ephemeral and different quality. It feels much more intuitive and not necessarily supposed to last forever.

Eva Hesse is one artist that I’m looking at a lot and she works with materials that overtime will totally degrade in color. She’s like, well it doesn’t even matter the art is just the artifact of the process, but our framework for what good artwork is, is a very male dominated institution. So when we think of good art, we think of the marble statue that’s perfect and supposed to last forever.

The fallopian tube was really challenging to cast because it was really big, with the resources I have, I’ve only had access to small scale casting. So it took me almost two-months to start because I was just trying to figure out how to cast this fucking mold that I made. Everyone was like- it’s not going to turn out, this is impossible, all these things. And I was like- well fuck I’m going to cut it in half, I’m going to cast it in two parts and it’s going to work. I just have to do this. I’m tired of talking about this. Let’s just even see if it works. That’s kind of been the whole project. How are you going to actually execute this? I’m like- I have no fucking idea, but can we please just try? Can we just fuck up and then go from there? Some of my teachers were very hesitant for me to fuck up because I’m working with sliver, so there would be a significant monetary loss. But you can always melt down silver and reuse it.

"I have no fucking idea, but can we please just try? Can we just fuck up and the go from there?"

Dirt: It also makes me think about what you were saying about grades and about fucking up. Getting a bad grade can be a practice of failure in general. You should really just have to get a D several times.

Jasmine: We’re so afraid of failure. It’s just as valid as doing one thing perfectly. If you do it perfectly the first time, did you even really learn anything? The way we approach school seems so strange. If you get a D, but then are able to improve and go from there then that actually seems more valuable than just getting an A to begin with. That signifies growth and transformation and learning. Luckily, I’ve never gotten a D, so that’s dope. I did get a C in my modern cosmology class because that was fucked-up hard.

Dirt: Cosmology? Jesus.

Jasmine: We had to calculate the event horizon of a black hole. I do not know how to do this.

Dirt: You often pair photos with words. Does this come naturally?

Jasmine: I have always just paired random poems with my photos. So, it’s kind of an afterthought. I feel like they support each other in a weird way, they are both spontaneous in nature. I read Sophie Calle’s True Stories. Each photo relates to poems she writes recounting days or events, but her writing is very stream of consciousness. I really like her style of writing. I was inspired by that. Also, that’s the easiest thing for me to share online, because it doesn’t need that much explanation. Whereas the fine art that I’m working with, I feel like I’d do a disservice to it if I’m just putting it out there without there being a more conceptual framework. I’m waiting until I have a website to release that out into the universe that way I can have my artist statement accompanying each project. I really like both poetry and photography because they do feel so spontaneous, and natural, and it doesn’t have to be premeditated at all- same with painting, but painting I’m still really developing. I don’t have a lot of formal training with it. I have a lot of formal training around figure drawing, but not necessarily painting, so I’m still really familiarizing myself with the medium. It’s kind of refreshing to put something out there and have it be done. I’m working really hard to develop this other stuff, but it’s nice to have these little moments of relief, of completing something. Naturally it then follows a timeline of what I’m thinking about. It’s almost just like a journal. It’s very closely connected to my life and all my experiences. The photography I take is mostly just street photography and lifestyle photography because it’s just me bringing my camera with me, which feels most natural, and same with poetry, it’s just me bringing a little book along with me. Sometimes you just have things you have to get out. There’s something really satisfying about words.

Dirt: Photos can be so direct and words can be so indirect.

Jasmine: There’s so much dimension that can come out of words. You can be speaking to multiple different levels of your experience. Whether it’s actual events, or just your internal experience, or whatever is on your mind. I like when it’s just a spontaneous coming to the surface, and that feels like a really natural expression. So much we do we overanalyze and premeditate. It’s nice to be just really genuine and honest and straightforward. I don’t think that I’m really good at writing, but I really like it.

On a final note...

Jasmine: There are a lot of powerful women coming to the surface and I feel like that’s a theme in the world right now, which is actually supported astrologically. The Trump administration is the last cystic break-out of the last however many hundreds of years that we’ve been in a very male dominated time. So to me this feels like a flare up reaction to things starting to shift. It’s that grasping for ground when you’re loosing it. That’s what I see. Did you see that shit about the CDC and all of the words that he banned?! Fetus. Scientific-based. Evidence-based. Entitlement, was one of the words that’s banned. LGBTQ. Vulnerable might even be one.

Dirt: It’s so 1984 it’s unreal.

Jasmine: It’s so fucked up. I was having a physical reaction last night when I was reading all the words, literally head-spinning anger. I think it’s a product of the time we’re in – this kind of “no more” quality that women are manifesting. As horrible as trump is, he’s also a trigger for a very concrete reaction. It’s really important to have this firey energy if we want an actual change. I also think we’re trying to fix a system that’s been very broken from the beginning, so I don’t really know why we’re so attached to it. When we moved into modern liberalism in the depression, FDR made all of these social systems to help the people. Before that there was this Darwinist idea of eugenics, that if people die they just die, and that’s just making the morality and people of our country stronger, but that actually just serves people in power, because who are the people dying? Native Americans and African Americans minority groups and people of lower socio-economic status. That’s who was dying. FDR brought in all of these policies, more social nets, like food stamps affordable housing, and art programs, but it didn’t fix the system. It made it prettier on the surface, but we’re still orienting from this very flawed system. Do we even want to fix it? That’s a question I’m approaching. Maybe it’s just good to let it totally disintegrate, maybe that’s what needs to happen. I don’t want to bite my tongue, but sometimes I wonder… are we trying to fix something that’s fundamentally broken? What other system works? There’s no perfect system. There’s no ideal system, so… I don’t even know. I don’t know anything about politics.

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