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Finding Australia in Roswell

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The Roswell Museum and Art Center presents: Roswell Artist-in-Residence Andrea Jespersen’s new exhibit

On July 28, the exhibit “Grasping the air of not (yet) knowing” opens with a free talk and reception by Roswell Artist-in-Residence Andrea Jespersen. 

Originally from Denmark, Jespersen lives and works in London. She found her way to the RAiR program through an artist friend.

The first impression visitors to Jespersen’s studio get is a welcoming, broad smile. Every artist is different in their approach to their art. Jespersen considers herself a cerebral person, a researcher who jumps off at a certain point into the art.

“I work conceptional,” Jespersen said. “I am a conceptional artist in a contemporary sense. My work has a reason to be there, but it’s not an illustration. I am not illustrating anything, I am an artist. There is a certain point where that is put in the background and something else takes over. That is when it becomes art.”

Asked about her artist background, Jespersen said, “I don’t come from an art background. My family has a business background. My grandfather was more artistic. He had a factory that made wooden cabinets and boxes for tellies (British for TVs).

“I came to art in a roundabout way, because I didn’t have any inspiration from home,” Jespersen said. “I actually went via architecture. I started studying in London interior architecture. Halfway through that I thought, ‘No, I don’t want to be an architect, I want to be an artist.’ I quit the course and went to New York (City).

“That was spur of the moment. New York is a foundation for art. I spent some time going to talks (lectures) at The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum. They do all kinds of good talks. I went on my own in New York, knowing nobody. I was in my early 20s.”

Jespersen’s father had traveled and lived in three different countries when he was young as well.

“My dad worked for IBM. America had always a rosy glow in my family,” Jespersen said and laughed. She was not worried about her family not approving her plans for travel. Rather that she would not finish her education.

“I do remember that call I made at Christmas and I was saying, I am going to New York. And they were good with it,” Jespersen said. “He (her father) told me, you’re going to love New York.

“After that (her stay in New York City), I knew what I wanted to do and that I needed some art education.

“My way into art is basically architecture, technical drawings and then fine art photography.

I visited several schools in Europe to choose where to study.”

Jespersen decided to go to the Glasgow School of Art where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art photography. Her decision was made learning about the school’s strong philosophical and theoretical approach to teaching.

“It was, ‘Sure, we’re going to teach you, but we are much more interested in why you are doing what you are doing. What’s your thought behind it?’ That is when I knew what I’d be interested in. I am interested in what the viewer gets from what I am doing. Does the work have potential for thoughts rather than being just a static experience? That was the directory I took in my art,” Jespersen said.

After Glasgow, Jespersen continued her studies at the Royal College of Art in London were she received her master’s in fine art. She received her PhD from Northumbria University in Newcastle, England.

For Jespersen, being in a small town in New Mexico is a new social experience.

“Coming from London, you think, ‘there is nothing going to happen and it’s just me and my studio and lots of time,’” Jespersen said. “But there is so much happening in Roswell. There is so much going on. People are so social and welcoming. I almost feel like I have to lock myself into my studio to spend time working,” she said and laughed.

“I spent a year in West Australia and this reminds me a lot of that. I remember being in Australia when I was 18. There was this lovely lady who drove three hours, so a six-hour roundtrip to pick me up. That is so unbelievably friendly. And for her, it is just as if she was popping around the corner. It is the only place I have been, other than here, that is like this. When I came here, that is what it reminded me of. That distance as well,” Jespersen said.

Part of Jespersen’s exhibit at RMAC is made of clay. Including clay is directly connected to one of the first people she met in Roswell, Aria Finch, who is part of the board of directors for the RAiR and teaches a clay workshop at RMAC. Jespersen took part in that workshop.

“Unless you seek it, you are really not going to mingle with locals,” Jespersen said. “You need to seek that out. The great thing about that evening course of Aria is that you meet lots of people. You chat in a different way when you are working on something. And you hear them chat and you get a feel for the clays and the people. I enjoy that. That is what clay is for me here, it is kind of a communal thing. I think this is a really valuable source for this town,” Jespersen said.

“I do work in kind of long projects,” Jespersen said. “I don’t see one thing as separate. I see my whole practice as a continuing journey. This show and working here is the beginning of a new project.

“I don’t see this show as an ending at all, I see it as a first of several new to come. That is how I work. When I came here, that is what I was looking for. For a new project, a hook, something I could build on and continue to build on after I leave here. I want to share Roswell with the world,” Jespersen said.

Jespersen had previously been a guest curator at the Medical Museum in Copenhagen. She recognized here the lack of women in its history.

“That became a curiosity and definitely became a theme in my practice of notion, the female knowledge and the lack of it in those institutions of knowledge and how it was presented to the world,” Jespersen said. She is continuing this project in Roswell.

“I was curious but also find it interesting that space that we are having the exhibition in at the museum. I find it interesting the way they (RMAC) can have all kinds of different things all in a tiny museum like that. Like the Goddard’s workshop and then local history, then there is the contemporary art. I thought this was kind of interesting,” Jespersen said.

Jespersen especially became fascinated with Goddard’s wife, Esther.

“It was interesting in doing my research on them (the Goddards), how she (Esther) was totally the glue. She was the one who did all the photographing, the filming. When he died, she was actually the one who secured all his papers. No doubt, without her he would not have that legacy. All his inventions would have just been stolen and he wouldn’t have been credited for it. It is so much where she is the linchpin and made him what he is today,” Jespersen said.

Jespersen has built her exhibition parallel to the Goddard workshop theme with a focus on Esther Goddard.

“It is laying bare her work in this context,” Jespersen said. “But, it is also kind of a celebration of them. What I most admire is that they lived a whole life. He lived a whole life never actually seeing the fruit of his work. So he lived his whole life without knowing comfortably. Day after day, he went in and worked, not really knowing but seeking something. She was able to live with him her whole life in that way. And she went on afterwards, when people still did not appreciate him. He was not celebrated in his lifetime. He was just the weirdo in the shadow. And they were comfortable living in that space.”

Jespersen plans to visit the ruins in the Four Corner-region of New Mexico, doing more research in the AMoCA library before heading back to London with Roswell’s clay as the beginning of the next project.

Jespersen has an impressive background that includes more than 40 fellowships, residencies and shows in Europe and the U.S., such as the Angus-Hughes Gallery in London, The Museu da Cidade, Pavilhao Preto in Lisbon, Portugal, the Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen, Denmark and apexart in New York City.

Jespersen’s awards include the PhD Award from Northumbria University in England (2011-15), The 2005 British Art Fair Award and the Postgraduate Grant from the Awards Agency for Scotland, Exhibition Grand of The British Council, among others.

Jespersen has been lecturing and teaching at esteemed institutes such as Newcastle University, England, Birmingham City University, England and the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her works in writing and photography has been published by the ARTicle Press, a publishing platform at the Birmingham School of Art in England.

The talk and reception for “Grasping the air of not (yet) knowing” are set to take place at 5:30 p.m. on July 28 at the RMAC, 100 W. 11th St. For more information, visit roswellamoca.org, roswell-nm.gov/308/Roswell-Museum-Art-Center, or call 575-624-6744.