Name: Amanda Thackray
Hometown/ Current town: Newark, NJ
Bio: Amanda Thackray is a multidisciplinary artist based in Newark, NJ. Her work is inspired by a deep connection to science and nature, and she often utilizes processes of accumulation. She received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2012. She has participated in national and international artist residencies, including a year-long residency at the Center for Book Arts in New York, the 38th Voyage on the Charles W Morgan whaling ship, and a 2013 residency in the High Arctic as part of the Arctic Circle Program. Amanda teaches within the visual arts programs at SUNY Purchase and Rutgers University. She exhibits frequently in New York, New Jersey and internationally, and her work is in over a dozen public collections including Mediatheque Andre Malraux, Strasbourg, France, Yale University, and The Library of Congress.
I have a large scale outdoor installation in Branch Brook Park as part of the Cherry Blossoms in Winter project that was up through January 7th. I currently have work in the Endless Biennial at Blackburn 20/20, and at the Nasty Women Art Exhibition which opened on Thursday, 1/12 at the Knockdown Center in Queens, NY. Later this year, I have been invited to exhibit work at the 9th International Printmaking Biennial Douro in Portugal, and a few other upcoming shows in the works.
Describe your work.
I work primarily in sculpture, works on paper, and artist’s books. Recently the foundation of my practice has been based in fibers, specifically rope. I think a lot about rope as conduit for relationship between our bodies and the world.
What are you currently working on?
I have a lot of projects in progress right now. I like to have at least a couple things going at once – my brain makes interesting connections when it can hop around between different ideas. One of my favorite long-term projects is a writing collaboration with Stephanie Steinhardt – we have slowly piecing together a poetic-scientific prose project for a scientific journal. It will be accompanied by installation and video work.
Additionally, I have been really excited about netted structures, and have been making ceiling and wall hung net structures. There is something alchemical about the structure of a net – it can be a proxy for so many things at once. I have been making nets with handmade paper rope, other fibers, and with strings of glass beads.
In between the larger projects I have been working on smaller scale pieces – a series of abstract gouache paintings that are based on my sculptural work and an edition of sandcast glass pieces, and various other studies.
You recently collaborated with Milcah Bassel. Tell us more about these performances.
In October, I was extended the opportunity to create a performance for a series at the Newark Museum – based on a very methodical, labor-intensive element in my practice. Immediately I knew that I wanted to have a collaborator for the performance. I wanted to work with Milcah because I find her work very powerful – I love the way she layers her body in space and makes meaning through subtle yet purposeful interactions with her environment. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the idea of putting my body in the gallery as part of the work, and being able to create this performance with Milcah opened my practice up in new and exciting ways. We have performed three times, in two very different spaces, and each time has been an incredibly different experience.
Have you collaborated with other artists in the past?
Not often. Collaborating is not easy! A couple years back I assisted Nyugen Smith with a performance. That was my first public performance, and it was his work, I was simply there for support. I had fun, and it really took me out of my comfort zone in a good way.
I previously mentioned my writing partner, Stephanie Steinhardt. Our first collaboration was an artist’s book. I wanted to make a book that showed a narrative of rotting fruit, and for the text to be an un-readable composite language. I had difficulties explaining what I wanted the text to be, yet she grasped it right away, and it was perfect for the book. She crafted a narrative told through html coding language using organic chemistry formulas to express ideas of the potential of nature. Since then we have worked on a couple of long-term collaborations, and are in the midst of a large project right now.
What materials do you work with?
I love paper. I think that it is the most perfect material because you can really form it through intention. I have also been working with glass a lot recently – hot cast and kiln cast glass mostly. But I always go back to working with paper in some way, whether it is as a substrate for drawing or painting or manipulating is for sculptural work.
Tell us about some of the sculptures and books you have created.
Many of my books are sculptural, and a lot of my sculptures are book-like. That is to say, I keep the boundaries fuzzy between different media. When I create work that is not traditional book work, I am still always thinking about the key components of what make a book important to me. My paper rope sculptures are very-book like, and some of them even contain text that is “bound” into the piece.
Tell us about some of the installations you have created.
I utilize a process adapted from the traditional Korean paper weaving practice of jiseung. I twist cords from paper to create long strands of rope. From these ropes, I have been experimenting creating various forms, utilizing this material as the basis for sculpture, artist’s books, installation, and performance. I have been using my handmade rope to create nets – structures that draw from my time spent in artist residencies on board ships. Hung midway between the sky and the ocean, the net is suggestive of both celestial networks and oceanic fluidity.
What’s inspiring you?
Everyday I am inspired by my friends and family who work hard to do what they love. I am constantly surprised and inspired by my students who make the most amazing work while just at the beginning of their careers. I am inspired by nature and they way we study it. Recently I have been thinking about a new work by Jen Bervin. She has been working with scientists who study biocompatible spider silk and possible uses for as medical grafts and implants. It’s completely unbelievable stuff – so inspiring!
Is any of your work political?
My work has not been overtly political, but it is something that I am pushing towards in my current work. Especially in our current political climate, we can’t afford to not use our work as a platform for our values.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?
Finding more time to spend in the studio.
How has the meaning of your work changed over time?
At the core of my practice, my work has not changed. However, I dwell on specific ideas for much longer than I used to, and that has fortified the meaning of my work.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
I am enamoured with slip casting and haven’t had the chance to try it yet. Really, casting of any kind holds a special place in my heart, and I am always looking for new ways to make multiples.
What is your dream project?
I love researching and exploring with other people. My dream project is any project that gives me ample time to explore and investigate the world from different perspectives and with different people.
Are you involved with any organizations?
I have been working with the NJ Book Arts Symposium for over ten years now. Every November, we invite artists, collectors, and special collections librarians to lecture on their relationship with artist’s books. It’s a lot of fun and we have built up a strong community of artist’s book lovers.
What are a few favorite spots in your area?
I love my local Newark galleries – Gallery Aferro, Index Art Center, the Newark Printshop, Gateway Project Spaces and more. I have also been spending a lot of time in Branch Brook Park – I recently completed an installation in the park and really enjoyed spending time scouting the location, prepping, and hanging the work.
Favorite authors, fiction:
I love reading anything fantastical, particularly Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino.
Favorite authors, nonfiction:
I am obsessed with the book “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things” by Jane Bennett. Also Donna Haraway and Rebecca Solnit. Also, books on rope and knotting.
Favorite comic strips/ comic books/ graphic novels?
I am an avid collector and artist’s books and zines, particularly ones made by my friends and students!
What are you listening to these days?
I am always listening to WFMU and a lot of podcasts, especially in the studio.
What was the last exhibit you attended?
Locally, it was the art auction at Index Art Center in Newark. In NYC, Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim. I am looking forward to see the Pippilotti Rist at the New Museum before it closes, and Explode Every Day up at MassMOCA.
What was the first piece of artwork you bought/ do you buy a lot of artwork?
I can’t quite remember the first piece of artwork that I bought. I used to do a lot of trades with friends, and as a printmaker, I have participated in a lot print exchanges. These days I try to buy artwork at gallery auctions. I love supporting the places that support me, and getting to collect the work of my friends and other artists that I admire is pretty great too. I recently acquired a transferware plate from a new series by Andrew Raftery that I completely adore.