Bone has long been intertwined with artistic production, whether it be the medium, as in Ancient Egyptian amulets, or the inspiration, as in medieval reliquaries. Contemporary art is no different, with major artists like Damien Hirst, who popularized the skull motif, and artworks like Gabriel Orozco’s monumental whale skeleton, Mobile Matrix, a reminder of the inherent beauty and emotional depth that bones possess. Something of a bone collector, Jennifer Trask engages with this dialogue of bones in art through her enchanting sculptures, made from a variety of skeletal components, from deer antlers to rattlesnake ribs.
Trask acknowledges that her works convey “a certain romanticism and cynicism,” yet it is this collision of material, connotation, and aesthetics that creates the intrigue behind each work. Trained in metalsmithing, Trask initially carved jewelry pieces from bone, and gradually, over the last decade, experimented with scale and form. Her working method begins scientifically; in order to achieve desired pliability for bending and carving bones, she treats, cures, and dries them out in an alchemic mastery of specially developed solutions and chemicals. The subsequent process of carving and combining parts, however, is driven by intuition.
At times taking up to eight months to create a single piece, Trask admits, “I want to make something that I believe could be real, something that could have happened on its own.” Her luminous white sculptures often take the delicate forms of botanicals, forming riotous, other-worldly gardens within gilded, antique frames, or alternatively, standing alone, as ghostly reminders of a past life. While at times Trask achieves such skilled transformation of material that she ameliorates the material’s negative connotations, frequently she reinforces the inherent association with death, striking psychological, melancholic chords in a manner similar to Dutch Vanitas traditions.
“Jennifer Trask: Unnatural Selection” is on view at Lisa Sette Gallery, March 6th–March 29th, 2014.