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'Objects of Affection' student art exhibit inspired by nostalgia

A love of her grandmother’s past inspired Jessica Forys to create “unmades” and other unusual art as part of her final project at MU for her master’s degree in fine arts.
Friday, April 18, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 3:07 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
A detail from Forys' art piece "Out on a Limb." The exhibition's wistful desire for the past is influenced by Forys' late grandmother.

Jessica Forys created paintings and fabric sculptures, then she tore them apart and stuffed them with straw and sand. But it was all part of her plan.

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“I take these remnants and make and destroy, make and destroy,” said Forys. “I love the constant flux.”

The fabric sculptures, or “unmades” as Forys calls them, were a part of “Objects of Affection,” her final exhibition as an MU graduate student. The installation was a mix of paintings, quilt-like hangings and fabric sculptures designed to provoke the viewer to “rekindle suppressed memories and feelings through the power

of objects,” according to the information about her show.

“There’s this criticism from the bourgeoisie that nostalgia is false,” Forys said. “How can you say it’s false when that’s the way I feel?”

Raw emotion was used to create the art, but Forys did her research before getting started. That included investigating which colors were popular during the early and middle parts of the 20th century and how vintage toys were made. She also leafed through decades-old copies of “Reader’s Digest” as a basis for some of her images.

On a recent tour of her exhibition, Forys sat down in a bedroom-like scene featuring several of her unmades — intentionally tattered animal-like characters stuffed with potpourri along with the sand and straw. She picked one up, poked and petted it, and then gave it a good sniff. “I think it’s time to douse them in some more old Avon perfume again,” she said.

Forys wants to reach much further back with her art than her 1981 birth date.

“It’s not me longing for that time period,” she said. “It’s that I’m longing for my grandparents’ time.”

Forys’ grandmother, who died a year and a half ago, is a big influence in Forys’ art. An example is her quilt, “Woebegone.” Forys cut up several of her old paintings and put the fragments together to make this quilt. It is suspended by a faux headboard, and the “bed skirt,” trailing from the bottom of the piece, was made from a pink satin bedspread she found at a thrift store.

“My grandmother quilted all the time, and I never learned how,” Forys said. “So I’m using my own version of a quilt to reconnect with her.”

She sees “Woebegone,” which includes unmades as part of the piece’s narrative, as a culmination of her research and the direction she wants to take her work: combining sculptures and paintings and then blurring the boundaries between the two. “It’s almost reminiscent of old story quilts, in which each block represented a different part of the story,” Forys said. “Each one of my pieces has many layers of material and, therefore, meaning.”

Fiber artist Jo Stealey is one of three faculty members on a committee that critiqued and supported Forys’ work. “I think that even though she’s talking about her work in terms of nostalgic impulse, there are many more layers of information in the work that she does not discuss,” Stealey said. “Some she recognizes, and some she hasn’t been able to address yet.”

Growing up in Nashville, Ill., Forys frequently went to auctions and collected odds and ends — so much so that her family started calling her room “the museum.”

“I loved china cabinets filled with figurines,” Forys said. “I think of each of them (the figurines) as characters, because they are loved.”

Forys sees beyond the object to what it represents. “Everyone has that one thing they love that is worth nothing but means the world to them,” she said. “They are just objects, but they have so much power.”

Forys’ canvasses are ripped and then embroidered back into a state of semi-repair. Her “loved to death” unmades are strange and deformed — more abstract and less fluffy. If the stained, thrift-store quality of the fabrics used in her show bothered people, that’s even better, she said; it helps sustain the ambiguity of the exhibit.

The show at Orr Street Studios was a final requirement for Forys’ master’s degree in fine arts. She said that it was much more than an art installation; it was a way to express her ideas perfectly.

“My grad school goal wasn’t to make things to sell,” Forys said. “It was to find my voice amid contemporary art.”


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