For artist Jessica Cebra, the pandemic has created space for trying new things. Now based in California, Cebra became involved with Transformer’s FlatFile program while studying and living in D.C., and has continued to contribute to the project as the change in scenery has inspired changes in her art. Taking the opportunity to be a part of Transformer’s ongoing “Evoking the Senses” exhibition, Cebra has experimented with art in ways that reveal the thoughtfulness and intention behind her work.
Cebra’s primary medium is collage, and an interest in art history and education as an archivist has resulted in pieces that play with the idea of historical narratives using found images and materials.
“For a while, I was collecting a lot of imagery – the kind of generally accepted art historical narratives we were taught in school,” Cebra says . “I was playing around with those narratives and notions we tend to accept and uphold, and was questioning and reexamining things.”
In the early months of the pandemic, Cebra found herself collecting less materials for collages and started creating in new ways. After moving to Santa Cruz, California, proximity to the ocean and a too-close-for-comfort wildfire season inspired Cebra to experiment with opaque watercolor to track the natural cycles she had begun to observe.
“Previous to [the wildfires] starting, I had this idea that I wanted to do a painting series based on the ocean tide cycles because I was tracking that already. I thought it would be cool to somehow paint an abstraction of that, but hadn’t done it yet. As I was tracking the wildfires and air quality levels every day, I saw the parallels and broke out the paints.”
To track the fluctuation of smoke levels from day to day, Cebra started using a mark-making technique to create a representation of how the sky was affected by the wildfires around her.
“As I was looking at the work, it started looking like the ocean water to me. I had been spending a lot of time at the water, watching how the surface of the water changes so much and how the light changing through the day transforms the visual effect you see.”
This realization inspired her series “Waterworld,” which are circular representations of the ocean painted from memory and sensation rather than a picture.
“Evoking the Senses” recently featured a video project called “futures” by Cebra where she talks about her “Waterworld” paintings and reflects on her newfound relationship with the natural world, as well as the sense of touch – a tie-in to the exhibition’s overarching theme.
“It was a good way to look back over the year and think about how things had changed in my life specifically,” Cebra says. “I was trying to synthesize it all and get across how exciting certain things were, even though there was so much going on at the same time.”
The 15-minute video features Cebra talking about her experiences with the ocean, California wildfires and composting over video imagery she has accumulated over the course of the pandemic.
“I tried to find the positive aspects of what was happening, and wanted to express gratitude that I was able to work from home and move to this beautiful place by the ocean. [I was] recognizing what a privilege that is and how awesome it’s been, although it’s also been hard. “
Cebra has another upcoming video project as part of “Evoking the Senses,” where she reconnects with Zach Storm, another California-based artist who had collaborated with her on a 2010 Transformer installation called “SNOW GLOBE.” The winter-themed installation was a collaboration with The Washington Ballet, a three-dimensional collage.
While Cebra and Storm do not talk specifically about “SNOW GLOBE” in the upcoming video, the installment served as a catalyst for reunion between the two artists and centers around new experiences and the senses of sight, sound and touch.
“With ‘Evoking the Senses’ in mind, we tried to talk about recent experiences that had affected us somehow,” Cebra says. “There was a theme of wanting to feel remote, but how with current events and not being able to see people or coworkers, that got thrown off balance.”
Find Cebra’s FlatFile work, including her “Waterwold” pieces, here. Watch “futures” on Transformer’s Vimeo, and learn about other “Evoking the Senses” programming on Transformer’s website or on Instagram at @transformerdc.
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