Associate Professor of Art and Studio Head of Sculpture Jess Perlitz was awarded one of five Hallie Ford Fellowships in the Visual Arts this year. This honor is awarded to talented Oregon artists with a propensity for success in the art world and is accompanied by a sum of $25,000, though this figure is changing for the 2020 award.
Perlitz often makes interactive work that focuses on inspiring conversation through art and examining how people construct meaning through this discourse. Her work has been featured in the Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts by the New York Academy of Arts and Letters, where two of her pieces were recognized with a Purchase Award. This places her work within the context of both established and emerging artists in museum collections around the country. Additionally, her work is appearing at the 2019 Portland Biennial and at HOLDING Contemporary, an experimental art gallery, this month.
Her projects take many forms such as performance, sculpture, drawing and writing. Perlitz’s recent work considers landscape — not as something separate from us, but as an entity in which we seek to define and recognize ourselves. Her sculpture along the East River in New York City perfectly encapsulates this concept. Disguised as a mountain’s face, Perlitz’s “Everything Fought For” overlooks the Manhattan cityscape. Hidden from its rocky exterior, a set of wooden stairs reveals its peak, which leads to an optical viewer shown to magnify the skyline. Installed at Socrates Sculpture Park in 2010, the climbable structure was equipped with a manual water pump. Viewers could pull water up from the river and dump it down the facade. Perlitz spoke about the two-folded response to the social interactive piece.
“It made people feel powerful and in control, yet at the same time, it actually made them surprisingly vulnerable because they were up on this pedestal,” Perlitz said.
With this in mind, the conflicts inherent in space deeply fascinate Perlitz. Her work has always considered the context of the space, whether in a gallery or a specific site. However, the way she approaches the concept of engagement has transformed throughout the years. Perlitz aims to create an intimate interaction with her work so that the individual viewer may make their own meaning through their personal experience.
“In my recent body of work, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the individual body and how that engages with the artwork,” Perlitz said. “Whereas before, I was thinking much more about a kind of collective activity or engagement.”
Perlitz expressed how grateful she is to receive recognition and support from the Hallie Ford Fellowship this year.
“In my practice I don’t always make work that one can live with,” Perlitz said. “In that way, I don’t really make work that can be sold in a gallery easily. Things like this fellowship offers monetary support which ensures that I don’t have to think about tailoring my practice to being something that can be bought and sold. It allows me to approach art making as research, where I can ask questions and answer those questions with even more nuanced questions, rather than having to come to some kind of conclusion where the success or failure is then gauged by its viability in the art market.”
Being able to create her artwork without the incentive to produce for the commercial market allows her liberty in her practice. For the future, Perlitz plans to use the fellowship money for her studio and to cover the cost of materials in upcoming projects.