An Interview with Jay Gould

550 Nanometers, 16 x 28'', archival inkjet print, 2005.

Jay Gould’s exhibition, The Participatory Universe, opens Monday, February 15, and runs through March 13, 2010.  We are delighted to be showing this work and recently asked Jay a few questions:

Please begin by offering a bit more detail about how and which scientific concepts inspire you and your work?

For many years, no matter what artwork I was working on, I would be reading about science in my spare time and even taking extra courses in conceptual science at the University of Wisconsin.  Mostly it was because I have always enjoyed the study of science and its line of questioning, but at this point I was not mixing art and science.  Eventually I made the decision to go forth and really put all of this reading and science studies to use with my own visual language. Initially this turned out to be a difficult task, and lead to lots of unsuccessful work. Though it was these failed experiments that lead to the work currently being shown at the SRO gallery.  When I began working on the Participatory Universe I was mostly interested in exploring my personal understanding of physics, primarily more contemporary ideas such as string theory and quantum mechanics.  However, I loosened up pretty quickly and let myself freely observe the world and explore whatever topic I felt suited the scene that had caught my attention.  To date, the fields of science that I primarily address are physics, math, geology, and biology, which I am constantly trying to relate with more personal stories of history, love, life, understanding and imagination.

As one who specifically integrates scientific topics into his photographic projects, YOU seem to go against the notion that art and science are separate discourses. Two articles on this topic that come to mind are: James Elkins’, “Aesthetics and the Two Cultures: Why Art and Science Should be Allowed to Go their Separate Ways” (2008) and Leo Steinberg’s, “Art and Science: Do They Need to Be Yoked?” (1986). How do you position your work against or within these arguments?

I’m not familiar with these two specific essays, however I gather that they present the common argument of whether science and art belong together.  I am a believer in the essential connection between the fields of art and science; that both areas are made up of explorers who rely upon tools to investigate things beyond our natural senses.  For example, a microscope investigates processes that are too small for us to see, while a brush may paint the workings of one’s imagination, and both methods are looking beyond vision, touch, taste and sound.  There is a common need for both areas to put ideas in terms that are more accessible, or more tangible.  Usually through metaphors or diagrams, both of which are harnessed by art and science.  It is still my belief that artists learn from scientists and vise-versa.  Since we are all out to communicate something, learning how each other does this, or better yet, helping one another can be quite fruitful.  There are lots of classic examples of this, my favorite being about the famous physicist Niels Bohr, who referenced cubism to better understand quantum mechanics.  Though cubism had nothing to do with quantum, he saw something in the language of art that became an excellent metaphor for what he was struggling with.

Personally I have always included scientist friends in the conversation of my work to hear their reaction and insight.  It has helped form how I work and supported my resolve that I’m not offending or mocking their studies too far.  Now I am going a step further by working with faculty and students of science and engineering at Louisiana Tech University, where I hope that our feedback and support of one another will be mutually beneficial.

Walking Throne, 16 x 28'', archival inkjet print, 2006.

With regards to the aesthetic experience of your work, what aspects of the objects you make do you believe come to the forefront, their contents, the formal aspects of their construction, their materiality/objecthood, or something else?

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that… and it’s a tough one.  For me, I’ve always worked with objects that have initially raised a question in my mind.  This might be that I don’t know what it is and therefore need to explore it with a photograph, or that I am in love with its form and want to give it further meaning by changing its context or adding a story to it.  Either way, I need to have a sense of wonder about an object, or a sense of what something could become with some manipulation.  Of course, it does depend on the image.  In some I am exploring what and object is and what its history might be, such as Fissure Erosion and Season Cycle.  In other images I am allowing an object or setting to become a backdrop for another idea, such as in Amino Acids or Bonds.  Through my interaction with these objects a story is developed that is meant to explore a question and give insight into my imagination and line of thinking.

Your work shares some formal similarities with John Wood’s. Who are some of the artists you look at or influence you in your research, and what in their work attracts you?

I am always on the search for work that might influence me, or typically make me jealous.  Photographically, I have always looked towards Robert and Shauna ParkeHarrison, Kahn and Selesnick, and Duane Michals, just to name a few.  They are excellent storytellers and have an aesthetic that matches their meaning, which I admire.  Conceptually, I love Joan Fontcuberta, Mike Mandel, and anyone else that takes advantage of the photograph’s relationship to truth and evidence. I am also influenced by the use of information design and artists who make viewing charts a beautiful and interesting experience.  So many of these artists are making work that isn’t about immediate understanding of a concept, but about spending time with a diagram and really figuring things out for one’s self.

You recently (2006) graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design with an MFA in photography and started teaching at Louisiana Tech University in 2007.  How has the transition from graduate student to faculty member affected your work?

I’ll admit that the transition has left me with much less time and energy to work on personal projects.  When I’m making artwork I need to really concentrate and be left alone, and that is not something that happens easily when you are a teacher.  I am learning how to balance my time and let go of thoughts of school during the weekends, if only for a day at a time.  As I mentioned before, we are working towards forging some connections with the engineering and science departments here at Louisiana Tech; my hope is that these connections will create a foundation for making new work that utilizes some of the resources and connections available and pushes my collaborative concept further.

Many thanks to Jay for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to stop by the SRO Gallery between Feb. 15-Mar. 13 to see the show.

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