I am an Artist: Kirsty Hall

I am prone to obsessive art projects that take years. My family likes to say that I’m never happy unless I’m doing something until my fingers fall off. This has never actually happened but when I was tying thousands of knots in string During 2011, I’m also doing a year-long project called 365 Jars, where I release an art jar into the wild every day. It’s basically a cunning excuse to get myself out for a daily walk. I’m sneaky like that. Resolutions, pah – art projects are the way to get things done

~ Kirsty Hall 

How did you come up with the idea for you “365 Jars” Project?

In 2007 I did a daily project called The Diary Project (http://diary-project.blogspot.com/) and by the end of 2010, I was itching to do another year-long project. I wanted to do a project where a daily walk was an integral part of the art. I knew that if I made walking into a New Year’s Resolution, I would give up the first time it rained heavily but if I made it into an art project, I would do it regardless. So basically this whole project is just a cunningly disguised excuse for me to exercise every day. Originally I was thinking of making little sculptures and placing them outside but I realized that placing the art in the jars would allow me to label it more clearly AND allow me to use a wider range of materials because the glass protects the art. Amusingly, the day after I came up with the idea of using jars, I saw a similar idea in Keri Smith’s book, The Guerilla Artist, which I’d just bought. I hadn’t read the book when I came up with the idea, so it was pure synchronicity. I had a moment of ‘oh bother, I can’t do it now’ before realizing that even if other people had occasionally placed jars of art outside, probably no one else would be prepared to do it every day for a year.

Are the jars already made, or do you make one a week? How do you come up with the “insides” of the jars?

Most days I start from scratch but I’m trying to build up a surplus of jars, so that I’ve got back-up jars for the days when I’m busy or not feeling so well. I’m also working on a couple of jars that need longer to prepare.
A lot of the jar contents are objects or drawings that I’ve had lying around the studio but I’m also making new art and collecting interesting objects while I’m out on my walks. I’m doing a lot of creative recycling with this project. In fact, I’m starting to think of it as a year-long retrospective of the last decade of my art. It’s a great way to revisit some of those ideas and clear out my material stash. I feel that I’m making space for new ideas to come through in the future.

How do you decide where to leave a jar?

Often I’ll have an idea of which direction I want to take, then I just meander around until I find somewhere that feels right. It’s quite an instinctive process. So far they’ve all been within a mile or so of my house but as I get fitter, they’ll spread further. I’m also planning to do some travelling this year, so hopefully there will be some international jars. Jars have to be in a public place where they can be found. I usually place them on walls, occasionally window ledges or benches but I’m on the lookout for a really good tree hollow. Sometimes they’re in plain view but I like hiding them in little nooks and crannies or slightly camouflaged by bushes. It’s a fine balance between making it far too obvious and making it too difficult for people. So far they’ve all been outside but I am considering putting a few in museums and art galleries.
I try not to be invasive with them, so I would never place them in driveways or people’s gardens: that would be rude. I’m careful not to put them anywhere that children are likely to knock them over, so I avoid school walls and playgrounds. I’m also mindful of animals, so I usually don’t put them too close to the ground. I am very aware of public safety because they are glass and I’d feel terrible if one broke and caused an injury.

Why put the jars outside and not show them all together?

I want other people to find them, the interactive part of the project is very important to me. I like the ‘secret gift’ and ‘treasure-hunting’ aspects of the project. I’ve always been interested in the idea of art that is outside the gallery experience. Many people don’t visit galleries and I love the idea of involving people who might not think of themselves as art fans. I’ve already got one guy who’s actively hunting them daily as a hobby, which I think is brilliant. Another man found a jar, kept it for a few days to admire and then re-released it into the wild. I love the playfulness that people are bringing to the project: they’re really entering into the spirit of it.
It’s also about encouraging myself to let go of control. You can’t be too precious about your art when you’re releasing it into the wild where anything could happen to it. I must admit, I get a bit sad when a jar goes missing and isn’t registered by its finder. I fret about them a bit but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I might never know what happens to some of them.

You mention “obsession” “ritual” and “every day objects” when you talk about your work. What draws you in to come up with and complete these types of projects?

I don’t know why I’m drawn to the sort of work I make but it’s probably inherent in my nature. As a child, I used to obsessively collect and organize things like rocks, buttons and beads. I also used to draw the same things over and over again or do things like making a huge ball of plaited wool so that I could play Rapunzel. Other kids would probably have just pretended to be Rapunzel but I spent weeks plaiting wool first. To be honest, playing Rapunzel was pretty much an afterthought: I was just really obsessed with plaiting.
When I’m compelled to make a piece of work, it’s usually because I’m trying to work something out. I always say that I make work to find out what I’m thinking and feeling. The other piece of art I’m working on at the moment is an apron entirely covered in sequins, which is very much about motherhood and the fact that my teenage son will probably be leaving home in the next year or two. It’s not art therapy but it does come from a personal place.
As for completing projects, I’m just really stubborn. I also only start them if I’m completely sure that I want to because once I’ve committed to a project like this, giving up isn’t really an option for me.
I work out rules before I start, which takes a lot of the angst out of it for me because then I know exactly what the boundaries are. I also give myself ‘get out clauses’ when I’m writing the rules. If you look at the rules for 365 Jars you’ll see that jars don’t have to be made on the day they’re placed, that gives me a lot more freedom. I also don’t have to blog the jar on the same day, although so far I always have. That kind of ‘wiggle room’ is vital in a project like this because during the space of a year it’s inevitable that there will be days when life intervenes.

Do you feel your art is purely personal or does it transcend into the universal?

I always start from my own experience of the work, so I make things that please, interest and delight me. That’s the core of the work. But I do a lot of research, so I’m very aware of the cultural meanings of the objects I use and that gives me an idea of how people might respond. I certainly always hope to transcend beyond the personal into the universal and make something that other people can relate to.
I do find that when I show my art, people bring their own experiences and wisdom. That’s my favorite part of exhibiting actually – the work is whole and complete in itself but audiences brings insights and meanings to the work that I would never have imagined because their memories and experiences are so different from mine. I feel very blessed and humbled when people share those thoughts with me.
Of course, not everyone likes what I do but I’ve had some amazing experiences with skeptical members of the public who suddenly ‘get it’. I once talked to a model maker who started out being very dismissive of my 3 Score & 10 sculpture but by the end of our conversation he was enthusiastically relating it to how he slowly assembles his models. We had a brilliant conversation about time and hobbies and he went from being suspicious of ‘this modern art rubbish’ to completely getting it. I adore those sort of moments.

What is your long term vision for this project?

Right now my focus is on getting everything up and running properly. I’ll be adding a gallery of jar images to the website in the next few days and I’m also working on an ‘Adopt A Jar’ scheme to help fund the project. I started the year with a nasty dose of the flu so I still don’t feel totally on top of things and I haven’t focused on the long term yet. Obviously, I want to successfully complete the year and I’d like huge numbers of people all around the world to follow along with the project. Someone on Twitter suggested that it would make a good book, which I hadn’t even considered but hey, who knows what could happen? I do think it has a lot of potential: it’s been very popular with blog visitors so far and my numbers are pretty good considering that I haven’t been promoting it much yet.

What does Art mean to you?

It’s where I live. I can’t not make art. It’s like a constant itch that I have to scratch. If I’m not making art, I get cranky and my family starts to worry that I’m about to embark on a mad decorating or gardening project! It’s just safer all round if I make art.

Kirsty Hall
Artist and purveyor of mad obsessive projects

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