Student Union Building
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Ferguson's career has come nearly full circle since growing up in the postage-stamp size town of Poolesville, Maryland, to his most recent relocation in August to the quaint college town of Moscow, Idaho. He's had exhibitions in artisan powerhouses such as Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. And while some of his pieces continue to travel along the East Coast as part of various exhibits, Ferguson has traded in the familiarity of posh East Coast artistry for a position out West as assistant professor of art and design at the University of Idaho.
"When I came out here on my visit, the faculty was incredible," he says. Ferguson oversees the sculpture program in the College of Art and Architecture. He describes the art and design graduate studies program as "very progressive." Ferguson, who earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Delaware, was attracted to the University of Idaho's unorthodox nature of the program. Idaho's three-year program distinguishes itself from the typical two-year program offered at most schools. When applying for the graduate program, applicants are not asked to define themselves as pursuant of one particular art genre, a commonality among programs offered at other universities. Instead, the department selects 10 to 15 applicants based on their skill level and potential, rather than selecting applicants based on their area of interest.
"This allows the students to feel their way through grad school, rather than being typecast," Ferguson says.
Ferguson describes himself as an experimental artist. His projects apply the process of autopsy, taxidermy, dissection and geological data collection to domestic objects, like chairs and shoes. His interest in science and anatomy has inspired some of his most ambitious and unusual work.
"I think one of the pinnacle pieces in my career was the autopsy piece," Ferguson says, referring to a 2006 exhibit at the Maryland Art Place in Baltimore.
After observing a postmortem examination and working on a human cadaver, Ferguson conceptualized the idea of an inanimate autopsy using a black leather chair as his subject. He built an autopsy table out of stainless steel and wore scrubs, a mask and booties as he filmed the 55-minute procedure. Ferguson is shown carefully removing all membrane, tissues and bowels – or stuffing and upholstery, rather – as he replicates the autopsy process with meticulous craftsmanship and precision.
"It's the marriage of strict legitimacy and authenticity coupled with a completely absurd action and subject," he says.
Two of Ferguson's pieces, including a volume study and a dissection piece, were recently exhibited at the Rosenberg Gallery in Baltimore. The show, titled ID, explored different notions of self-portraiture in sculpture.
"When I came up with the subject for the exhibition, Jason was the first artist that came to mind," says the curator of ID, Anthony Cervino. "Jason's work – while highly conceptual – is also incredibly beautiful." Cervino is an assistant professor of sculpture at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He attended graduate school at Baltimore's Towson University while Ferguson was an undergraduate. Cervino says viewers can enjoy Ferguson's artwork without necessarily feeling the need to "get it."
"Put simply, it looks cool," he says.
Ferguson says he tries to remain aware of other artists and their work.
"There are people that make me feel like what I'm doing is pretty insignificant," he says. Most notably Tehching Hsieh, a New York City-based performance artist who created art documents from 1978-1999. Hsieh's performances, which lasted no less than one year, were intended to exploit the monotony of time and realism. In 1983, Hsieh collaborated with artist Linda Montano to explore the cultivation of human relationships and exploit the concept of privacy. The two had never met each other prior to the experiment, and spent one year bound together by an 8-foot rope. They documented their daily activities by taking photos and recording audio tapes.
"Here I am trying to embody time and embody volume and embody these experiential elements of living, and he's literally taking huge chunks of his limited lifetime as his medium," Ferguson says.
Ferguson says his next ideas are still in the developing stages, but he'd like to explore different mediums of technology through his artwork.
"I kind of look at all my work as one long piece, my searching and researching of the same idea in different ways," he says. "It's kind of a learning process where I'm trying to discover something through these absurd actions, and I don't think I'll ever really get there."
For more information and video footage of Jason Ferguson's research and exhibits, visit www.jasonjferguson.com.
By Shanna Rae Stalwick