Q+A: Jarrod Beck

One of the events held this past February First Thursday was Jarrod Beck’s The Moon at Smack Mellon. Jarrod's exhibition began as a poem that has grew into a “large, multi-year, multi-location project.” It's now a large, astounding installation— the type that Jarrod is known for— which in addition to being a static piece, is programmed with choreography and readings, to bring out its full potential. (If you missed the performance on Feb 2, not to worry: there are upcoming performances by choreographers Danny Dolan, Abigail Levine, and Paula Matthusen throughout February.)

Jarrod was also recently commissioned to create a permanent installation at the new-opened 1Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.

We sat down with Jarrod to talk about his two pieces in DUMBO.

Photo by Etienne Frossard
Photo by Etienne Frossard

Could you describe The Moon at Smack Mellon?

The Moon started out from a text, and then became this larger installation. The piece is made from pulp, which has a lot of pigment in it and dries pretty strong. It is supported with a bronze mesh under it to keep the paper pretty fragile, but also helps lift the paper up 30ft in the air to hang the structure. It’s kind of striking the balance between permanence and fragility. Some of these pieces are peeling as we speak a little bit. I always try to make my artwork like it’s changing the surrounding or capturing the change. The installation opened Smack Mellon opened up on the 14th of January and is paired with series of performances. These performances complete this installation... but you’ll see The Moon again someday in a very different format.

Tell us more about the text you wrote and how that integrates with your exhibition.

I was on a beach watching the sun come down, and at the moment I started writing about how the sun starts to circle around the earth, and the moon kind of stands still, becoming the new center. And I just started to imagine this moon project as a really large, multi-year, multi-location project. I saw Smack Mellon as kind of an opportunity to make the first step. The text is something to go back through the process to make decisions. Some parts almost could be read as a children’s story, kind of naive. When I make artwork, I use strategies like layering and punching through something, kind of the repetitive mantras of the book has a lot to do with the way I make artwork. I’m not too interested in showing people how I did it, but I do want to share the kind of meditative state that I’m in, so I think the the text will help with that. My idea is so people can stand amongst the moon and read the text to themselves.

How do the performances enhance the exhibition?

In 2015, I worked with different choreographers, where they asked me to respond to choreography [with visual art]. That made me become interested in how a sculpture could be more than a set piece, that it could really add emotional energy to the space. So I’m working with two choreographers that have different kind of modes of entry into the piece. Abigail Levine is a NY-based choreographer that comes with very materially conscious process, very geometrical one. Her performance is with Paula Matthusen who is a sound artist. Danny Dolan is a choreographer based in LA; he will approach it much more through the text. The performance will give The Moon some breath. The stage reading had multiple people reading from the text at the same time, because the text is not necessarily intended to be understood in one go.

Photo by Etienne Frossard
Photo by Etienne Frossard

What are your thoughts about Smack Mellon?

Smack Mellon is amazing because it allows for experimental work. They did not know how this would look; I didn’t know how this would look. Smack Mellon is a very important organization in that it allows space where we could work with dancers, we can do a reading, photography etc. I would say they are very artist-based. At one point the project got a little too big because I was trying to do a lot of performances in here, but through their analytical look we noted down to basically one thing and I’m really happy about that. So I will say Smack Mellon is really artistic-centric with 20 years of experience making exhibitions.

I really wanted this project to be a constellation. There is a sculpture, the performance, the text, and the future.

Jarrod Beck

We heard you funded your project through Kickstarter. Did you expect to reach your funding goal?

Smack Mellon provided us with the initial funding to get started, which helped me a lot with research and development. I think I could’ve figured out a way to build a smaller project without funding, but I needed this to be a major statement. And it’s very important that the performances are supported. I really wanted this project to be a constellation. There is a sculpture, the performance, the text, and the future. With Kickstarter when you get that first pledger, it’s amazing. And you have this moment when you’re not so sure you’ll get another. I’m really motivated to make these things, but when it got tough it was nice to know that 160 people and many more thought that this project was worth making a sacrifice for and sharing with other people.

In addition to this exhibit at Smack Mellon, you have a permanent piece at 1Hotel Brooklyn Bridge called all OVEREACHOTHER. Can you tell us about that piece?

OVEREACHOTHER is made from rubber used for roofing. I was upstate in the summer of 2014 at a residency, when big tornados came through and ripped up a lot of big box retail roofing. This was like 100 square-foot sheets, it was huge, and they were just ripping it off the roof. Over the years, I, along with group of others, stripped it down into four-inch strips and made these packets. These are packets of 10 to 20 sheets of rubber stuck together. And there is a series of steel pins that are inserted in the steel wall that support the piece. I’m really interested in lines, and I look for different ways to make them. I had this piece installed in two other places temporarily, and I’m excited to have it here. The hotel was designed before Sandy and was redesigned after the storm, so they are trying to bring in real nature. All the arts displayed are from artists using raw or recycled materials. It’s funny how the two projects started the same week in 2014— The Moon installation happened from the 2nd to 14th of January, and this was installed on the 15th.

People are already coming [to DUMBO], and I think artwork will add to their experience here because any place gets stale without art or performances.

Jarrod Beck

What do you think about the art scene in DUMBO?

I think DUMBO has a rich history of supporting artists because it has so much space. I really loved working here because it is one of those spots in New York that’s very open. You have the river and you have the sky, and for someone that has a background in architecture and engineering, just having the presence of the bridges is really exciting. I walked to the installation every day over the bridge and that was important to me. It’s also a fun area attracting tourists to get out of Manhattan and look back in to it. People are already coming, and I think artwork will add to their experience here because any place gets stale without art or performances. Artists generally need space, not just physical space, and they respond to the ruin because it leaves lot of room. If the place is polished it doesn’t really leave room for imagination. I’d love to keep working in DUMBO.

What is your favorite place in DUMBO?

It’s a weird answer, but basically the run-up to Manhattan Bridge. I love the Manhattan Bridge because it’s not as touristy as the Brooklyn Bridge. It's a little bit more utilitarian. And there's almost nobody on the pedestrian side walking. And it’s really filmic just seeing someone from the distance walking the length of the bridge, and the lighting is pretty incredible. It’s utilitarian but also has this Greek Temple like abutments whenever it decides to touch Manhattan. And I love this almost like pretentiousness. I think maybe that’s how I work too. I work a lot with a structure and I have a skin on that structure. I think that’s why I connect to this spot.

Mentioned in this article

Smack Mellon 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge