Piece description from the artist
As people, we are compelled to attach ourselves to the familiar, be it in the form of objects we choose to keep or images we use to represent ourselves. We keep objects we deem to be significant and that often connote a time of change or growth, like the houses we grew up in or the first books we learned to read. We associate ourselves with sports teams and quote authors to illustrate our personal beliefs.
We perform all these acts of keeping and association because of the sense of security they offer. Objects and symbols serve as anchor points in our relationships, such as heirlooms we inherit from grandparents and gifts from parents or close friends. We keep what people give us to help us remember why and how we are connected.
But the act of keeping is stagnant and therefore contradictory to growth, so we ground ourselves in what has happened instead of mobilizing potential for the future. Having grown up with animals, I find myself very attached to them and through them feel linked to my family; the homing pigeon, specifically, has been a mainstay in my repertoire of images. My dad raised hundreds of them his whole life and I have always been enchanted by a homing pigeon’s instinctive desire to always fly home, a desire that takes precedence over any other attachment to a mate or its community. In my adult life, I live far from my childhood home, the animals I grew up with are all gone, and my father has passed, but these symbols remain embedded in my identity. I illustrate the stories of these symbols in my woodcuts and drawings, in which I capture moments of tension and stillness in the midst of movement and interaction. My subjects feel closely bonded—even stuck—to one another, yet interrupted.
Whatever our compulsions may be, personal insignias begin to speak for us. They determine how we move, in the selection and arrangement of our homes. They determine how we interact, in proving how well we know other people by the gifts we choose for them. They fuel our need to have concrete evidence that our sense of belonging exists and what we do is relevant. Even when a circumstance changes—be it the end of a job, a relationship, an event—our attachment to an object associated with it remains, and in that way our experience lives on.
Jenie Gao is an artist specializing in woodcuts, ink drawings, and allegorical storytelling. Her work
across industries has made her a firm believer in different disciplines working together to inform
and help one another. Art is nothing without dialogue and inseparable from culture and the
values that define it.
Jenie received her BFA in Printmaking/Drawing from Washington University in St. Louis.
Following her studies, Jenie worked in education and nonprofit before going into commercial
printing and the pursuit of a career in lean manufacturing: the reduction of waste in business
In the past year, Jenie left her job at her former company to pursue her artwork. She spent the
beginning of 2015 traveling to pursue two art residencies in Argentina and Chile, and has now
returned to Madison with new work and new stories that challenge the way we see ourselves
and the world around us, and therefore invite us to make a difference. She continues to consult
in lean and sees her creative philosophies as inseparable from her vision of organizations that
run more simply and beautifully.
Bonus info: Jenie makes an award-winning strawberry rhubarb pie.