By Val Schoger Photography by Michael Booini
Art can evade definition… or perhaps it changes with each disciple. Jordan Kady’s work reflects her thoughts, phases in life, her learning process… it indicates her influences, tamed talent, and is the result of an unrestricted use of media. From pencil and paper and oil on canvas to more unusual media and tools such as applying paint with the tip of a sewing needle, photo transfer, video documentation of “disruptive” actions… in one of her recent art projects she even embroiders soft fabric to tackle hard realities. She almost religiously “makes” art and has carved time and space in every day of her life for the making process. In her home studio, a room in a south-facing 100-year old home in one of Panama City’s oldest neighborhoods, her multi-faceted work does not hold back. Each creation expresses her feelings and thoughts, which are often inspired by recent events and experiences with topics as deep and thought provoking as an onlooker will allow.
Much of your work shows a person with a mask. Is this a self-portrait? Is it you or someone else?
It is technically me; it is my image. When I sit down to work alone in the studio, I’ve always got a built-in, willing model (laughs). Initially, I just needed a subject and then they became much more personal. The subject matter of the work is very much about me or my experiences. What has influenced your artwork throughout the years and now? My work is about the things that motivate people, particularly guilt and shame – some organized religions use guilt and shame to motivate. It’s a topic that has always been cooking in my head. When I was a kid, my father, an engineer, would get opportunities to travel. Sometimes he would take us with him and we would visit art museums. I was exposed to art early in my life, especially by my mother who loves Catholic art. I saw beautiful churches and stained glass which I think it led to where I am with my work now. I attended St. John’s Catholic School for 10 years which was a great experience. I can look back and notice the influence my upbringing has had on my work. You graduated recently from the School of Art and Art History at UF.
What would you say your biggest “takeaway” was?
I think the largest lessons came from a professor who stressed self-discipline. She did this not in the sense of saying “Do X, Y and Z,” but rather, “Create a structure that you’re comfortable with, and hold yourself to that structure. When you leave school and go somewhere else and feel distant from your practice, you need to carve out a part of your world for “making.” Have a space, even if it’s just a tiny desk in a corner, and make it your dedicated space for creating. Then, make something. Every. Single. Day. It doesn’t matter what it is. Eventually, you’ll find your footing.” This helped me immeasurably. There are also less abstract things I could talk about that were a big takeaway from university. I learned a lot about Art History – I love it. If I look at a graduate program I want there to be a very strong Art History element to the curriculum.
Your work shows out-of-the-box thinking. How does the discipline get along with creativity?
Before I learned to apply a work structure, I got bogged down asking myself “What’s the next step,” or “How do I get to the next idea?” I never realized that self-discipline would bolster my periods of creativity by allowing me time to “make” – unobstructed by things outside of myself. I just made something every day. If you practice this long enough the ideas start to happen, and a freedom grows out of that. It’s almost like you give yourself a structure in which to go crazy and do whatever you want and eventually you find yourself in the work.
When I graduated and returned to Panama City, I struggled with finding that structure again. I later realized I had never really stopped making because my practice and self-discipline had become such a large part of how I experience the world… I couldn’t really stop making, which made me feel confident, too, as if “I’ll never really lose this. It’s a of part of me.”
Do you think everyone has art in them? Everyone can be an artist?
Yes. I think when we’re growing up we unlearn a lot of that. We get restricted by our routines or by a certain way of thinking. You know, when you’re 4 years old and someone tells you, “You’re not good at drawing,” you defer to that identity and you lose the innate drive to create. I think there’s a commonality between people who are self-taught, or people who go through academia or reach “making” through other channels. The common thread is the safety of living in your work as part of your experience of life. It’s your drive, it’s what you do. There’s a spark, “This is what I do. This is what I want to do.” I think it’s encouraging, because here, there are many people who have that spark, and you get to be around them and be amazed by their talent. I often think, “This is perfect.” I think this is the community we want, people who are excited to “make.” Art has so many shapes and forms for you.
Do you have a preferred medium?
Yes and no. I obviously love paint and textiles, but in my work the medium always needs to fit the message. I’m not necessarily trying to moralize. I don’t particularly like work that does, but I do like work that complicates things. I like to make artwork that makes people go, “There’s a gray area here I wasn’t aware of.” It trips them up a little bit or interrupts their life in a way that makes them see things from a different perspective, shakes up their worldview. This is the work I strive to make. Something I enjoy the most is work that infiltrates your normal life and surprises you. This art might not necessarily be found by going into a museum. We don’t have museums here, so, I think this is an apt place for artworks that reach viewers outside of normal institutional channels. It’s the kind of work that has the power to open people up. I always think of the German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys who embraced an open attitude in his teaching and stressed, “Everything is art, everyone’s an artist.”
Can you give an example for that type of artwork?
I’ve recently returned to a way of working called an “intervention.” Activist artists use interventions to make work that leaves the gallery and interrupts daily life. For example, in “Remade in America” I bought a dress from Forever 21 and took it completely apart at the seams. Then I sewed it back together and returned it to the store. I’ve been researching the brand and, like many others, they depend on sweatshop labor to produce their clothing. It is hard for us to think that is where our clothing is coming from. We are benefiting so much from being in the first world. This project wasn’t about American manufacturing, but rather more about analyzing guilt. It was more, “Let me try to do this almost futile gesture as evidence of that guilt, to try to assuage it in some tragically ineffective way.”
What feedback did you get about this?
People were surprised by it and found it funny. This is the second time I’ve done the project. The piece survives in the video documentation because the rest of the intervention disappeared after the act was complete. I made a video that is cut together like a horror film, it’s very visceral and kind of funny, but also very dark, this dress getting ripped apart and then violently stitched back together. It returns a human element to the project that conflicts with the clean, pretty aesthetic that the store sells us. I have it on my website.
“…in my work the medium always needs to fit the message.”
Describe what inspires you. How do you come up with your art projects?
Sometimes I’m in a state when I’m making where I’m very mindful and I’m very present in the moment, and it becomes like meditation. I think of the work as if I am making cultural currency, making something an anthropologist in a thousand years might use to analyze how people were thinking in our time. When you look at yourself as a part of a much bigger picture, it’s as though you’re channeling all that energy out of the culture and out of the things around you and creating something from it. The inspiration, for me, comes from a love of that connection. I think that is what most artists are seeking, connection. If the art comes from a personal connection or a confrontation, or an act of rebellion, it’s still always about connection. Maybe that’s too optimistic a way to look at it… No, it’s actually a very beautiful way of looking at things in general. Obviously, you can see the advancements in culture and, if part of your community makes art and thrives, it reflects that parts of your community has the freedom to be spirited and creative. It reflects peace and harmony and basically the ability for people to give themselves to their thoughts and their inspirations, so to speak. Not every culture enables you to do that. Exactly! And it is beautiful, and I think interesting, because … and this is something that was said to me in Art School… a lot of people feel very jaded about contemporary art. Because now, when seemingly everything can be art, it can be easy to fear that that means nothing is art. Contemporary art is sometimes strange or different from what we’ve been taught to value in a work of art. A lot of people feel disillusioned by this. But contemporary art’s ability to “be” in everything is what makes it wonderful. From a painting to the simple act of making someone a cup of coffee. If we can open our minds up to that in our daily life, to see human acts as works of art, that is truly beautiful.
Visit Jordan online at www.jordankady.com or on Instagram @jordanbkady
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